Focusing on people is essential for growing tech companies

By Gauthier Feuilen

Artificial intelligence (AI) and data-driven solutions have been on the rise for quite some years now and their many applications became an integral part of our society. It is therefore not surprising that the war on talent in the labour market is spreading to data engineers and machine learning engineers. But how do you let those talented, newly recruited talents flourish in a growing tech company? Richard Branson hits the nail on the head: "Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don't want to."

Attracting talent is just one piece of the jigsaw that IT consultancies have to lay down. To complete the puzzle, it is not only crucial to make full use of that talent, but also to nurture and retain it. This proves to be quite a challenge for scale-ups in full growth. One of the key pillars is an all-encompassing focus on the people in the company. They need to be able to develop personally, feel good in the team, and be satisfied with their work.

Guilds and the sharing of knowledge

In IT, innovative technologies are popping up like mushrooms. It is essential to think on your feet, to amass as much knowledge as possible and especially to share it subsequently. At Dataroots, small groups gather around specific domains to keep an overview of the exponential growth of information and to make it available to the entire company. We do this via guilds, a concept that we recently rolled out but which was actually included in what we call our 'agile methodology' right from the start. We thus apply the same agility we use in our projects when sharing our common interests in smaller groups.

The guilds within Dataroots bring together various people, from data engineers, machine learning engineers and solution architects to HR and communications staff. The members enrich each other with knowledge and experience, which is then transferred to end customers or internal projects. This creates real added value for both knowledge sharing and community building within Dataroots. Guilds are our way of making it easier for everyone in the company to both contribute to and benefit from the knowledge that is built up internally. The appointment of these communities as guilds may be new, but the idea of knowledge sharing has been around since the creation of Dataroots. It is part of our DNA.

Personal development during working hours

Of course, in order to share knowledge, knowledge must be built up. How do you motivate and inspire employees to further develop themselves? Not by taking them by the hand, but with a willingness to let them loose. Give them the freedom to propose ideas and work out their own initiatives and projects during working hours. You will witness the growth of both your people and the knowledge within your company.

In the tech sector, standing still is lethal. This is more true in tech than in any other sector. So you want your talented data engineers and machine learning engineers to master the latest technologies and keep a finger on the pulse of developments within their field. We have experienced that the guilds provide an additional incentive to effectively implement and share initiatives, both within and outside the company.

We are open to all kinds of ideas and activities, such as open source projects, trying out new tools, obtaining certificates or putting research into practice. Other possibilities include pro-bono projects like a hackathon for an African NGO or participation in projects run by Data4Good, an association that aims to encourage scientists and data professionals to use their knowledge and skills for a good cause. In doing so, we do not focus on one industry specifically, but try to harness knowledge that can be reused in various scenarios.

Talent acquisition as a result of talent retention
Scale-ups compete against one another to attract talented people, but it doesn't stop there. Employees should also be encouraged and supported to remain at the top of their field. The management's commitment to give us the opportunity to work on our own ideas during working hours is unique. This significant investment without commercial KPIs is not a business decision, but evidence of a genuine focus on the people within the company. Not only does it increase general employee satisfaction, it indirectly has the positive effect of attracting new talent.

Reinforcing team spirit

As a consultancy company, our people often work for different clients or on one specific project and sometimes even on-site. And now everyone works from home because of the corona pandemic. Within this context, it is not an easy task to create a collective team spirit. Dataroots' Rootlabs framework, which covers all talent retention, acquisition and development initiatives, responds to this. By giving people the opportunity to do something for themselves in teams with colleagues with whom they do not normally work together, Rootlabs and the guilds that fall under it contribute to an important sense of belonging. Furthermore, it allows more variety and diversification, both in terms of our social and working life.

In the future, we want to expand on Rootlabs by for example further developing the already active Rootlabs@Lunch's initiative, where we share our AI and ML expertise free of charge in the form of webinars with use cases, know-how and experiments. In addition, we are planning breakfast sessions as soon as this is allowed again, in order to further offer knowledge to all possible interested parties. In this context, we would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with one or more universities. The focus is on our people who can fully develop themselves within Dataroots, while at the same time spreading our knowledge outside of the company walls.