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EP 25: Mats Andersson, Talent Acquisition, People person and Project Manager at Uplift Agency & Executive Director at The Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco & Silicon Valley

Podcast Transcript

James Mackey  0:00  

Hi, and welcome to Talent Acquisition Trends and Strategy. I'm your host, James Mackey, and today we are joined by Mats Andersson. Matt welcome to the show, how are you doing?


Mats Andersson  0:20  

Thanks for having me, James. I'm good. A pleasure to be here.


James Mackey  0:26  

We're happy to have you here. And before we jump into it, there are a few topics that I'm really excited to speak to. But would you mind sharing a little bit about your background before we jump into it?


Mats Andersson  0:38  

Yes, I can quickly share my background. So I started as a Software Engineer a long time ago, back in Sweden, where I'm from. Moved quite fast to Luxembourg, a small country in Europe, where I worked for a clearing house there as a developer, and project manager, different roles. We were acquired by the German Stock Exchange in Frankfurt, they wanted to set up a development center with lower costs. 


So back in 2007, I moved to Prague and together with a german colleague started to build up the dev center there. We built it to 450 people over 10 years and I moved to the US two and a half years ago, just before the pandemic. 


I currently work for Uplift agency. So it's a consultancy company, a company in Colorado that is fully remote, and I helped them hire engineers to the team. And I also run the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce here in San Francisco, Silicon Valley.


James Mackey  1:37  

Very cool. I'm very excited to speak to you. One of the interesting insights that I know you could bring to the table is that you started off as an engineer, and then at some point made the transition into recruiting. So I'm excited to learn a little bit more about how that shifts your perspective when it comes to hiring. But just to jump into it, we'd love to know right now Okay, you hiring engineers for engineering agency.


Love to hear a little bit about what you're seeing on the market. How's it going in terms of being able to recruit top talent, top engineering talent? And a little bit about what seems to be working right now? What trends are you seeing out there?


Mats Andersson  2:16  

Well, so we hire adaptive, we hire people from all over the world. And I think the trend of applicants is clearly going up over the last month or so. I don't know if it is because we are advertising ourselves better or getting known. I don't know. 


But in general, there are a lot of good engineers out there. And I think it's fascinating this aspect that people from all over the world now can work together so easily in a remote environment. Is fascinating how well that can work and how many good engineers you have from everywhere.


James Mackey  2:54  

For sure. And then from a recruiting standpoint, are you all finding most of your hires through LinkedIn outbound? It sounds like you're getting some inbound traction as well. Can you talk to us a little bit about the breakdown there both domestically and internationally?


Mats Andersson  3:11  

Yes, we use traditional channels, like LinkedIn, and Indeed and get a lot of spontaneous applications as well. And well break down. I think there's a loss. A lot of people from Southeast Asia, a major portion of Uplift contractors are US based, but we have people in Southeast Asia, Europe, South America, and Latin America. 


I mean, a lot of people want to work for US companies so there are a lot of applicants coming from outside. And we have a very formal process to select people, without thinking you need to have your consultants accompany you need to be a little bit more strict than when you hired for in-house, where you can maybe test things out more because, in the end, you place your engineers with a client for most of the cases.


James Mackey  4:09  

For sure. Is it accurate to say that for instance, if you're recruiting an AIPAC or LATAM or EMEA, you're getting more inbound qualified applications than in the US market? So maybe is it more outbound sourcing in the US market and more inbound internationally? Is that that an accurate statement?


Mats Andersson  4:30  

No. Well, I think it's difficult to attract senior US engineers, that is always a challenge to get, with five, seven plus years. So they are often sitting somewhere and it's difficult to get them, but I think we have some of them. But I think the last years we've seen a trend of a lot of people shifting careers, so they did something and then they were laid off during that time. And then they did a boot camp. And now they're developers. And maybe they were machine musicians or artists or hotel managers before so. So you see a lot of unions applying that have just recently graduated from a boot camp. It's massive, I think the shift in what brought people to care took responsibility for their own life the last years.


