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Professional Growth Is King

Storm8 on recruiting and keeping engineering talent in a hyper-competitive hiring market

Silicon Valley is a developer’s playground. The battle for top-tier talent is heated and these folks have their pick of high paying, Chuck Taylor-wearing jobs. Indie studios, mobile game makers and giant publisher incumbents are all fighting with the likes of Google, Apple and Facebook for employees to build, maintain and analyze their games. And, for successful developers, new blood is needed fast.

So how do you sell your company to highly coveted software engineers? Here are some lessons I’ve learned at Storm8 and from our team of founders that jumped ship from Facebook to capitalize on the growth potential of mobile social games.

It’s not all about perks, it’s about the challenge. 

Many startups and studios try to recruit people based on perks, but that doesn’t always work when almost all companies offer the same benefits (and sometimes even better than yours if you’re small). Gourmet meals, unlimited snacks and drinks, fitness facilities, free shuttles, game rooms -- yes these are all great, and sometimes necessary, but they will not make or break someone’s decision to join a company. Really talented individuals don’t base their next career move on how many old school arcade games they would have access to, or a free shuttle to the nearest train station. They look at the company’s business promise, they look for opportunities for personal growth, they look for ways to consistently learn, they look for meaningful challenges.

How do you approach game development differently? What software engineering, system and scale challenges will they attempt to solve? What coding languages or development platforms will they be exposed to? These are only some of the questions you should be thinking about answering.

For in-demand engineers, daily freebies are barely a cherry on top of a good offer. You need to communicate what issues you are facing and how they can be part of the answer. In our experience, top-grade engineers don’t shy away from say, a scaling issue, and actually even skip the free lunches and dinners to tackle them.

Support ongoing professional development.

Having the time and space to solve one problem beautifully can excite many engineers, but the opportunity to solve different, new problems once you master your first is often more compelling. Personal and career growth is crucial to talented engineers. Some questions that need to be addressed here include: How quickly are new hires on boarded? How fast can someone new move up? How are employees rewarded for good work? How are projects decided and assigned? What technical opportunities outside of building games are open to me? How does your company balance autonomy and oversight?

We’ve found that engineers who work on a variety of game genres and move laterally to new teams if interested excel at Storm8, and they stick around, too. Top talents enjoy the challenge of tackling different problems; you don’t want them to feel stuck on one project. Creating a culture that allows people to freely move across teams is a morale booster and supports ongoing professional development. For instance, a technical team member who may have interest in business development and have an aptitude for it can easily provide value in partnership deals. It’s not only about moving up the ranks, but having control over your own career and having the freedom to pursue other interests internally if there’s a fit.

Room to impact the company and the outside world.

We often hear from prospective employees that the reason that they look for a new opportunity is because they feel undervalued. They feel like a statistic; just another engineer on a 500+ person team across continents working on a project that may or may not be canned in their market next month. Talented engineers look for projects that they can own from the beginning to the end. They look for opportunities to collaborate and a way to make an impact on the products that they develop. By showing engineers that their feedback and hard work is valued, that their ideas are actually implemented in the next iteration of a game, you will have a bigger chance of successfully bringing them on board.

It’s also important to communicate the impact that your products make to the world outside of your company’s walls. Share your user’s feedback, humanize your products and explain how even their friends or family can find these things useful and entertaining in their everyday lives.

Foster a highly collaborative environment.

There is a reason that many startups and developers have open floor plans. It’s not so that they look hip and friendly on an “about us” page; it’s about having an open flow of communication up and down an organization. Staying true to a flat structure has more to do with employee satisfaction and ownership over work than you might think. At Storm8, founders are rarely consulted on day-to-day game decisions -- that responsibility lands with the team and they want to keep it that way.

In relation to showcasing how employees can make an impact to the products they develop, it’s important for incoming candidates to understand that their ideas are always welcome; that suggestions don’t just go into an anonymous digital suggestion box that decision-makers rarely monitor. At Storm8, this not only applies to someone’s specific project, but to all aspects of the company. We ask everyone to contribute game ideas and regularly pull non-team members into brainstorms. And we listen to them, too. 

A Final Note

While the dominant players in the Internet and social media world have name recognition and product familiarity, that doesn’t mean you can’t compete for talent on many others factors. There is a reason you work for your company and why your founders started it and why investors and players are sustaining it - so let that shine through. By building on these high-value and intangible perks, you’re sure to attract the right technical talent; those who will share the same passion and enthusiasm for your product as you do.

Laura Yip is Co-Founder and Chief People Officer at Storm8 (, a leading mobile social game network and developer. Storm8 was founded in 2009 and today serves more than 200 million players worldwide who have downloaded its 40+ games across 5 genres more than 600 million times. Laura takes the lead in making Storm8 a fun and meaningful place to work.


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