Chad talks to the CEO of thoughtbot, Diana Bald, about 2021 in retrospect. thoughtbot, as a company, has settled into a new structure that contains different teams and committed to becoming a fully remote organization.
Last year, Diana successfully transitioned into taking over the company's CEO role. She and Chad talk about the improvements the company made in 2021, including DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) efforts and training sessions, and look ahead to some improvements coming in 2022, such as an expansion of the apprenticeship program.
P.S.: thoughtbot is hiring! To see open roles, visit thoughtbot.com/jobs.
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CHAD: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Chad Pytel. And with me today back again is Diana Bald, the CEO of thoughtbot. Diana, welcome back to the show.
DIANA: Thanks for having me back, Chad. Hello everybody out there.
CHAD: You joined us in the spring; I guess is the best way to put it where we talked about the transition from me to you of CEO. And it feels like it was actually simultaneously both just yesterday that we did that recording and a long, long time ago. How has this year been for you?
DIANA: Yeah, I completely agree. It feels the same way for me. [chuckles] This year has been interesting and eventful. Well, 2021 has been.
CHAD: So we're recording this just in the dawn of 2022. Looking ahead, we're bright-eyed and ready to go to the New Year, right?
DIANA: That's right.
CHAD: So I thought that it'd be good to do a little bit of a retrospective or a review of 2021. A lot changed for thoughtbot. And the last time we talked about it was way back at the beginning of all those changes.
And I've had all the managing directors of the different teams on now to talk about the different teams, and what they're focused on, and how they're working, and what their goals are. And I thought it'd be fun to do that for thoughtbot overall with you.
DIANA: Yeah, I think it's a great idea.
CHAD: Cool. So since we last talked, we really settled into the different teams and the new structure. And even little things like we've sublet most of our office spaces and those kinds of things. I'm really reaffirming how things have gone. But I'm curious, just at a high level, what's been the most surprising thing for you about 2021?
DIANA: [chuckles] That was not a question I was expecting.
DIANA: The most surprising thing for me was (There were a lot.) I think how quickly we put everything together actually. That was probably the most surprising thing. I think that we were able to reorganize and pretty much just get to work in the new team structure right away.
There wasn't a lot of reinventing. We reinvented when we redefined. But as we started doing the work, it was very logical, like, oh, this makes a lot of sense. These teams break out very nicely. So that speed in which that happened, I think, was the biggest surprise to me.
CHAD: I know that some people said we moved maybe too quickly on some of those changes. How do you respond to those people?
DIANA: [laughs] It's different personalities. Well, can I take a philosophical perspective?
CHAD: Yeah, totally.
DIANA: Okay. So I have a frame of mind as life doesn't happen to us. It happens for us in the sense that there is never a perfect time to do anything. One can be preparing, preparing, preparing, and it's good. Preparation is great. Analysis is great. All that stuff is good. But there's never going to be perfect anything. In fact, it's better to get started to get the feedback because the feedback is real.
And it's kind of like the way that we actually work, in fact. You respond, and you iterate based on what the circumstances are telling you. And I think that's the difference in point of view. So, for me, I thought the pace was nice. But I could see why other people might have thought we moved too quickly.
CHAD: So I forgot to mention the episode number if folks want to go back and listen to more of the details. It was Episode 392 where we talked, and then Episode 393 at giantrobots.fm/393 is where we talked about the details of the different teams and going fully remote, so if folks want to go back and listen to that. And then obviously, I've been talking to the different managing directors recently.
So now that we're almost a full...actually, I think we're a full year from when we actually made the changes.
DIANA: January eighth was the day.
CHAD: So we're a few days shy of a full year. I think there are really two aspects of this whole thing. There was the concept of going remote and committing to being fully remote. And there's the concept of then reorganizing the company in a way that was supportive of that.
And a lot of that was driven by the fact that we were really organized previously around the geographic studios and how we didn't feel like continuing that way was going to be something that would be sustainable for us over the long-term, both from a sales and business perspective but from a people perspective too.
