What Do 16 South Wales IT Employers Look For in an Employee?

( Post 16 of 25 )

WDYLF in an Employee montageWe decided to ask 16 South Wales-based employers of IT staff the following question: “what do you look for in an employee?” We’ve tried our best to cover a wide range of businesses, from small startups with a handful of staff to large household-name companies with dedicated teams, asking company founders as well as Heads of IT/Web/Development, respectively. We’re hoping that the answers will be helpful to IT jobseekers – not just based in South Wales but further afield as well.

We’re also going to publish a follow-up post doing the exact opposite: asking South Wales-based IT folk: “what do you look for in an employer?” Similarly, we’re hoping that the answers to that question may help South Wales-based businesses to cater more accordingly to the needs of potential employees. Be sure to keep an eye out for it over the rest of the month.

The answers are below, sorted alphabetically by surname. Right at the end of the post, we’ve summarised our findings based on the most commonly-given answers – a sort of roundup summary, if you will. Enjoy…!

Luke Cornish photoLuke Cornish, Director & Co-founder of Fundible
@LukeBCornish | @fundible

Fundible provides technology to retail merchants enabling their customers to collect money online from family, friends and social connections to make a purchase possible.

Attitude is probably the most important factor. Candidates will need to demonstrate that they enjoy solving problems, do whatever it takes to get a job done and proactively learn new skills.

Since Fundible is an early stage tech company, we like candidates who have the desire to achieve something big and are genuinely excited by the opportunity – this can be shown by the candidates researching the company or the sector before interview stages and also by their general interests in startups and tech. Ultimately we’re not really looking for people who just want a job, we’re looking for people who want to be part of creating a company and can actively help shape how we grow.

There are also a number of other factors that need to be traded off against one another – for example the candidates technical ability and skill set, experience – professional and personal, communication skills, interests and so on.

We have just appointed a back-end developer and are seeking a front-end dev, so if you know someone who might be interested then please share this link – www.fundible.co.uk/home/career/ – and candidates can apply direct via careers@fundible.com.

Ian Daniels photoIan Daniels, Head of Digital at Yard Digital
@surfpunkian | @YardDigital

Yard Digital is a digital consultancy specialising in web analytics and also offering SEO and social media marketing services.

Whilst skills and experience are desirable for more senior roles, we are increasingly recruiting staff that have the right stuff character-wise. With Yard having such strong training support from Yard Academy, our digital skills training arm, we can quickly and efficiently upskill candidates that show the aptitude and drive to learn web analytics and have a robust, vocational induction to provide real experience to validate that learning. With the current digital skills gap only getting wider, fostering a hard-working, can-do attitude will make you far more attractive to employers in digital.

Warren Fauvel photoWarren Fauvel, CEO & Founder of Nudjed
@WarrenOF | @nudjed

Nudjed is digital service that offers tailored health advice based on the user’s fitness goals and lifestyle.

As Nudjed is a small but fast growing team, we hire for attitude over technical skill. We particularly like people who take ownership of problems and display drive to create things outside of work. Being open to collaboration is also important.

We also really like people who have actively sought out experience in a relevant field. Even if it’s outside of a formal work environment.

[Learn more about Nudjed – their processes, their favourite tools, etc. – in this earlier CR 25 post]

Stephen Gardener photoStephen Gardener, Co-founder of Noddlepod
@stephengardener | @Noddlepod

Noddlepod is an online social learning tool that allows collaboration and content organisation within companies.

When looking for a developer, I would say there are 3 main things I would be looking for:

1. Fit

Creating a friendly environment is super important to us – we want Noddlepod to be a place where people enjoy working, not just because they enjoy the work itself, but also because they like being in everyone’s company. So we would be looking for someone who is considerate, relaxed and friendly.

2. Technical skills

Technical details can be learnt, but the love of coding has to be there.

Someone that cares about the code they write, someone that enjoys creating stuff. Technical details can be learnt, but the love of coding has to be there. Closely related to this is a love of learning. Any potential candidate would be expected to take charge of their own learning, and would be encouraged to find courses, books, classes etc. that could help them improve their knowledge, and in turn, make Noddlepod better.

3. Self-reliance

Independence, an ability to take responsibility for their work, and to work independently is crucial. Working in a small startup means having to take ownership of your work and your learning, as there will be fewer formal structures in place to manage everything. On the other side, the employee will also have much more of a say in how their role develops.

Rex Johnson, IT Director at Confused.com

Confused.com is an insurance price comparison website where users can compare car insurance, home insurance and other products in the financial services.

We look for people who are capable of understanding complex technologies and who are interested in the latest technical developments but additionally it’s particularly important these days for them to understand our business practices.

The communication skills to interact and engage effectively with non-IT people is an essential requirement for us and they should be focused on providing business benefit.

Focusing on the business will also encourage a pragmatic approach, where needed, so that business opportunities are not lost and this mix of technical expertise and business pragmatism are very desirable traits in a potential IT employee.

