The Engineering People Show, Episode 30: Nidhi Gupta
“If retention is busted, no matter how many candidates you bring in through the funnel, it’s a leaky funnel — so people, even if you attract them and they join the company, will just leave.”
Today on Engineering People:
Nidhi Gupta is Senior Vice President of Technology at Hired, a marketplace that matches tech talent with the world’s most innovative companies. Nidhi leads the company’s global engineering, developer operations and product teams. She is a skilled engineer and product executive who is passionate about building and growing thriving product and engineering organizations that deliver world-class products at scale. Prior to Hired, Nidhi was Senior Vice President of Product and Engineering at Tophatter and Upwork. Previously, she was instrumental in leading mobiTV and Ning through hyper-growth and expansion.
(Original episode released on September 26, 2018)
Nidhi on LinkedIn
Nidhi on Twitter
Transcript, edited for clarity:
Ryan Carson: Welcome to Engineering People, the show where we interview the world’s leading engineering managers so we can learn from their experiences and ideas. I’m Ryan Carson, the founder of Treehouse, and I’m your host.
At Treehouse, we have a ton of experience creating over 850,000 new developers or designers, so if your company is struggling to hire enough developers or product designers, just give us a shout. Head to teamtreehouse.com/Go/Talent. Let’s get to the show.
Today, I’m joined by Nidhi Gupta from Hired. Thank you so much for hanging out.
Nidhi Gupta: Of course. Thank you for having me, Ryan.
Ryan Carson: It’s good to have you on the show. I want to introduce our audience to you. Tell us all about your job title and what Hired does.
Nidhi Gupta: Of course. My title is SVP of Technology. What that means is I run Hired’s global engineering teams, data teams, the developer operations and product and design teams, so a fairly decent sized portfolio.
Let’s talk about Hired. Hired is a marketplace the matches top tech talent with the world’s most innovative companies. The way Hired works is very unique and different from any player out there. The way our platform works is a candidate who’s looking for a job creates their profile. As part of creating their profile, they state how much they want to earn.
We guide candidates through this process, for a given role in a given geography, you may not know how much you deserve so we guide you through that process. Companies then, knowing fully well how much a candidate is expecting, apply to a candidate. Two things are very different. One is jobs come to candidates and jobs apply to candidates. Second is we move the wage conversation up front in the process. So many of us have been through interview processes where, at the tail end of it, the conversation breaks down because of salary. This level of wage transparency and awareness is unique in our industry.
Ryan Carson: That’s so cool. What have you learned about that? It is completely different from the way anyone else does it. What are some fun, interesting things that you’ve learned?
Nidhi Gupta: You see all these wage gap reports out in the industry today. We publish wage gap reports as well — what’s unique and different about our wage gap reports is that they are about a job, the same role at the same company. We can see patterns as to how they differ based on a candidate’s gender or ethnicity. There are differences. There are inequalities that creep in based on how we evaluate candidates and how we request them.
Same thing from a candidate standpoint; we often see that candidates, typically women, ask at the low end of the spectrum. Men ask at the high end of the spectrum, so we see this fascinating psychological behavior play out on the platform every single day. Our goal is to address this issue in tech as much as we can, so we do a lot of things in the product and outside the product to influence the right decision making, both for the companies as well as the candidates.
A practical way to fight wage inequality on gender and color levels
Ryan Carson: Do you tell a woman, “You are underbidding yourself. Here is market rate. You should be asking for this”?
Nidhi Gupta: Yeah, absolutely. A simple example is when a candidate is onboarding: We show you a histogram, the spread of what you should be asking. We default that to the median. Women tend to pick the lower end of the spectrum. Then we provide you even further guidance — and if you still choose the lower end of the spectrum, the last stop is our talent advocates, who are essentially your coaches that work with you. If they spot discrepancies, they will have a conversation with you to try to move the needle.
Ryan Carson: Do you have any kind of cool stories related to that?
Nidhi Gupta: The most heartwarming story — it still gives me goosebumps — there was this gal who joined the platform. She was one year in into her career. She came to the United States from the Philippines. She didn’t really know how much she deserved and how to value herself. She created her profile in the Bay Area for a software engineer at 75k.
Ryan Carson: Oh, wow.
Nidhi Gupta: We guided her. She did not move. She did not budge. When our advocate spoke with her, she finally upped her salary to 90k. She got an offer for 95k on the platform. She wrote back to us saying that this is life changing for her. The additional money will give her money not just to live in the Bay Area but also to go visit her family back home.
Ryan Carson: Gosh, that’s awesome. It’s a really practical way to fight wage inequality on a gender and color level.
Nidhi Gupta: Exactly.