And so we talked about the teams and how quick and how I think overall well that has gone. How about the fully remote aspect? How has it been for you personally? That's one way to put it.
DIANA: Well, I think that remote should be taken into context. We went remote in a time when the entire world was going remote. And I think that if we had gone remote at a different time, our experiences would be a little different because, with the start of the pandemic, we had a lot of limitations to our freedom because we were on lockdown.
And so when you go remote in a time of lockdown, and a time of limitations to freedom, it's very different than being remote at a time when you have the flexibility to go work out during the middle of the day, go pick up kids from school or whatever one does when you have flexibility. [chuckles]
So I think that the time that we started remote helped us clarify that yes, this is something we want to do. But I think our experience was tainted because we were in lockdown at the time, and our freedoms were very limited.
If our freedoms weren't so limited, we had planned, as you know, because we talked about it, having pop-up offices or having the ability to bring people together, and we weren't able to do any of those ideas. The pandemic took much longer than we thought it would for us to get to that. And right now, we're back in that place where Omicron is going on. And we're still kind of semi...not really locked down, but a lot of us are being extra cautious.
And then, for me personally, I'm enjoying the freedom. I like the freedom. But I'm also very cautious because I have to protect my family. And I just need to be very careful when I meet with people and things like that.
CHAD: Well, I agree that the social-emotional impact of how things have been for the last two years basically has made this transition difficult for a lot of people, myself included. And we've needed to be mindful of that, I think, as we try to move forward as aggressively as possible towards the way things we want to be.
I think it's been challenging for myself, for team members to realize that the way things are now isn't necessarily the way things are always going to be. We will be able to be in person. We will be able to visit each other. We'll be able to have those pop-up offices and that kind of thing that we've been limited to do. I'm really looking forward to that sometime in the future.
DIANA: Yeah, for sure I am as well.
CHAD: The other side from the business has been we're not getting pressure from clients. I feel like I'm revisiting this topic. [chuckles] I know last time we talked, it was like, I wonder what it's going to be like when we start getting clients back in person. And is there going to be pressure to be with them? And that kind of thing.
And unfortunately, because of the pandemic going on, we haven't been getting that pressure. Now, that works for our business because it just relieves the pressure or the need to travel or schedule things and that kind of thing.
But that being said, I'm more optimistic than I was before even though we haven't truly lived it that not only will clients...and that we have a really good way of doing things like design sprints and everything remotely but that there will be a benefit to getting together at the start of projects once we can safely do that and everything.
And I think people will better understand the concept of we're getting together to kick off the project or to do the design sprint. We could do it remotely, but we're choosing to do it in person with the understanding that it's totally fine to go back remote after we've had that in-person kickoff.
DIANA: Yeah, and I think that there's going to be some situations where it will be better to be remote to have the sprint and other situations where let's say you want to test something with a live audience or you want to get feedback from live people interacting with a physical object or something like that where it would make sense to have the physical in-person component. And other things are better with a brainstorm to have it be digital.
I think it just depends on the circumstances and the client and what they're looking to achieve. And having that flexibility that we don't currently have right now because of the variant is something I'm looking forward to.
CHAD: So when we talk about the transition and you taking over the CEO role, I said that one of the reasons why I thought that was the right thing to do and was excited to do that was because I thought that you were going to be better for what the company, and particularly the managing directors and the other leaders at the company, needed to get to the next stage.
And I forget exactly how much...a lot of that is baked into getting to the next stage of thoughtbot. One is resiliency of team and leadership and not having it be based solely around me. That's certainly one aspect of it. The other is your deep experience with sales and marketing; business development better match what we need to do going forward in terms of building, getting to the next levels of revenue, and sustainability.
And at the time, you were still learning, or maybe learning is the wrong word. How would you describe it? Basically, like getting a handle on things before making decisions or changes to move forward with certain aspects of how we do business development and that kind of thing.