James Mackey  5:24  

For sure. So what do you all think about the boot camps? Does your agency hire people that don't have a lot of hands-on experience, but went through one of these boot camps? I mean, I know a lot of companies, at least our clients are really not interested in moving forward with junior talent. Even if they come from a boot camp. They're really looking for people that have worked in production environments, and you know, push things live. That seems to be pretty important to our client base, which is startups and growth stage tech companies primarily. 


Do you all hire engineers that come from the boot camps? Or do you also look for the real life experience, in addition to that?


Mats Andersson  6:00  

Yeah, we do. The real-life experiences is important. But we interviewed and I think we have had some coming from both camps. But it's two, or three years of production experience is important to have. But we're very open. I mean, we have a very big funnel in the beginning. So we're very open to kind of meeting people, talking to them and giving them a chance to do the code exercise and then take it from there. 


And then, in the end, it depends on what if we have a client that is open to taking on a junior, we are very open to doing it. And then we have some in-house projects, as well, there are some products we do and there we have been taking on some more junior people that there is less of a risk for us. And we can kind of help them more because they need when you come from a boot camp. And if you were a hotel manager before you need some supervision and some mentoring in the beginning. So we have done that for the internal project.


James Mackey  7:02  

Sure. So basically, what we do is tech companies borrow recruiters from us. So essentially, companies borrow engineers from you to some extent, right? I know, that's an oversimplification. But just to keep it simple, right? 


We kind of do that on the recruiting side. And one thing that we've learned throughout the years is, okay, if we're gonna hire somebody or team members that are a little bit more junior, we really have to make sure that we've optimized for the onboarding experience and the training and enablement to make sure that they can ramp quickly. So is that something that you're seeing too? Is that an investment that you are making where, okay, for the junior team members, we really have to focus on not only management oversight on an ongoing basis, but the first three months making sure that they have the right resources in place to be successful?


Mats Andersson  7:53  

Yes, totally. And also, in my previous career, when I was hiring in Europe and building up teams, therefore, for the Deutsche Börse in Prague,  it's vital that you help unions coming in, otherwise, you set them up for failure. So that's super important to pair them with a more senior engineer and give them guidance and be around them to support them. That's vital. I think that's for any profession. I mean, you need to help juniors. At the same time, smart people are smart. So people learn very fast if they are put in the right environment, I think.


James Mackey  8:37  

Yeah, I agree. I think one thing that I've learned over the years is that the better your onboarding, training enablement, process, and tech stack, right? I mean, the more that you have those things optimized, the more able, you are to bring on more junior talent, which means it's a wider talent pool, as well as at a lower cost. So it really makes sense to invest in those strategies to optimize onboarding, experience training and enablement, process tech, these types of things so that you can get the advantage of a bigger talent pool at a better price. 


And I think the same holds true is actually for A players versus B players, right? Like when you don't have a lot of process enablement training in place,  you have to find that top 95 percentile candidate, because they're not going to have a lot of support walking into the environment. Whereas, if you have all the right training and enablement and process in place, it actually enables organizations to hire people that might be 80th percentile, right? Because they can thrive more in a structured environment. So that's another kind of interesting thing that I've seen just as well being on the agency side, like your team.


Mats Andersson  9:53  

Yeah, no, totally. And I agree with that, and you need the 8% players as well. I mean it's good to have a team of only 100% players, but in the end, they are often very demanding. And it will be more difficult to manage and you need a balance, like in any team. So, to create an environment for growth is important. 


James Mackey  10:18  

It's also just hard to achieve large scale when you only have the 95 percentile, 100 percentile, kind of people on your team. It just going to slow down hiring, it's going to push up salaries to an insane rate, which is going to mean you have to have even higher pricing for customers, right?


Mats Andersson  10:38  

Yeah, totally. No, you need to have a balance between people with a little bit less of experience and a little bit less cost and the seniors who can drive the engine forward.