How to find the best talent for an organization
Ryan Carson: I’m always fascinated by company org charts. How do you fit in, who’s who? You said you’re SVP. Tell me more about the organization chart around you.
Nidhi Gupta: I report directly to our CEO. My peers on the executive team are VP of Marketing, CFO, our SVP of Revenue and SVP of People. In terms of reporting in to me, I have a VP of Engineering, a VP of Product, a director for our search and discovery and data experience, and a director of developer operations or tech ops, rather.
Ryan Carson: That’s infrastructure.
Nidhi Gupta: It’s infrastructure. It’s site ops, making sure Hired is up and running 24/7.
Ryan Carson: Roughly how big is the engineering organization underneath you?
Nidhi Gupta: My total org size combined, we’re about 44 people. Of them, 35 in engineering. Our goal is to get to about 60 by the end of the year.
Ryan Carson: Nice! Cool. Are you remote, in person?
Nidhi Gupta: We do all sorts. The tech talent is so hard to find, so my mantra always is to go after the best and the brightest, no matter where they are. We are based in San Francisco so at our headquarters we hire, but we’re distributed across the globe. I have an engineer in Sydney, one in India, one on the East Coast in Maryland. It’s really about truly finding the tech talent and you build the right tooling to make them effective.
Key influences on managerial style
Ryan Carson: I’d love to know what your favorite book is or a course or person that’s really influenced you as an engineering manager.
Nidhi Gupta: You probably have not heard about this one. All time favorite is Presentation Zen.
Ryan Carson: Oh, I’ve heard of that, actually. I’ve not read it, though.
Nidhi Gupta: Okay, cool. It’s Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds, and here’s why. It’s not a business book per se. It’s truly about, to me, this book is about communication. So much of what we do as engineering managers is communicating and simplifying all the tech gobbledygook and putting that in plain layman’s language.
There’s three core things that I took away from this book — and I read it many, many, many years ago and every so often I do a refresher — one of the questions that he asks is what is your core point? What is your key takeaway that you want people to take from your presentation? Now in practice, before I start even thinking about creating a slide deck, I first think about what do I want people to walk away with?
The second thing he talks about is simplification, very true for us engineers. Engineering is very complicated. Sometimes I think we over complicate it. It’s about truly simplifying these complex paths and procedures into very, very simple words.
The third thing, which I think is critical in today’s day and age, is all of us have so much information at our disposal. What people want and who they will gravitate toward is someone who’s evocative, someone who’s inspiring and someone who has some intrigue. There comes in storytelling. For me, all communication has to be a story. People will latch onto the story. They will resonate with the story, and they will remember the story.
Ryan Carson: Yeah, that’s so true. I’ve noticed whenever I say to someone, “Can I tell you a story?” They’re like, “All right!”
Nidhi Gupta: Yeah, exactly. That’s really my bible. The book itself is about creating your presentations, but I’ve applied it in all forms of communication — verbal, email, as well as presentations.
Ryan Carson: I’m actually going to ask you to tell us a story in a minute — this is not on the question list so I’ll warn you ahead of time. One of my questions is going to be, “Tell us about the worst or funniest job you’ve ever had,” because I actually am trying to help the audience understand that people start from somewhere and then they end up somewhere amazing like SVP — but they don’t start as SVP. I think it’d be fun to phrase it as a story and say, “Could you tell us a story about your career and how it led to you being an SVP?” Think about that for a second and we’ll get there in a minute.
Two big lessons to know as an engineering manager
Ryan Carson: If you could go back in time to a younger Nidhi and say, “You need to learn these things. These things are really important. These two things,” what would be the two things you’d tell yourself?
Nidhi Gupta: What I would tell my younger self is two things. Be who you are and be confident in your abilities. I think it’s definitely true for me, and there’s a lot of young women I talk to and it’s definitely true for them, where we have constant self-doubt. I just spent a few weeks with my niece recently, who’s 16, and she just keeps doubting herself to the point that she keeps bringing herself down. I do that. I did that for a big chunk of my life. I think being comfortable in your own skin is very, very important, otherwise we will keep letting all external influencing factors shape who we are rather than who we actually are.
Ryan Carson: Right. What’s one tactical thing you can do to do that, though?
Nidhi Gupta: That’s an interesting question. I wish I had the answer. When I was younger, I would keep telling myself I don’t really care what they think but I really deep down did. I think now I’m at the point where I truly don’t care because I know who I am and you take me for who I am. I think it’s that constant reminder that I have to give myself that I should just be comfortable with who I am, and as I seek opportunities — either from a work standpoint or in personal life — I need to find opportunities where I will be accepted and fit in, as opposed to changing how I operate and think.
Ryan Carson: Cool, those are two really good pieces of advice. Actually, you should go back in time and tell me those things too, because I really would appreciate that.