DIANA: Yeah, I think I understand what you're saying.
CHAD: And so now that we're significantly past that point, what are some of the things that you've done or focused on with thoughtbot business development with thoughtbot overall that you would consider positive changes?
DIANA: I think the introduction of Rocket Fuel is one that I would consider a positive change in that direction. We had...I don't know if we want to re-familiarize the audience with the theme of rocket.
CHAD: Yeah, I totally think you should because I think it might come out of nowhere for people.
DIANA: [laughs] So we organized around a theme to make it easier for us to convey what we're doing. And you could think of the stages of a rocket from ignition to blast off in orbit. And basically, it's a fun way of saying that we have an end-to-end product development process.
And so everything from ideation and validation that's our Ignite team, to building and going to market is our Lift Off team. Scaling and transforming is our Boost team. And supporting and maintaining is our Mission Control team.
So when you have a rocket, you need fuel. [chuckles] And so that's where we introduce Rocket Fuel, which is basically business development and marketing. And what we did is we changed it from being two different ways of approaching, driving the business into business development being the driver and marketing being the support.
And what I mean by that is it's more strategic, in line with the different stages of where we are. So for the Ignite team, their needs are very different than for the Boost team. So when we're in the ideation validation stage with a client, it's very, very different than a client who's in the transformation or in the scaling stage of their product.
So having that mindset of driving that phase of product development has been very helpful to us because then we can apply the marketing tactics, strategies, plans around the stage of that product lifecycle. So that's been something that I think has worked really well this past year.
CHAD: So what does the Rocket Fuel team look like? What are the different roles on it?
DIANA: Well, it's small right now, but we're growing it. We have Kelly, who is our Associate Director of Business Development, and she's focused on supporting more of the implementation of some of the ideas that are coming out of each of the marketing tactics that I mentioned earlier. So whether it's partnerships with different organizations or whether it is campaigns that we're running so overseeing those, and she's also stepping in when the managing director has to step away for a few months, maybe somebody is taking paternity leave or something like that. Kelly stepped in there.
And then we have in sales enablement Liz who's serving as a Sales Enablement and Business Development Manager. And she's really helping us get exactly what her title says, enable the sales process. So she's putting together the marketing collateral. She's got our CRM system, getting that organized and up to date with information. And she's starting to work on updating our handbook with business development information and marketing information that's changed since we were in our old structure. So she's getting that in line.
So she's more behind the scenes and more enabling us to move quickly. And Kelly is more on the strategic end of it, helping us build out the plans that'll drive the growth of each of our teams.
CHAD: And Liz is also helping respond to RFPs and making sure things move forward or are pulled together for making proposals and contracts with clients, right?
DIANA: Yeah, she's doing a great job on that.
CHAD: I think all of those things are something that we had talked about doing for a while, having someone be able to help with those kinds of things, especially when we have a world where managing directors at thoughtbot are responsible not just for sales but for the whole business that they run.
And so they have a lot on a day-to-day or a weekly basis of what they need to spend time on. So having someone who can help them have time to spend on things that are not sales and to make sure that sales move along quickly, I think, has worked really well. And it was something we had talked about for a while, and I'm really happy to see it come to fruition.
DIANA: Yeah, I am too. I agree; it is helping the managing directors take a breath. They need sustainable lives as well. And it's good that we're able to help them in this regard. I think we can help them even more. Liz has only been with us for a few months. And as she gets more and more comfortable, she gets more and more ideas and starts to run a little faster, which is great to see her do that.
And the same with Kelly, as she's wrapping her arms around her new role, she is also coming up with a lot of ideas. And it's exciting to see them work because they energize each other. [laughs] It's really cool.
And we're also recruiting for an Associate Director of Business Development for Mission Control to help us grow that team. If anybody out there is listening, and you know of anyone, [laughs] encourage them to apply.
