Nurturing new talent and better engaging employees will reach new heights at eStar, as the world class eCommerce platform and leading Christchurch tech company strives to attract and keep the brightest IT professionals.
eStar's outreach activities look four to five years ahead, says Chief Operations Officer Kevin Rowland. The eStar 'lead team' staff attend careers events, visit secondary schools and recently supported ShadowTech, with two female employees mentoring two secondary schoolgirls for a day.
The company is recruiting and will be looking for new talent at Ara Institute of Canterbury's Industry Expo on 25 August, having previously employed Ara graduates (when Ara was CPIT). Finding the right mix of skills for the fast-paced world of retail IT is challenging, Rowland says. With around 70 staff, eStar designs and develops the software that powers the websites and the online retail systems of retailers including Briscoes and Country Road.
Diversity is important at eStar, as is employee engagement, such as building teams and collaboration.
"Getting someone who understands the dynamics and urgency of this environment is hard. The particular stress and strain can be quite different for people who have not come from a Retail IT background. A lot of IT projects take a long time to be delivered, there are deadlines but it's OK if they're missed, whereas for us Christmas doesn't move. It's there every year on 25th December and our clients must be ready for it and able to cope with the demand."
Technical skills are of course essential, but the 'soft skills' of communication and interaction are what really sets candidates apart. "When we interview I am always looking for personality. We do a technical test/developer half day immersion and everybody freaks over the fact that it's a tech test, but if you can do what you say on your CV then it's not an issue. You're in a live 'dev' room, with the people you are going to be working with. I not only encourage people to talk to each other but it has to happen because that helps me see what they're like.
"Most people who work in IT, and I have plenty of evidence to back this up, are introverts. It's what makes us good programmers; it's part of our personality.
"It's OK if candidates are a bit meek, but I have to see some kind of spark. I can throw a stone into Christchurch and find graduates who can do IT. They have got to have that bit of enthusiasm."
An "off the scale introvert" himself, Rowland has worked hard during his career to develop his own soft skills, volunteering for tasks that forced him to communicate, speak in public and lead others. Now he can comfortably address a conference room full of people – although he'd still rather be at home.
He appreciates others who make an effort and will prioritise those who volunteer for committees, attend events and support new initiatives because it shows drive and adaptability, which are both essential to a fast paced, developing industry.
Much has changed since Rowland started writing code in 1976 and working in shops at age 14, in 1977. "I have done both longer than most people who work for me have been alive," he says. And while eStar ran as a start-up until 18 months ago, the company is growing fast. "We're a business in flux, we are still developing. We are not the company we were 12 months ago and we won't be the same 12 months from now. We are going through rapid software change as well as an operational change of how we work and treat people," he says.
Retaining staff is a priority and engagement initiatives make eStar a standout employer. "We've always done things like we have no dress code, flexible hours, a free soft drinks fridge, Friday afternoon drinks, a free fruit basket and medical insurance, so actually for a small company there is a lot going on. But it quickly becomes seen as the norm, rather than a benefit."
Staff agreed on five new initiatives, including a social committee, a half day 'innovation day' every two months when staff spend time on projects outside of their usual work, an annual 'ship it' day challenge where teams have 24 hours to create a new product for the company, addressing technical debt (tidying up code) and information sharing where managers share as much information, including financial details, as possible.
These initiatives ensure that staff are informed, challenged and facilitated to do their work more effectively.
To find out more about working for eStar and other leading Christchurch companies visit the Ara Industry Expo and Open Day on 25 August, 2 – 5pm, City Campus and Woolston Campus, Christchurch.