James Mackey  10:54  

Are you seeing any trends? I mean, I know remotes becoming probably more and more important to engineers. But are you seeing any other kinds of trends in terms of what engineers are looking for? 


I mean, it could be something like really tactical, like a certain technology or certain industries, or, like what is really hot right now? What are the most common questions you're getting from engineers that you're recruiting right now?


Mats Andersson  11:18  

Well, I think remote. This is one of the big things. I mean, Paul, and Marius,  started Uplift back in 2016 as a remote company, and I think than was more difficult being remote. But I think for engineers, it's a dream to be remote. In general, they don't like too much meetings, small talk, and all these things happening in an office space. But there are exceptions. But so I think it's a dream for them to be able to work when you want and do the rounds. 


So that's clearly why I think we get a lot of applicants and also I think, even if you're not that much into small talk in meetings, you want an inclusive collaborative environment. That's vital to have an environment where you, in the end, work as a team. I think most people want to have that, good team atmosphere. 


And then with regards to tech stacks, I think that could see different things. I think some engineers that I've met over the year are seeing programming languages more in a religious way. So they only believe in their language and some others see it more as a tool to develop a product, but they don't really care about that. But in the end, most want to be on the top of the last, whatever framework or language there is out there that nobody wants to miss out. And you have to spend a lot of time and energy to stay on top of that. 


James Mackey  12:56  

Yeah, actually from a hands-on perspective, I didn't ever get too much into tech recruiting. I did engineers, I did networking and infrastructure, and QA. So I've had some experience, but really, when we started to do tech recruiting was when I was scaling out the organization and I brought on tech recruiters that we're used to living in this world for years and years. 


So, yeah, everything that you're saying sounds very familiar today, as well. I know one of the things too, that a lot of our clients are looking for when it comes to leads and managers was more so on the communication side. And, you know, that was one of the reasons why I think some of the earlier stage startups were looking to first grow domestic teams here in the US just so there's no kind of communication breakdowns in the early days of product development. And maybe they just didn't have as much process built out. 


So I know that that was another big piece just finding people that have it all, right? Like people that have the technical side and also have the communication which is pretty hard to find. I don't know if you agree, but I remember for some people to find engineering managers and directors, I know that was always, a challenge for a lot of the companies that came to us on the recruiting side.


Mats Andersson  14:20  

Yeah, it is. So basically, I screened most of all the candidates to check for your English and general communication and things like that. I'm not diving too deep into the technology but it's got to be a person you want to work with and who can express themselves. 


Hiring engineering managers, it's difficult from the outside. In my past role, we tried to often grow them from the inside. In general, I think that turns out to be better with some exceptions, but it's difficult to find a person who is good at leading and wants to take time. Because if you go into the management role, you can't code as much. That's for sure. You need to spend time with people, you need to be interested in people to do that. Otherwise, it won't work out that well. 


James Mackey  15:25  

I think that's probably one of the most challenging parts too because if somebody's an engineer,  I'm assuming most of them probably want to stay hands-on current with the latest technologies and continue to develop that technical skill set. 


So I guess it is about finding the people that want to move into more of a leadership role that's more focused on people. And they're comfortable with no longer quite as much advancing their technical skill set. I mean, they need to be aware of the latest. Right? And they have to be current with it, but they're not going to be diving into the tactics in the day-to-day, right?


Mats Andersson  15:58  

Yeah, no, totally. And I think everyone has to make that choice at some point in time where they want to go further. I mean, not even if you're a good engineer and developer, you maybe you don't want to be that in 20 years, and maybe you want to do it. I think it's a personal choice. But if you're into, if you love people or like to talk with people, it's a good chance of keeping yourself up to date, and still be in the engineering world.


James Mackey  16:34  

Gotcha. So quick question about how Uplift operates. So I know it's an international company. I think you mentioned that at least one of the founders was from Romania. How does the team go about structuring? I guess one question is, most of the clients are they in the US market? Or do you serve clients internationally?