CHAD: Yeah, that's a really good point. So that Mission Control does DevOps, maintenance, SRE work, so we're really looking for someone who has experience growing and building that kind of business. And it's quite honestly a big growth opportunity because there's a real opportunity to start as the Associate Director of Business Development in that business and grow into more of a Managing Director role, right?
DIANA: Absolutely. We see it as an opportunity to come in on the ground floor; essentially as the very fast-moving, high potential team gets going. So it's a super exciting opportunity for people that are interested in DevOps or Site Reliability Engineering or anything else that we're doing in that space of support and developing.
CHAD: Great. Well, hopefully, someone hears this and says, "That's for me. I want to apply." If that's you, you can go to thoughtbot.com/jobs and check it out there. I'm making my hard pitch here. We also have some outside consultants helping with running different campaigns and digital marketing activities, right?
DIANA: That's right. We are working with outside consultants to help us run some targeted campaigns based on some of the strategies that Liz and Kelly are developing. And they're doing the actual implementation of the marketing. So they'll buy the ads; they'll run them. And we also have somebody helping us with social media. Mandy is doing that. She's doing a great job of that.
And we have Tori, who's still helping us out with some of the digital marketing campaign, conceptualizing them, and transitioning some of that work that she was doing on the CRM, transitioning some of that over to Liz to take over our sales enablement. So a lot of activity happening over here at Rocket Fuel.
CHAD: So to put it as plainly as I can, thoughtbot has been successful. We've been particularly successful from a culture and team, and thought leadership standpoint. But we haven't been incredibly successful in making a company that operates at the level that we do and generates enough profit to be really comfortable that when a pandemic hits...that's an extreme circumstance, but there are ups and downs in every business.
And our margins haven't been historically as large as other consulting companies and that kind of thing because of the kinds of team we have and the way that we run the business. And so a big goal of when we talk about taking thoughtbot to the next level has been sustainability and making sure that we operate with enough cushion that we can more than weather downturns or ups and downs in the business without having to let people go or make significant changes.
And if people listened to the prior episode, they know that we had actually made significant progress towards that goal in 2019. And we were feeling really great going into 2020 about what we were going to accomplish. And then, in April of 2020, we had a significant decrease in revenue all at once, which really threw the business into turmoil because we hadn't been operating with that significant margin, a sustainable margin.
So we spent 2020 recovering from that, making sure that we had corrected some of those fatal flaws. And we saw, I think, a lot of that come to fruition in 2021 and had a really sustainable year where we met and exceeded our goals. I'm really happy about that. I assume you're happy to. [laughs]
DIANA: Yes, I'm really happy about that too. [laughs] I think that it's something that we haven't celebrated, and we need to celebrate it. It was actually a really great year for us financially. And I talked about speed earlier. And I said I was pleasantly surprised with the speed.
And one of the factors is that in the first quarter of last year, things started to come together for us in that vein of financial sustainability. And we were able to maintain it every quarter of the full year. That's pretty great. And we should pat ourselves on the back for that. Congratulations, Chad. [chuckles]
CHAD: Congratulations, Diana. You and I have talked about this before. So overall, the market recovered in a really good way for services, businesses, for software development. So that boosted our ability to really go above and beyond. But even putting that aside, it took a lot of work. It wasn't easy. And it was through the fundamental changes we had made that we were able to take advantage of that good market, I think.
DIANA: Yeah, I agree. And the intentionality of what we were doing, I think the reorganization helped us see clearly the benefits of each team. Obviously, today, I have a much clearer insight into each team's strengths and each team's capabilities than I did a year ago when we last talked.
I think we are still trying to get our...is it going to work? What is it going to look like? And now it's like, oh, this is so obvious. This makes a lot of sense. The teams are working on very different aspects of the product development lifecycle. And I think that intentionality also helped us with our goals.
