“Let Them Shine: A Different Approach to Hiring”: Camille Tate, Head of Talent at Strava and Elyse Gordon, Senior Director of Engineering at Strava

March 8, 2022

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Sukrutha Bhadouria: So, our next talk is by Elyse Gordon and Camille Tate from Strava. We have Elyse who’s a Senior Director of Engineering and Camille who is the Head of Talent. And they are going to talk to us about how they have evolved their tech hiring at Strava. We all know how challenging it is actually to find us the right people for that role. And we don’t want to ask them questions that are not relevant and interview them for skills that they’re never going to need to exercise. So, this is really important and interesting for us all to learn. Welcome, Elyse and Camille.

Camille Tate: Thank you so much.

Elyse Gordon: Thank you for having us. We’re really excited to be here. So, I’m Elyse. I work at Strava as a Senior Director in Engineering. I’m going to talk a little bit about why I’m here talking about this today and why this is important to me. I have spent many years in [inaudible] as an engineer and engineering leader in tech at this point. And I have felt for a long time that the way we interview folks whether it’s the specifics of questions we ask or just general like philosophy and approach just isn’t really serving the industry as a whole and definitely isn’t serving folks who are underrepresented in the industry across the board.

Elyse Gordon: And so, at Strava, over the last couple of years, we’ve really had the opportunity to rethink this and do things in a different way. And so, I’m excited to be here and talk to you about that today. And Camille is going to talk a bit about her why for being here, too.

Camille Tate: Hi, everyone. Thank you so much to Girl Geek and ELEVATE for having us here. We really appreciate the opportunity. My name is Camille Tate. And I’m with Strava. I’m the Head of Talent here. And I get the privilege and the honor to work with Elyse on a day-to-day basis. I’m very excited that we’re having this discussion about building diverse teams and the work we do at Strava to try to make our environment anti-racist culture and company.

Camille Tate: My why is simple. I live this life every day. It’s something that … I’m a black woman in tech. I’ve been in tech for quite some time. And there, I’ve experienced numerous things when it comes to hiring. I’ve seen numerous things being on the recruiting side in terms of discrimination and equality, people not putting in the effort to reach out to underrepresented groups.

Camille Tate: So, my why is personal to me and I love that Strava is on the path to making a change in our industry of tech, and trying to be a blueprint for what we can do in terms of promoting and hiring people from all walks of life. So, that is my why.

Elyse Gordon: Thanks, Camille. It’s always awesome to hear your talk about that more. So, I’m wondering like you’ve spent many, many years in recruiting both at tech companies and then the wider industry, can you talk about why sourcing is such a key part of hiring diverse teams? And really, what we’ve done to think about sourcing differently?

Camille Tate: Yeah. So, I don’t know how many recruiters we have that’s attending this conference, but it’s a well-known fact that the majority of applicants that apply for roles specifically in tech are majority white. That’s just a fact and it’s something that I’ve seen in the almost 17 years I’ve been doing this. So, sourcing is super important.

Camille Tate: And I think when … I want to redefine what sourcing means. Sourcing is not just going out and cherry-picking different people from all walks of life. Sourcing has changed. And I like to describe it … I don’t know if Elyse has heard me talk about this but I’ve mentioned it in other chats.

Camille Tate: Sourcing, I call it the three Es. So, if you don’t have these three Es a part of your sourcing strategy, then you’re probably doing things a little bit differently than the way we go about doing and promoting and just exposing opportunities to people from all backgrounds.

Camille Tate: So, the three Es are exposure, engagement and effort. And so, when you think about sourcing and it’s not just going out and cherry-picking people from underrepresented groups. And actually an example of sourcing is what Elyse and I are doing today which is speaking with all of you. So, sometimes, sourcing is more so exposure because I talked to a lot of candidates.

Camille Tate: A lot of candidates know who Strava is, but there are a lot of candidates especially from underrepresented groups that don’t know who Strava is. We have over 90 million athletes on the Strava platform. So of course, those athletes in that community know who Strava is, but then what about the groups that they are not necessarily in …

amille Tate: To Strava, an athlete is anyone who sweats. But maybe people have this impression that, “Oh, if I want to work for Strava, I have to have all these qualifications. And in addition to that, I have to be this endurance athlete that does all this cycling and running and things like that.”

Camille Tate: This is an opportunity. This is an example of an opportunity where we’re sourcing and we’re saying, “This is Strava. You don’t have to be an endurance athlete. I’m certainly not. And I’m still here thriving and striving.”

amille Tate: And so, that is just exposure is a key piece of sourcing, making sure that you expose opportunities and your culture to people that wouldn’t normally have heard of your company and the culture and the things that you can bring to the table as an employer.