Lessons learned from early, pre-tech jobs
Ryan Carson: It’d be fun if you started with your funniest or worst job at some point, and then just jump to a story around, gosh, you’re now the SVP at Hired.
Nidhi Gupta: Got it. Let me start with the oddest job that I had. I had two. I’ll pick the more successful one.
Ryan Carson: No, pick the worst one. Come on! [laughter]
Nidhi Gupta: I think I was 12 or 14 or something and I took a job as a sales person. I was in India and food processors were very new and I took a job. My cousin had a dealership for a food processor. Since they were so new, they had to be demoed to show what these contraptions did. We used to set up these stalls in different malls and different markets demonstrating how to use a food processor, and ultimately sell it. We used to go to all different markets all over the city and I think what I learned from that was that I liked being a crowd pleaser. I figured out the tactics and that ah-ha moment or wow moment, that’s what gave me a lot of satisfaction.
I think the other trick I learned is how do you make hard things look simple, so sort of like a magic trick. I still remember there was a piece of it where you had to change blades, and changing the blades was not that simple or sometimes food would get stuck in those blades. The slight of hand where you’re quickly swapping it out or taking out the food bits without letting the potential customers see it- [laughter]
Ryan Carson: Right, that takes skill.
Nidhi Gupta: Exactly.
Ryan Carson: Wow, that’s a crazy job. Demoing and selling food processors in India. Gosh, I love it. Now you’re an SVP at an amazing tech company in Silicon Valley, so that is truly awesome.
Nidhi Gupta: It’s all about sell. [laughter]
Ryan Carson: Right, it is. Yeah. You’re right. Tell us that story. What was an interesting part of your career growth?
Nidhi Gupta: Let’s see. I grew up in India and back in the day, the only opportunities you had was either to become an engineer or to become a doctor. Things are very, very different now, but back in the day you became one of those two things. I, of course, wanted to become an air hostess. My mom wanted me to become a doctor. I wanted to be an air hostess so I completely disappointed both my parents [laughter]
Ryan Carson: Wow. Were you an air hostess?
Nidhi Gupta: No, I wasn’t but I was fascinated by the travel. [laughter] I got into engineering. I’m a double E major; I did my bachelors and masters in Electrical Engineering. Then I stumbled into software engineering. I started working at Bell Labs. Bell Labs picked me up from campus in Maryland. I started to do that and then I stumbled into management.
Ryan Carson: How did you stumble into it? What happened?
Nidhi Gupta: I started with my manager at time. Between her, myself and one more person, we co-founded a startup within the labs — and since I was a founding member, I basically grew with that startup. My manager at the time encouraged me to explore management. Bless her heart, she encouraged me to explore management but it’s not like we had the right tools in place or what have you. That part is just so hard. Survived somehow, and here I am 15 years later.
Ryan Carson: I think we’re so tempted to think it’s a easy straight line and you know exactly where you’re going and you just march to it. That story really shows it’s not a straight line.
Nidhi Gupta: Exactly.
Diversity, equity and inclusion, and the benefits of wage transparency
Ryan Carson: We’re talking a lot about diversity, equity, inclusion and the very practical work that Hired is doing. Is there anything you’re doing at Hired that’s helping you build and retain a diverse team?
Nidhi Gupta: Great question. I think the cycle of recruiting is most people start with role definition, then sourcing, then interview process, then salary and offer management all the way to retention. They usually proceed in this order. The way we approach this at Hired is we start backwards. We want to make sure that we start with retention. If retention is busted, no matter how many candidates you bring in through the funnel, it’s a leaky funnel — so people, even if you attract them and they join the company, will just leave. We started from a retention standpoint. From a retention standpoint, we’ve made sure that we have an inclusive culture. Most of our fun events are in four to five time slots. They’re not just all about drinking, things of that nature. We have ERDs, support groups and forums for members of the team.
After we thought that we had the right foundations from a retention standpoint, we moved on to salary and offer management. We have a clearly well defined articulated compensation philosophy that we have buy-in internally. We’ve done many, many, many sessions internally to explain what our comp philosophy is and how we value talent, and things of that nature.
Ryan Carson: Could you roughly explain it? I bet the listeners would like to know a little bit more about that.
Nidhi Gupta: We very clearly articulate as to what percentile we pay people at and what would make you go below versus up. We explain how anybody can ask for looking at salary range data. It’s not a private thing. We have it. We very clearly articulate what gets you to the next level in terms of what every single organization has a very clear ladder definition — and should you choose to move up from a ladder definition standpoint, there are very clear axes and definitions in terms of how you move up. We also review everything on a six-monthly basis.