CHAD: And I think that one of the goals of doing that too was to free people up to better understand and focus on the kind of work that they wanted to do rather than trying to do everything everywhere. And for the individual person at thoughtbot, never knowing what your next client project was going to look like because it could have been any of our types of clients that we have.
And I think overall, what I've heard from the team is that it has been a good opportunity to reduce those surprises, get better at the kind of thing that you're working on now, even if ultimately that means okay, you've done your stint in Lift Off and now you want to move over to Boost, or you've been in Boost, and now you want to give Lift Off a try. At least you can do that with intentionality as opposed to never being quite sure what your next project is going to look like.
DIANA: Yeah, exactly. There are some people that like that variety of moving back and forth, and that's good that we can make that happen. And then there are others like you said, that really want to hone in on an area of specialty and get better at that particular thing.
CHAD: I think there's a benefit to us even just having words to use to describe the different kinds of projects now because we never had those words to use before. So when now internally people say, "Oh, this is a boost-style project," that means something to people. And I think it helps us talk about the work that we're doing or we might do for customers.
CHAD: Cool. So what else happened in 2021? [chuckles]
DIANA: What else happened in 2021? Well, we did a lot of DEI training, and that was great. I learned a lot in that training. I thought actually that I was pretty hip with everything. I thought I've been involved in DEI activities all my life, so I get it, of course. But then, once I took the training, I was like, wait, there's a lot to learn here. I thought I knew a lot. But I'm learning a lot.
There were several courses and several sessions. And with each session, I came away learning a lot more than I thought I would and having a greater appreciation. I think one of the greatest appreciations I learned last year was an appreciation for words, how important it is to think about what you're saying. A lot of times, we just talk, and it's important to really think through what one says. I took that to heart from the training that we got.
CHAD: And I think people might hear that and say, "Oh, you're talking about being politically correct," and perhaps maybe having a negative reaction to that. But I think one way to think about it is it's not just being politically correct for the sake of being politically correct. But words can have an impact on people, or the way that you talk about something can have an impact on people, either by making them feel bad or excluding them.
When you have a group of people working on something, people come at work with so many different backgrounds and experiences, and perspectives. And so, having an inclusive environment where everyone can contribute fully is super important to not only being fulfilled in our work but ultimately creating great products too.
DIANA: Yeah, absolutely. And that diversity is something that will make us have better products. But it also makes us; I think in many ways, better people by understanding where others are coming from, what they might have experienced in the past, and knowing that what is available to one person may not be available to others.
So it's not just political correctness but also a better understanding of humans and what we go through and that it's not necessarily equal for everyone. And it's not necessarily fair for folks. And that's sometimes easy to forget. And I think that training that we went through really reminded me. And it gave me an appreciation for the privileges that I do have and just a greater awareness that I'm so grateful for.
I wanted to tell you all about something I've been working on quietly for the past year or so, and that's AgencyU. AgencyU is a membership-based program where I work one-on-one with a small group of agency founders and leaders toward their business goals.
We do one-on-one coaching sessions and also monthly group meetings. We start with goal setting, advice, and problem-solving based on my experiences over the last 18 years of running thoughtbot. As we progress as a group, we all get to know each other more. And many of the AgencyU members are now working on client projects together and even referring work to each other.
Whether you're struggling to grow an agency, taking it to the next level and having growing pains, or a solo founder who just needs someone to talk to, in my 18 years of leading and growing thoughtbot, I've seen and learned from a lot of different situations, and I'd be happy to work with you. Learn more and sign up today at thoughtbot.com/agencyu. That's A-G-E-N-C-Y, the letter U.
CHAD: So we've had a DEI Council at thoughtbot for a couple of years now. And I think that we created it because of the studio model. We were very distributed as a company. And so we wanted a group of people that could come together, work on things, but also collectively, educate themselves and take action items and everything, and then take them back to their physical studios.
And I think that now with the reorganization, with the progress we've made, it's not that the Council doesn't work. But it's in a different spot in terms of what we're hoping to achieve as a company and the way that it's working.