Camille Tate: And then engagement, engagement is maybe someone that you speak to or something like that, they don’t have the qualifications or they’re not in alignment with roles you may have at the moment but you want to stay engaged with them. So, engagement is very important in terms of sourcing. It’s not necessarily all the time filling a role right then and right there, it’s keeping relationships going, i.e. building relationships with HBCUs or outreach organizations.

Camille Tate: You don’t want to just go to events or just go to a career fair, you’re looking to build long-term relationships. And then just effort, everybody needs to put in the effort to source and step outside of their comfort zone and not stay in their bubble or their network that they’re used to operating in.

Camille Tate: Sourcing is very much an inside job. I know we look at it as something that’s external and you’re reaching out, but it’s very much an inside job because you’re looking to communicate authentically with candidates from all backgrounds. So, I would say sourcing is very important, but it’s not the sourcing that we know of the past.

Camille Tate: This is the new sourcing and is better because you’re building more relationships and you’re creating just an alignment with candidates and building those relationships for now or in the future. So, I would say that that’s why source is important and those are the components of sourcing that we embrace at Strava.

Camille Tate: Also, one more thing before I get back to you, Elyse. But sometimes if you want to source and build relationships with underrepresented groups, you have to invest. Obviously, we are a sponsor here at the ELEVATE Conference and so appreciative of the opportunity, but sometimes you have to invest resources to gain access to people that you want to reach. And so, sometimes I know a lot of companies are like, “Well, let me just pick your brain,” or, “Let me just do this,” and you think everything is for free.

Camille Tate: Well, if you don’t have access, you need to invest resources. Sometimes that means paying money to have access or partner with a company that aligns with your culture and your values to gain access to the candidates you are looking to reach. So, that would be my thing on sourcing. Elyse, did you have anything to add to the sourcing piece?

Elyse Gordon: No, I mean, I think that was amazing. You covered it all. I will add, I am also not an endurance athlete. I love walking and moving, doing a little bit here and there what I can. I’m a mom so like do what you can. But we do not hire people because they can ride their bike 40 miles or run a marathon. We hire you because you’re going to contribute to the team. So, I think that’s just a really important thing to say.

Camille Tate: Right. And I wanted to pass the mic to you, Elyse, because I’ve been with Strava for 14 months and obviously have the privilege of working with you. And you’re very involved in hiring on the engineering side. And I would say that engineering at Strava is some of the most engaged and active hiring managers and teams and hiring processes that I’ve been a part of. So, I like you to speak to just the prep and process from an engineering hiring standpoint and what you and the team do to prepare yourself for hiring at Strava.

Elyse Gordon: Yeah. I mean, this has been a really key area-I mean, this has been a really key area of focus for us, both for a long time, in some ways, one of the hiring values we carried forward with us when we started doing things differently was actually put the candidate experience first, put the candidate first. And I think that was a good thing to bring with us.

Elyse Gordon: We just do it maybe in a different way now, but we’ve invested a ton in both how we talk to candidates, what we talk to candidates about, just basically communicating and authentic to Strava way, being transparent. We do a lot of prep with candidates. We tell them topic areas. We let you know what you’re going to be interviewing about. We don’t give you the whole question verbatim, but we give you enough time and information so you can be ready and confident going in.

Elyse Gordon: We never want anybody to feel like they’re taking a test, or feel like they got surprised. Right? We want you to do your best when you show up here, just like we’re trying to put our best foot forward. So I think that’s been a really key part.

Elyse Gordon: I think on the other side, how we actually have rethought the hiring process, we really look for all of our questions to reflect real work, no algorithm, sort of gotcha kind of questions. We’ve done a ton of work there. We continue to do work. If a question we don’t feel like is helping us evaluate candidates well, then we rethink it.

Elyse Gordon: And that’s a high effort process. It takes time to make new technical questions, and make them good, and make them reflect work. But we’ve really seen that the effort put in there. We’ve gone a lot of return. We can better evaluate candidates. We can evaluate level better.

Elyse Gordon: We get a lot of really great feedback on our process from candidates. So we’re both seeing how do we feel about it? How do candidates feel about it? We’ve invested heavily in rubrics. So I think you can never make a hiring completely objective.

Elyse Gordon: We’re all human beings involved in this process, but we try to take as much of a objective approach as we can get, especially with technical questions where we can have a rubric, the interviewer can fill out a rubric, and it’s the same every time. And that’s been really important.

