What Skills to Look for When Hiring Email Developers

What Skills to Look for When Hiring Email Developers

If you’re a founder or CTO and looking to expand your company’s email capabilities, it’s time to look for an email developer or email manager. To help you know what to look for in candidates, we interviewed a few of our colleagues who have hired and onboarded many email engineers throughout their careers. We’ll dive into the process of hiring an email developer, what skills to look for, and red flags to keep an eye out for in interviews.

But, before you even write the job description, let alone interview candidates, there are a couple of factors you need to consider. 
  1. What type of expertise do you need? If you’re just starting to build out your email team, you’ll want someone with email domain expertise. Or, if you’re looking for a delivery expert, you’ll need to search for that talent. Understanding the expertise that your team needs will be very important in finding the right candidate.
  2. What company values are most important to this role? Consider your company values and pick a few that you believe a person in this role needs in order to succeed. This will help you determine whether the candidates fit well with the team and other coworkers.
The answers to the above questions will set the stage for the qualities you look for while interviewing, so keep them in mind throughout the hiring process. 

Engineering interview process

At Twilio SendGrid, our process starts with a phone screen from our HR team and competency exams. Candidates can choose the language they want to work with from a list of options during the programming exams. The idea is not to test their competency in a specific language because the likelihood is they may not have worked in it previously. The test, instead, is to show their critical thinking and how they work through problems.

Sasha Sydoruk, Senior Manager, Software Engineering at Twilio shared,
“If they use different tools, that’s fine. What’s more important is that they can solve similar problems."
If the candidate passes the coding test, they then have onsite interviews with team members. The candidate will have design and architecture discussions around solving problems that are similar to what they would face on the job. This is another opportunity to show their technical skills and understanding of different toolkits. 

Once everyone on the interview committee has interviewed the candidate, each stakeholder will submit a scorecard evaluating the candidate according to specific company values. The stakeholders will not talk to each other about the candidate until they have submitted the scorecard. This helps prevent bias and being swayed by another stakeholder before an individual’s opinions are fully formed. 

Best email developer qualities to look for

The skills you search for will ultimately depend on the level of experience you need on your team, so we focused on skills that you’ll want to look for no matter the experience level.

Strong back-end developer 

Depending on the skill level you’re looking for, the candidate doesn’t need to have email domain experience. They should, however, have exposure to various technologies and a versatile toolkit. 

“It isn’t as much the email domain space, as it is their experience relative to the operational environment and the overall stack,” explained Dana Sherrell, Director, Software Engineering.

Unless you’re looking for an email domain expert, knowledge of the email domain space isn’t crucial. Employees will adapt and it’s something that can be learned.

Sydoruk added, “We’re looking for somebody who has experience with high scale systems that are distributed, and have very strong modern development skills: operational discipline, setting up proper metrics, dealing with multi-threading, large data sets, things like that.”

Soft skills

Twilio SendGrid’s managers agreed that soft skills are just as important as candidates’ programming abilities. In particular, email engineers need to be able to cope with ambiguity.

“Being able to take something that’s vague and drill down into what the customer is after and what we need to do to help them,” explained Brian Antolin, Senior Manager, Software Engineering.

Time management and communication skills are valuable to any role, so while hiring managers will want to ask questions related to those skill sets, also consider the company values specific to the role. 

One of Twilio’s values is to Wear the Customers’ Shoes, and it’s a value that is a focal point across departments and teams. Sherrell described how engineers always need to keep the customer in mind when building. 

How does this impact the customer? How do you consider the customer when you’re building the thing that you’re building? Whether you’re a product manager, an engineer on the team, whether you’re an engineering leader these traits are really important to us as a business,” said Sherrell.

Industry Experience

While not a deal-breaker, industry experience can bring a lot to the table. For example, in the tech space, it’s helpful to hire candidates who have also worked in similar architectures and operational environments. 

Sherrell explained, “We are a large, distributed system, a highly distributed stack, real-time, very high-scale. So you look to see, have they worked in those types of environments where they can bring that experience and skillset to the table to your organization?”

This is particularly helpful for management roles where individuals need to be familiar with how to navigate the industry. But it’s a plus, not table stakes. Focusing too much on industry experience could lead to you missing the right candidate. 

Confidence and humility

Sherrell said that she always asks candidates to share a situation where they failed, what happened, and what they learned from it.
“A candidate that is confident is comfortable telling you they made a mistake.” 
On the flip side, a candidate that doesn’t share a situation in which they failed or shares a situation that isn’t truly a mistake, may not have the confidence to tell you when they make a mistake on the job. 

Curiosity and interest

What questions does the candidate have at the end of the interview? Syrdoruk believes that the questions are a telltale sign of how much the candidate has prepared, their curiosity, and interest in the position. 

“I look at what questions the candidate has at the end of the interview about the job, company, the problems we have. That to me indicates how interested a candidate is in the position,” said Sydoruk.

Interview red flags

We’ve covered a few qualities to look for in an email developer, but what are some red flags to watch out for? Sherrell, Antolin, and Sydoruk share their interview pet peeves. 

A focus on pedigree

It ultimately doesn’t matter where candidates graduate from or whether or not they’ve worked for a tech behemoth.

“We’re not looking for the notoriety, we’re looking for both the hard skills with the pre interview test and the soft skills to be able to work together with the team and do the best thing for the customer no matter what,” said Antolin.

“I’ve never bought into the pedigree, and it rubs me the wrong way. It takes away from the individual,” shared Sherrell.

What matters is the applicable experience and a collaborative mindset. “People come from all paths, the diversity they bring is great. It makes our team stronger,” said Sydoruk. 

Job hoppers

With engineering roles, it can take 6 months, even 12 months to learn the company’s stack, technical nuances, and get up to speed. Candidates who have hopped around a lot, spending only 12-18 months at their previous roles, won’t be as valuable to the team.

Sherrell asks, “What is it you’re actually looking for? Because you’re not finding it in your previous roles. If you’re going through that cycle a lot, you don’t have the same impact.”

Antolin agreed, “The ramp is real. It’s 6 months to a year until you’re 100%.”

Ready to hire?

With these qualities and skills in mind, you’re ready to find the perfect candidate. To recap, here are the main takeaways:
  • Look for a strong back-end developer with a knack for soft skills.
  • Industry experience and domain expertise are big pluses, but not table stakes. 
  • Find a candidate that owns their mistakes and asks questions about the role.
  • Watch out for candidates that frequently hop jobs. 
Good luck finding the perfect candidate! Conversely, if you’re a developer looking for roles, check out Twilio’s open engineering positions

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