So we actually have right before the end of the year, we opened a DEI program manager position, which is a full-time position at thoughtbot for someone to not do all of the work that the council is going to do but a centralized thing to make the distributed nature of the...to sort of empower the council, and free up time.
We're all on client work a significant portion of our time. And so striking the balance between having DEI ingrained in the company, having everyone have enough time to work on what needs to be worked on, and to have it all be managed, we looked at that whole picture and said, we think that the Council could be even more effective if we have someone on board who can work with them full time basically.
And people might be saying DEI Council full time? It's not just the council. So it's diversity, equity, and inclusion. So it really permeates everything about our culture, and how the company works, and how it functions. And there's a lot there.
So that person is going to be part of the operations team, which is my team. And they'll be ingrained, you know, part of everything that we do to make thoughtbot operate but through the lens of is this equitable? Are we inclusive of the people that we have on our team in Africa and South America, as well as the United States now?
That's a huge thing for us, making sure that we're setting things up in a way that works for everyone at the company. And we're more internationally diverse than we've ever been before. And so that has been something that takes up a lot of our time. And we want to make sure we do a great job with it. So that's one of the things that this new person is going to do.
DIANA: Yeah, and one of the things I'm really excited about for this person is putting some metrics together for us. It's been hard for us to quantify our progress in DEI. And I know that this individual will be doing that, which is to me exciting because we're going to be able to see how are we really progressing with these initiatives? I think that's going to be great.
And also, being able to partner with other organizations just outside of thoughtbot is going to be interesting as well because our DEI Council does it, but none of us have a lot of time to actually do too much of it. Everybody's got like you said, client work and other things they have to work on. So that's another thing I'm really excited about this individual taking on is that outside partnership perspective.
CHAD: I feel like we have a lot of positions open right now.
DIANA: [laughs] We sure do.
CHAD: Not only in the operations or the non-designers and developers. We've got a lot of design and development roles open as well.
DIANA: Yep. Plug for the thoughtbot.com/jobs page. [laughter]
CHAD: Yeah. Well, one of the things that I'm really excited about going into 2022 we've had the Apprenticeship Program for 11 years now. We say on the website we've done over 50 apprentices. I think it's more like over 75. I just stopped doing the count a while ago.
But we haven't been able to do it consistently previously because when we were distributed among the different studios, and everything was based on who you worked with in person, we needed to make sure, you know, not every studio was even large enough to have enough mentors to be able to have apprentices. But we also needed good projects for mentorship and having apprentices on them.
And we also needed to make sure, like, oh, if we take on an apprentice in Austin, we need to make sure that the Austin studio needs another Rails developer. And so it was pretty limiting. But even though it was limiting, we did lots of apprentices. And it's been super successful. So many leaders at the company started as apprentices.
DIANA: Christina comes to mind. She's like a development director now.
CHAD: Yeah, exactly. A lot of the development directors at thoughtbot started as apprentices over the years. So I'm super excited because this is another thing that no longer being in-person studios unlocks for us is to say basically thoughtbot as long as we're hiring across all of thoughtbot, we will always have the need for designers and developers.
And so we can make the Apprenticeship Program more of a rotational program. No matter where you live now, you can join. We can do remote apprenticeship like all of our positions. And you can rotate among the thoughtbot teams with a great mentor from each team and then be promoted as a designer or a developer onto one of those teams that has a position for a Rails developer or a designer.
And that is going to enable us to have consistent apprenticeship positions across the company open all the time with a consistent application process with timelines laid out for when deadlines are going to be for applications and when we're accepting people, and when people start. And I'm really excited about that.
I think it's going to be not only great for apprentices, which is actually one of the primary reasons why we do it but also great for thoughtbot to get this consistency to what has been a really valuable hiring channel for us in the past.
