Lead Magazine Interviews Chris Wilson: On Recruiting and Retaining Tech Employees

This post originally appeared in issue 21 of Adecco’s Lead Magazine. View it here.

In recent years, Vancouver has emerged as a Canadian hub for tech companies — both homegrown and foreign. The rapid growth of the industry has led to an increased demand for technical employees. With companies like Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon setting up shop in the city, how can smaller tech companies compete for talent? We sat down with Function Point Founder and CEO, Chris Wilson, to better understand Vancouver’s tech industry and his advice for recruiting and retaining employees.

Q: First, let’s get introductions out of the way. What is Function Point all about?

A: It’s quite simple. Function Point’s mission is to help creative people in modern organizations be more productive and more profitable by providing best-in-class project management software. Used by over 9000 people across the world, our all-in-one solution helps teams connect each stage of project management. Our goal is to make productivity more personable: to warm it up and give it a heartbeat.

Q: You were founded over 20 years ago in Vancouver and have remained there through today. Can you talk a little more about how you’ve seen it change over the years? With several large technology companies moving into the area, are small and medium-sized local businesses struggling to attract talent?

A: Big or small, there are certain advantages associated with company size. I think people are attracted to Function Point and other similarly-sized tech companies because they offer a unique opportunity for personal growth and learning.

Currently, we hover around 50 employees, which gives us the ability to experiment, test and pivot quickly. We see our team getting their hands on new technologies and approaches, which is exciting whether you’re a wily vet or just starting your career. And these ideas are coming from within the group. It’s so exciting to see someone’s ideas making a difference so quickly.

At smaller companies, you’re also constantly interacting with different departments, teams and people within the organization. Experiencing all these different sides of the business can really benefit one’s professional growth.

Finally, we’re a very flat organization with an open door policy throughout the company. If someone wants to speak to me or someone else on the leadership team, we’re available.

Q: What about the inverse? Does talent tend to follow larger tech companies like Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft into the city? What are some of the advantages of big firms moving into the tech scene there?

A: We often see talent from some of these larger tech companies end up at smaller businesses in the end. These are people who maybe want a change and who know they can make a big difference in a smaller organization. There’s no denying that benefits the local tech community.

There’s also a bit of a ripple effect that comes with Vancouver’s rising profile as a tech hub. We’re seeing more investment in tech education, with companies like Brainstation and Red Academy helping train the next generation of talent. And we’re seeing more investment by the provincial government, which recently committed to a $100 million British Columbia tech fund to make early-stage capital more available locally.

Q: Let’s talk funding, now that you’ve mentioned it. Function Point has chosen to not take on VC funding in the past. Has this affected your ability to recruit, when compared to larger firms?

A: In short, it hasn’t. Some people want to work at a VC-backed start-up where the expectations associated with investments play a role in their day-to-day. We believe we sit in a great place as a business that is customer funded and values-based, and we’ve managed to attract a talented team of people who agree.

Q: Studies, HR Managers and Millennials themselves often cite the need for greater mentorship and career development — particularly for young employees. Does Function Point believe in the value of internships and co-op programs?

A: Absolutely. Most of us did internships early on in our careers. If we can help someone get a good start and provide them with skills that will help them establish their careers, then that’s something we want to be doing.

Of course, the benefits go in both directions. The majority of our internships are part of co-op programs for university students. We’ve happily hired a number of these talented co-ops into full-time positions once they were done their studies.

In general, people in tech are very aware of the skills gap that exists in this industry. After 20 years of working in tech, I’ve noticed that training and education have now become top priorities among industry leaders whether you’re catering to an intern or full-time employee.

Q: So how can employers better address this generation’s need for learning opportunities?

A: Whether it’s an education fund or a mentoring program, employers need to find ways to provide the next generation of talent with learning opportunities. They also need to be flexible and creative in how they provide it, as formal training isn’t always available for each role.

At Function Point, we offer employees a $2,000 personal development fund to spend on books, courses, conferences or training. Managers work with employees to identify and research different learning opportunities and approaches. When working in tech, it’s so important to stay on top of trends and what the future holds. In this way, professional education is rewarding on both a personal level, but also benefits the company as a whole through the knowledge and concepts these employees bring back into to the organization. That’s money well spent.

Q: And what about the other end of the spectrum? Developers have a reputation for quickly moving from one company to the next. How have you been able to retain some of your more senior staff?

A: I’ve been fortunate to have employees stay with the company for many years, including our VP of Product, who has been with Function Point for 14 years. I think it comes down to always providing opportunities to learn and experiment. Because of who we are, we can quickly change direction and make the kinds of investments that expose us to new technologies. Right now, those investments have us looking into more automation, API integrations and AI, and our team is all too happy to play and experiment in those worlds.

I have said it many times. We want to work with people who are excited to come to work in the morning and still feel energized at the end of the day to best spend their free time. If a team member is thinking of moving to a new firm, they can speak of it. We will do our best to help them get back on a track that excites them, but if they’re not learning and growing, then we should help them get to where they want to be. Sometimes that means changing departments; other times it means changing careers. We do our best to support our people in either scenario.

Q: So whether we are talking about talent attraction or talent retention, how are smaller firms like Function Point able to compete with the perks large tech companies tend to offer?

A: No, we don’t have in-house yoga or a cafeteria. Instead, we try to match our perks with our culture as a values-based company.

Part of our mission at Function Point is to contribute to the well-being of our employees, customers and community. With that in mind, we offer paid volunteer time, allowing staff to work at a charity of their choice. Employees also have liberal access to paid time off for personal health, and members of the team who travel for work are given additional personal time to experience the places they’re visiting before heading home.

We try to create an environment around the office that is inclusive, safe and collaborative, and is a place where everyone’s contributions are celebrated. The company was co-founded by my wife — Jane — and I, and we speak about being an equal opportunity employer. I’m proud of the ratio of women and men being about 50/50. Perhaps most importantly, we strive to pay a fair wage, which beats just about any perk. We want the team to be thinking about the problems they’re trying to solve, not how much they’re being paid.

Lastly, at Function Point your coworkers are just as likely to be a recent parent as they are a recent graduate. We always keep that in mind when organizing company events and get-togethers. Instead of beer taps, we lean towards scavenger hunts or curling bonspiels — we are Canadian after all.

Looking for insight into Function Point or agency operations? Follow Chris Wilson on Twitter.

Function Point is always looking for good people. Want to join the team? Check out our careers page.

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