Mats Andersson  16:59  

Most clients are in the US market. Both founders are from Romania. So it's two brothers, Pual and Marius from Romania. But we are pretty flexible. Some clients say that they want a candidate in the US, it could be for convenience reasons. It could be for some legal reasons, then we hire in the US. If the client is flexible, we can hire from anywhere. So we talk every day to people from all over the world, basically.


James Mackey  17:31  

Is there any kind of team structure? So for instance, do you want to have team leads or managers in the US? Or does it really just not matter at all? Like you'll take people at every level of the organization? Anywhere where you get the best person? I mean, what does that look like?


Mats Andersson  17:46  

Well, ideally, you want to have team leads in the US, it's a little bit easier,  timezone is a problem. So I think Uplift is really flexible, we kind of expect four hours overlap a day in US timezone. But if you're in a more lead role, I think, in advance to be in the US, for the timezone, if not for anything else.


James Mackey  18:12  

Right timezone to communicate with leadership. Yeah, having that alignment with the leaders in the company can be really important. We are starting to for my company, looking more into building international teams, for a couple of reasons, one for blended rates, so we can bring down the cost of labor. Because we, just like your team, don't really care where people are based, right? We just want to open up the talent pool and be competitive there too. So we're considering it for that reason. 


Then the other reason to, that something interesting that I'm thinking about, particularly for supporting larger customers, enterprise customers is, if we can have team members in multiple time zones, and we can get more work done in a day. It's like we have, you know, essentially we're working 18 to 20 hours a day, a lot more than if we're just operating one times. So that's been interesting to figure out how we can get more done faster, open up the talent pool, and have more so blended rates to bring down the cost of labor. All of those things are kind of contributing to us thinking about scaling, international teams to support, particularly again, like larger customers, right, that are looking for 5, 10 more people to support their company at any given time.


Mats Andersson  19:27  

Yeah, I think it's great to bring the world together. What I think is important if you build teams of 5,10 people, you need someone kind of making the bridge, someone that you trust or that is close to you. So you can't just hand off a bunch of work and then expect to be done. You need some bridging people who are between whatever client you have and that team, I think it's important. It doesn't need to be much. It could be one person who checks in an hour a day or whatever, who knows that people need to feel to create some environment where they feel like a team.


James Mackey  20:13  

Oh, yeah, I agree with you. I mean, I think particularly for services companies, there really needs to be several checks and balances in place to ensure quality control and ensure alignment. And so for us, we essentially have a Head of Delivery that oversees the majority of our projects company-wide. And then we also have a team lead layer as well. And then we have the full individual contributor role. 


And Head of Delivery is either on the weekly calls with the client checking in or the team leaders or both of them, it just depends on the scope of the project. But we try to bake in a few layers of redundancy to ensure that everybody's aligned on the same page performance is going to plan, right, we have like a few key metrics we're looking at as well. But I agree with you. Everybody has to have clearly defined points of impact. But it's really beneficial to have a few people involved and know the client. 


For the other reason, beyond like checks and balances,  it's also good if somebody goes out of office, right? Or somebody leaves. And if you don't have a team leader or a head of delivery that's engaged with that client, then the knowledge transfer becomes a nightmare. So it's good to have those layers of redundancy kind of built-in where there are more eyeballs on it. So if somebody leaves the company or goes out of the office for a prolonged period of time, you can essentially, hopefully, kind of more so, plug in another great person on the team into that project. And the knowledge transfer is much easier, they can get up to speed on the project and what's going on, versus just simply assigning an individual contributor without having management leadership layers to communicate, and help ensure that things go to plan.


Mats Andersson  22:06  

Yeah, totally. And I think that comes to the importance of building teams, and not only having individual, A players in the team, because I mean, if you have a good team, doesn't really matter if someone goes off a couple of days or weeks. And I think also one important aspect, if you outsource to other parts of the world, you need to take into account the culture. 