DIANA: Absolutely. I think that's one of the things I'm most excited about, to be honest with you, is that Apprenticeship Program because of everything that you mentioned. And it's not like we just need to limit it to one person. It could be a group of people going through the program together, which gives them a sense of camaraderie as well and a second incoming class. We have an incoming class. [laughs]
CHAD: Right, right. My only regret is that even just in this first batch, we can see...or I've just had the potential of the Apprentice Program for us reinforced. In this batch, we have almost 1,000 applications across the two Launchpads with the design and development positions. It's incredible. [laughs]
DIANA: That's so amazing.
CHAD: Even though we're having more apprentice positions than we've had in many years going for 2022, it's still not enough. There are so many people that could be great fits for thoughtbot that we might not be able to have enough bandwidth to take on. So I'm looking ahead to the next thing as like, how can we grow enough to have even more apprentices?
DIANA: Well, let's get Rocket Fuel to help with that.
CHAD: Yeah. I've often said that hiring great team members really isn't our problem. Our problem is consistently having more than enough work to be fulfilled, to be picky and choosy, while also having enough work for our team very reliably, weathering those ups and downs. And when we turn off hiring, it hurts our ability to hire overall because it takes longer to ramp it back up and that kind of thing. And I think you saw that throughout the course of 2021.
We had to turn off hiring for a while in 2020. And when we resumed it, it took quite a while for those wheels to spin back up and for enough people to get through the pipeline. Because even though we get a significant number of people applying, we really only hire less than 1% of the people who come across because our standards of what we want when we add people to the team are high.
DIANA: Yeah, it's true. It's challenging. We really did feel that impact pretty hard for a while there; the repercussions of not having the hiring open in 2020 were felt for sure.
CHAD: We also made the decision that we were going to focus on making sure that when we started hiring back up, we didn't just necessarily go right back to the way that we were doing things before in terms of all of our process.
So we used to have a lot of automation in place because of the number of applications. And we didn't immediately put all that in place because sometimes that automation got away from us. We care a lot about the hiring process. And we wanted to make sure that we just didn't blindly turn it back on because we had a sense that it wasn't 100% working for us.
And the other was that we made the decision from a DEI perspective to make sure that we didn't move forward on starting interviewing for a position without having the candidate pool we were choosing from reflect a representative sample of the United States.
And that's in the tech industry; if you put a role online and just let people come into it organically from a normal job pool, the tech industry isn't representative of the United States demographics. And so, if you just let that status quo come in, you're going to see what's reflected in the tech industry. So that was another important but real limitation that we put on ourselves when we started hiring again.
DIANA: Yeah, it was painful, [laughs] but it was necessary.
CHAD: And I think we've seen as people move through the pipeline and as our hiring goes up that it was worth it, even if it wasn't easy and was difficult.
DIANA: That's how things usually are, right?
CHAD: Right. [laughs]
DIANA: Things are usually not easy. And usually, things that are worth it, there's work involved.
CHAD: And we're not done with DEI work and trying to build the kind of organization we want to have. You're never really done. So there's always something that we can do better. We still need to really speed up our hiring process, which has been pretty much stuck at a certain timeline for a long time. And figuring out a way to speed that up while still staying true to the kind of process and the qualifications that we want to put on the process continues to be a challenge for us.
DIANA: I think that's industry-wide, though. I don't think that's unique to us. There are a lot of companies challenged with hiring at the moment. There are a lot of reasons for that. But we definitely have to keep on top of it and try to figure out ways to make ourselves better.
CHAD: Yeah. I think the biggest problem is to the extent that if you lose people along the way that you would totally otherwise hire because they go to other companies first just because you didn't finish the process fast enough. That's the fundamental thing that we want to avoid.
DIANA: That's the real risk that we...I think we actually lost some people for that.