Elyse Gordon: And the last thing I’ll say on this topic is we’ve really gone to a per role approach. And so last year we hired a bunch of folks coming out of boot camps, which was awesome. It’s a program we’re going to continue this year, really excited about that program. But when we first started interviewing for it, it just wasn’t working.

Elyse Gordon: We were not able to evaluate candidates with our current interview process well, and so we took a step back and we said, how can we let people shine? Which is where the [inaudible] came from. Thank you, Michelle Bousquet, our Head of People.

Elyse Gordon: And so we really took a step back, and rethought it, and we have a totally different interview process for early career now that is really looking at potential, and is not show us what you know, because you’re at the beginning of your career.

Elyse Gordon: We’re going to train you. Right. And so the questions we should be asking about bringing people on board are very different and that’s been really successful. So we’re just looking to continue to iterate, and continue to do more of that going forward.

Camille Tate: Yeah. And one of the things that I know you all do is speed to hire. I know a lot of companies just, “We got to fill all these roles, and we got to go, go, go.” And it doesn’t matter who’s in the pipeline, just pick the candidate who has the qualifications and move on. Elyse, I think that you all have done a really good job and say, “Wait a minute, our pipeline is not diverse enough. It doesn’t have… We haven’t exposed it to enough people. Let’s take a step back, and slow this down before we hire.”

Elyse Gordon: Yeah, I mean, as we were preparing for this, I really spent some time reflecting on the speed thing. And you know, honestly, this was not something we really went in knowing this was going to change so much. And I feel like this is… In Strava, when you talk about anti-racism, we talk about unlearning a lot.

Elyse Gordon: And this is something I felt like we had to unlearn, because everywhere else I have hired, even at Strava before the last couple years, speed was the end-all be-all, right. Speed to get that person in the door. How fast can you be interviewing? How fast can you make a decision? Right? And we have really walked away from that to the point where we’re willing to lose candidates, because their timeline and our timeline is not matching up.

Elyse Gordon: So I think that we have really committed to going in a different direction. And I think that’s good, because I think when you are all about speed, hiring managers tend to feel the pressure to do things like hire the first person they see, instead of seeing a bunch of candidates and say, “Who’s the best person and from this group?”

Elyse Gordon: And because of what Camille was talking about, that the people who apply tend to be in the majority groups, right? You do not serve your team goals of building a more diverse team when you hire that way. And so we have taken an approach where we do batch candidates, and it does take longer, to go from opening a role, get a bunch of candidates through screens, then get to onsite. It takes longer.

Elyse Gordon: However, we’ve been finding that when we do that in batch of candidates, we often find more than one great candidate in the batch. And then we make more than one offer, because we have more than one open role. And so the overall speed isn’t necessarily dramatically slowing down, but it feels slower in the middle, and that’s something we’ve really had to work on and adjust. And as a team, unlearn that, because it’s hard to go away from what you’ve known your whole career, the way you’ve been hired into roles is challenging.

Elyse Gordon: And so I think this is one of the things that we’re going to keep looking at. Like how do we make this continue to be great going forward? And how do we carry this forward, maybe even more intentionally? I think we’ve come to it, now how do we make it even more intentional?

Elyse Gordon: Camille, I have been wondering something. I see a lot on LinkedIn lately about people hiring DEI recruiters, or DEI specialists, sourcers, and we don’t hire like that. The whole team does it. So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that?

Camille Tate: Yeah. I mean, that’s a great question. I see it too, on my LinkedIn. I’m obviously connected to a lot of recruiters. But yeah, in my opinion, building a diverse team is everybody’s job. And specifically, not even a recruiter’s job, it’s the whole company’s job. That’s what I say every time I’m talking about hiring to the lovely teammates that we have at Strava. It’s everybody’s job.

Camille Tate: I don’t think that it makes sense, or it’s a benefit to anyone, to have separate diversity recruiters, or diversity sources over here. And then everyone is what, just… I don’t know what they’re doing over here, if everyone over here. So it’s important that the whole team leads with, if we say at Strava, we’re building diverse teams, that means we. That means every single person at Strava.

Camille Tate: That’s our philosophy, it’s not separate. It’s a part of who we are. It’s a part of our culture. We discuss it in interviews. Anti-racism is our number one ABC, which in some companies are their values or foundational principles. So it is important that everybody gets on the train, and is incorporating that into how we interview, how we hire, how we recruit. So that’s our philosophy, and I know we’re wrapping up, so there’s Angie. Thank you so much.

Angie Chang: Thank you so much, Camille and Elyse. There are so many quotable quotes. I’m sure they’ll be on Twitter later. So thank you so much for sharing all of your wisdom and insights about how Strava has evolved hiring.

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