You must make sure you have a team where you have fluid communication, where people can trust you, so they speak up. Because there are parts of the world where people won't necessarily say, Oh, I have a problem, I don't understand this. It's not in the culture. So if you don't have an environment where they can speak up, you might end up with a problem that you didn't see come.


James Mackey  22:54  

Yeah, I think it's really important for leaders, particularly service companies that employ people internationally to have experience running multicultural organizations, because you're right, there are a lot of nuances. 


For instance, we have a subsidiary in Romania. So I actually lived in Bucharest for a year and a half. So my daughter is half Romanian, so, I'm all the way in on the Romanian culture. I spent a lot of time there, got a lot of love for people in Bucharest, and we got a lot of friends and family there. 


But one of the things I noticed is, the culture is obviously drastically different from the American culture. Right? You know, we're loud and direct. And, we might be a lot more outspoken, where, you know, our team members and other parts of the world, like, for instance, Romania, for example. They're gonna handle conversations in completely different ways. They may not speak up when it comes to certain things, there are just different things, you have to be able to facilitate conversations and a way that certain cultures like to communicate and have, I guess, been, communicating throughout their lifetime. And that's definitely been a lesson learned for us, is making sure to facilitate those conversations. And, we might have like situational leadership, right? That too.


It's like how we kind of manage and lead the US team might be different than EMEA, might be different than AIPAC and you have to take a situational approach. And also that comes down to the people functions too. Like when it comes to benefits and perks and what people want, right? I mean, what somebody wants in general in America might be totally different than what people want in Eastern Europe, and you got to approach each region differently to make sure that you're providing good experiences for employees in different parts of the world.


Mats Andersson  24:50  

Yeah, that's so true. To take a situational approach and you need to do it and it's very difficult because sometimes they don't have the known knowledge of the culture or the people. I mean, I think Sweden, I'm not an expert on Romanian culture, but I know very well Czech, French, Swedish and German culture. And, for example, in Sweden, people even if they don't agree with you, will not necessarily speak up. So and for an American, that will be a sign like, yeah, they didn't say anything. So they agreed. But it's not necessarily true.  


There are limits on how much you can accommodate everyone as well. I mean, everybody has to try to adapt to the environment. But it's so important to take this into account. And also, what you mentioned there with what people expect, it could be that they couldn't be so different. If it's just employment or salary, or, or he has to challenge, you have no clue if you don't try to dig into it a little bit. 


James Mackey  25:59  

Yeah, it's funny. We've had certain situations with clients where we will have like, an Israeli customer. And we have US and Romanian team members supporting the customer, and everybody's coming from a different style of communication. And again, it's just so important to have a leader. Like I had a delivery that is used to work in, in these multicultural environments. I think we're speaking the same language here because it's just so incredibly important. 


And one thing that I learned working with our Romanian team is, if you don't fully understand the culture,  it's also okay to ask. Like, it's okay to just say like, Hey, how do you think we should run these meetings to get the most out of this? How do you feel like we should be communicating and going through this? And I mean, you can sometimes just ask, and I've learned a lot about different cultures just by simply just saying, like, hey, like, if we're recruiting in this market? How do we reach out to candidates? Like in the US, you know, we're very "best in class, disruptive", it's a lot of buzzy stuff, right? Just talking up. But if you were to do that, for instance, in Romania, people are gonna be like, This it's too much, it's too much, just, dial it back a little bit. And so you have to have those different approaches. And a lot of times, you're not going to learn, unless you start just asking those questions. So I try to ask as much as I can.


Mats Andersson  27:22  

Yeah, it's a good approach. I mean, in general, people are always open to that. So you can always ask and set expectations from the beginning. It's a good thing, it's an easy, quick, small thing to do, but often forgotten.


James Mackey  27:37  

For sure. From a leadership perspective, I'm of the mindset of, you know, to some extent, you can't scale relationships. You can have all the surveys in the world, but a lot of the times the best insight that you're gonna get is just from getting in there and talking with people and creating deep human connections and asking these types of questions, right?  They're not necessarily going to give you that feedback in a survey. Right?