The other thing we do, which is very different, is we look at our wage gap data every six months when we do the cycle, but we also publish our wage gap data internally as well as externally. If you go to Hired.com/Diversity, you will see not just our ratios but you will also see our internal wage gap data because we fundamentally believe in creating transparency around this issue.
Then I think is the interview process. We’ve gone through unconscious bias training across the board, especially on the technology side. I think, me being from India and not familiar with the typical games like Battleship or what have you, I bring a different perspective in terms of how we can make our questions more equitable and stuff like that. I think lastly comes the sourcing piece, which is making sure you’re partnering with the right organizations. You’re partnering with ERGs and things of that nature.
Ryan Carson: Cool. What ERGs do you have?
Nidhi Gupta: We have a people of color ERG, an LGBTQ group and a women’s group.
Ryan Carson: How do you currently find that new talent? Do you use your own platform or–
Nidhi Gupta: Of course.
Ryan Carson: That’s what I thought you’d say.
Nidhi Gupta: Yeah. It’s the best platform there is.
Ryan Carson: Absolutely.
Nidhi Gupta: On the engineering side, I think 99% of my team has come from Hired.
Ryan Carson: That makes sense; you can solve your own problem with your own product. [laughter] I love it.
The balance between shipping and innovating
Ryan Carson: Last question before we go: There’s obviously a tremendous pressure to ship new products and drive value on that front, but you also want to help your team innovate and have a moment to breathe. How do you balance that?
Nidhi Gupta: I think the same also applies to tech debt, right? The way we are organized, the engineering and product organization is divided into cross-functional pods. Each of these cross-functional teams has a dedicated set of engineers, a PM, a designer, and they are notionally led by this tripod of PM, designer and an engineer manager or a tech lead.
Each team has a clear mission statement, a clear definition of their northstar KPIs, clear stakeholder in terms of who internally they work with, and a clear persona of who they build the product for. That allows for several things. One is engineers are deeply connected with the business, so they are not sitting in a hole somewhere. Since they are truly deeply connected with the business, they understand what they need to do to the business. They’re fully empowered so we’re not top-down from a roadmap standpoint or what have you. These teams come up on a quarterly basis. They come up with the initiatives that they want to work on. It helps us scale. Since engineers are part of that process, they get to exercise their creativity.
I also have a strong point of view that engineers should be product opinionated. They should have opinions not just from a code or technology standpoint but also from a product standpoint. That allows them to participate in these conversations and express their opinions. Oftentimes, a conversation or an idea could come from an engineer or it could come from a PM or it could come from a stakeholder, and together they figure out in their sausage-making factory as to what they’re going to work on.
Ryan Carson: Gosh, that’s great. I love how you’re connecting in personas.
Nidhi Gupta: Exactly, exactly. My engineers are end-to-end so they own the product right from start all the way to finish, meaning running it into production. We don’t have QA. My goal is not to have QA, because engineers should be able to test the code enough to run it enough in production.
Ryan Carson: That makes total sense. Actually I’ve been thinking a lot about this because I’ve been learning more about it. Have you heard of the Spotify tribe model?
Nidhi Gupta: Yeah, yeah.
Ryan Carson: If you feel like you know enough about it, quickly explain it to the audience and then how you, if you’re similar at Hired or not or wildly different.
Nidhi Gupta: I don’t remember it precisely but I think notionally our model is similar to the Spotify tribe model.
Ryan Carson: How does yours work then?
Nidhi Gupta: Let’s say I’m working on the acquisition team. The acquisition team works very closely with their marketing counterparts, so there’s two or three stakeholders that they’re constantly in touch with. The marketing team can come to the acquisition team and say, “I have this initiative happening,” or, “I’m behind goal from a candidate acquisition standpoint. Let’s brainstorm on what we can do,” or, “We have additional traffic coming in from an SEO standpoint. We need to fire up additional landing pages,” or what have you. That’s the kind of partnership on a day to day basis for us.
Ryan Carson: Okay, cool. That’s the last of my formal questions. I was just curious if you could share with the audience where they can get to know you better and chat with you or get to know Hired better.
Nidhi Gupta: Absolutely. Check out Hired.com obviously, especially for you are either a potential employer or you’re looking for your next position. The efficiencies we create on both sides of the funnel is just remarkable. I had used Hired before I joined Hired and I truly loved it.
In terms of getting to know me, you can reach me on Twitter, at @NidhiGuptaSF, or you can reach me on LinkedIn. If you’re looking to poach me, I’m not looking to leave so … [laughter]
Ryan Carson: “Sorry!”
Nidhi Gupta: I’m more than happy to connect, mentor, however I can help.
Ryan Carson: Sounds great. Thanks so much for your time and we will chat soon.
Nidhi Gupta: Thank you so much, Ryan.
Ryan Carson: Take care.