CHAD: Yeah, definitely. And over the years, despite trying, we haven't been able to significantly speed up our hiring process. For folks who aren't familiar, a big part of our process is having a few different stages. And the final stage being pairing, working with actual members of the team for the day. We pay for that day. And meeting the rest of the team and having a process which involves the rest of the team it's not just a siloed hiring team that's making all the hiring decisions.
But doing a full day visit as the last stage means effectively that we can never have two people interviewing for the same position. And then everyone being on client work and only really being able to do those visits on Fridays means that the fastest, unless we're willing to make a change to that, the fastest we can go to hire into any one position is one final stage interview a week. That's a bottleneck.
DIANA: That's a bottleneck for sure unless we have dedicated people doing the recruiting. Then that would be a challenge as well because that's all these folks would do.
CHAD: Right. And then the team would feel, you know, we gain a lot from everyone being part of the team. So that when people show up on day one, we can say, "Hey, everyone that you worked with, everyone that you met was a unanimous yes to you being here."
It builds a tremendous amount of trust and confidence on both sides, I think. And to not have that, I think we would need to then do a lot more work in building up that confidence of those new team members and of the team in that process and on day one when they show up. So it's an area of future work for us, definitely. I don't know what the solution will be eventually. But I do know that it's an area that we have to improve on.
DIANA: Yeah, agreed.
CHAD: Cool. Well, anything else on your mind before we wrap up?
DIANA: No. I'm looking forward to 2022. There's a lot that we want to do. And it's going to be an exciting year. It's already starting off exciting. [laughter] Though, I do want to talk a little bit about community now or?
CHAD: How about we give a little sneak peek in terms of what we're thinking for 2022? And then, in a little while, we'll have you back on to talk more about it. How's that sound?
DIANA: Yeah, it sounds great.
CHAD: Okay, community has always been a big part of thoughtbot. It's what has driven a lot of the open-source that we've done, our blogging. But what do you mean by community in 2022?
DIANA: Well, we started off this conversation by talking about remote and some of the pros and cons associated with it. And I think that one of the things that remote does there’s a lot of benefits to it. But I think that we need to help overcome the challenges, and I want us to do more of that in 2022.
So, for example, creating a culture where people feel the recognition that you might be able to do more in person than you do remotely or lessen feelings of isolation that some folks feel, bringing out the quiet voices among us, giving them space to talk and give their voice. How can we make that happen?
Finding ways for people to build relationships with each other and maybe people that have never met, that are on different teams. How do we make that happen? Just overall experiencing a positive, respectful and inclusive work environment. That at a remote level is something that I think we need to dive in deeper this year. And like you said, we can dive into that more at another time.
CHAD: Yeah, I'm excited. I feel it too. And it comes from I think maybe it was Stephanie or Louis that was talking about it, both members of our team who were generally like, when you were in person, there was an ease to either talking to someone off-hand or even just when you have a daily sync every day in person, it's easy to recognize a success and to have everyone applaud.
And when you aren't in person with each other, you need to work at it more to really foster that sense of team and community. And that's clearly part of what getting through 2021 and settling in and getting to the next level is about for us.
DIANA: Yeah, absolutely.
CHAD: Cool. Well, if folks want to get in touch with you or follow along with you, where are the best places for them to do that, Diana?
DIANA: I started off last year actually doing some tweets, and I'm not very good at it. I totally stopped doing it. But I'm going to try to do more of it. I can be found on Twitter @dianabald, first name, last name. I'm on LinkedIn, first name, last name. The good news about my name is that there’s not a lot of me out there, [laughter] people with my last name. So I'm easy to find. And by email, it's firstname.lastname@example.org.
CHAD: Great. You can subscribe to the show and find notes for this episode along with transcripts at giantrobots.fm. If you have questions or comments, email us at email@example.com. I'd love to get some comments and questions in 2022 and bring them to the episode. And you can find me on Twitter @cpytel.
This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore.
Diana, thanks again for joining me.
DIANA: Thank you, Chad. Thank you, everybody.
CHAD: And thank you for listening. See you next time.
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