Mats Andersson  28:03  

No. They won't and they will be suspicious about the survey in general, as most people are. So you get to create these relations. And it's fascinating to do that.


James Mackey  28:17  

It is. It's very rewarding. It's a lot more fun and interesting. And I think it's also beneficial to organizations to have people coming from different cultures and perspectives, fresh ideas, creativity, just there's a lot of things that can flow. As long as you have a leader that can bring people together and help them communicate. There are a lot of benefits to having people coming from diverse perspectives.


Mats Andersson  28:42  

Yeah, I think the ultimate product or business will thrive from that. I've I'm convinced too.


James Mackey  28:50  

For sure. I have a question for you. So you were living in Prague for a while, right? 


Mats Andersson  28:55  

Yeah, I lived for 12 years in Prague. 


James Mackey  28:57  

Okay. I was there for about probably five months in total and I absolutely love that city.


Mats Andersson  29:04  

It's fantastic. Yeah, it's, it's amazing. Yeah.


James Mackey  29:08  

I'm still thinking about it. I want one day in the future maybe buying a place there. I just had such a great time.


Mats Andersson  29:14  

Yeah, I know it. And also they have fantastic engineers coming out there. I mean, during the communist regime, I think the schools were built up to be really good. And they've been continuing to because they have really good engineers, both Czechs, and Slovaks. And the town is fantastic. The environment I love it. I never managed to learn to speak Czech, even if I was 12 years, unfortunately. But you can get around. Great place to be.


James Mackey  29:44  

Yeah. I never learned the language. You know, I was only there for five months, but I did not get very far. I got a few words. And that was about it. But were you in recruitment when you were working over there? What were you doing at that point in time?


Mats Andersson  29:56  

So I was Managing Director. We were two managing directors for Deutsche Börse. I was basically building up their teams and we were delivering software to the Frankfurt Stock Exchange and also to the clearing house in Luxembourg. And so we had a very developed matrix organization. So basically me and my colleague, Michael, we were hiring people. And then helping manage them building up teams, building up knowledge, and then a lot of collaboration with the teams in Luxembourg. And Frankfurt was also a fantastic time to love this.


James Mackey  30:37  

Yeah, that sounds like a lot of fun. Were you primarily recruiting in the Czech Republic? Or was it internationally?


Mats Andersson  30:43  

Well, we started to recruit in the Czech Republic, but then it grows. So in the end, I think we had 25 different nationalities. So, Prague is really a hub where people come for various reasons. For example, we need to find mainframe developers at that time, but couldn't find that in Europe. So, we hired people from India, young engineers from India who flew over to Prague. And they now live there, and they did very well. So yeah, in the end, even US, Canada, people come to Prague, it's a central Europe.


James Mackey  31:20  

It's a great place. I'm still waiting to land a big project in Prague. So I can have an excuse to go out there. But I just want to go to Prague, I want to start getting clients in different regions where I just want to travel to, that'd be great.


Mats Andersson  31:39  

Sounds like a good plan.


James Mackey  31:41  

I would open an office in Nice like the South of France. Just kidding, but it'd be cool to have all these cool destinations to go to one day.


Mats Andersson  31:50  

Yeah. And go to Sweden, Sweden in the summer, preferably.


James Mackey  31:53  

Summer. Yeah. I'd love to. I will get there one of these days. Well, look, this has been a tonne of fun. I want to thank you again for coming on the show today. And just for contributing and sharing your knowledge and insight with the audience today.


Mats Andersson  32:10  

Thank you so much. It was a great pleasure.


James Mackey  32:13  

Thank you. And by the way for people that want to connect with you, where can they find you online?


Mats Andersson  32:19  

Well, to connect drop me a mail at mats@upliftdotLtd.


James Mackey  32:27  

All right, good stuff. Well, thank you for joining us and for everybody else tuning in. Thanks. And we'll see you next time. Take care. Thank you.

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