Jonathan Levy photoJonathan Levy, Chief Architect at Funding Empire

Funding Empire is an online peer-to-business crowdlending platform, where individuals can lend money to businesses looking to borrow money

I would look for someone who has the following personality attributes… Technical skills can be learned but the personal skills are harder to learn:

  • A positive attitude
  • A problem solver – shows initiative
  • Excellent communication and presentation skills
  • Adept in coping with change
  • Self learner and self motivated
  • Good time and task management skills

DanDan Lewis photoiel Lewis, Co-founder & Business Development Manager at TheGenieLab
@DanLewisWales | @thegenielab

TheGenieLab is a specialist Ecommerce development company, working in Magento, Shopify and Brightpearl.

At TheGenieLab, we look for a lot of things in our team members. First, they need to have a great skill-set, whether they are designers, front-end or back-developers, or doing a support role. Ideally they’ll have relevant academic qualifications combined with some industry experience so they can hit the ground running when they arrive. We like them to think big, be constantly developing themselves and really enjoy completing good work. There’s plenty of opportunities to work on interesting projects and to progress within the team, so being a good social fit is something we value highly, and will think about when we choose people. Our advice? If you’re coming to interview make sure you show you have a good level of skill, an interest in personal development with lots of potential to grow and that you’ve got a personality that will help our team continue to flourish.

Stephen Milburn photoStephen Milburn, Founder of Tradebox Media
@Stephen_Milburn | @TradeboxMedia

Tradebox Media offers full service app development for iOS and Android.

Every member of our team is encouraged to bring something else to their role besides their core skill set. This needn’t be related to their specific role at Tradebox and, ideally, something that uses a completely different part of their brain!

Many of the most talented coders traditionally hate client-facing meetings. But it’s important that we act as a unit on all aspects of the projects we undertake and, to drive this, we meet clients as team. This means our tech team need good communication and marketing skills.

Similarly, our marketing and admin staff are all proficient in at least one technical area of our business; whether this be native application development, graphic design or even WordPress.

In making sure that we all understand and (more importantly) appreciate each other’s jobs we’re able to act as a single entity. It’s something that’s vital in delivering a product that needs to address many, varied requirements.

That “empathy” for other people’s work is a really important factor when we’re hiring.

Carl Morgan photoCarl Morgan, Managing Director of TigerBay

TigerBay create advanced sales, reservation and management software for tour operators.

What do we look for in a programmer?

Let me start by explaining what we do from a product perspective. Tigerbay isn’t building apps or working in social media… what we do is to build interconnected systems which are usually complex and powerful, and often dependant on external data sources. For that reason, our software development often follows long cycles, sometimes months or years. Also, we have a number of clients who use our software in subtly different ways – there’s no one-size-fits-all. Now, with all that background, we specifically don’t want “rock star” programmers who can build something from scratch in 24 hours. But we really do still want individuals who are naturally gifted, but they have to work in a team of multiple disciplines. So team-players are critical, along with enterprise-skills such as scalability and security.

Do you hire based on experience? Would you, for instance, take on first-time programmers?

We specifically don’t want “rock star” programmers… We really do still want individuals who are naturally gifted, but they have to work in a team of multiple disciplines.

Yes, but only because we have a specific role, where someone new can be mentored by an experienced colleague. It’s common to assume that the bulk of a programmers job is to take a new client requirement and code it – producing some working software that achieves a task – but a lot of professional software isn’t like that. In fact a lot of it is making changes to existing software, either to make it perform faster, or more scalable, or in some cases to resolve a bug. In practical terms, a programmer could be working on a hundred lines of someone else’s code, and only create 3-4 new lines of their own code. That might not seem very exciting, but it’s critical to that way that large enterprise systems develop. So the experience we need isn’t just producing software from a vision of functionality, it’s really understanding the way that existing software works – and often that takes years of skill.

How important is process? Doesn’t that kill off creativity?

We take process very seriously at Tigerbay – but it’s there to support the programming work, not to constrain it. I like to see the process of checking-in code, running through testing/QA and then managing the release cycle as an insurance policy which prevents major foul-ups. When our developers are facing a problem within code, the process disappears, and that’s the right approach.

How do you recruit?

I know this sounds flippant, but we recruit carefully. The need for team-player skills is so important for us, that we work that into our recruitment process. But, generally, we recruit by testing – we will test the skills of applicants and then test their ability to work alongside colleagues.

Jon Morgan photoJon Morgan, Principal Developer at Box UK
@h00zf1sh | @boxuk

Box UK is a web & software development company in Cardiff, offering Agile development and UX (User Experience) consultancy services.

At Box UK we pride ourselves on having an open, communicative, fun and friendly culture. During an interview I first look for these personality traits so I can see if the candidate will fit in as an individual and as a team member.

Experience is not necessarily as important to me as an enthusiasm and passion for learning new concepts and embracing new ideas. An experienced developer won’t always have these qualities. You may have been a developer for 20 years, but if you spent each of those years staying in your comfort zone, plodding away at the same mess of legacy code because you know it inside-out, you’re not experienced.

I also like to check what music they like – if it’s heavy metal, the job is theirs. ;-)

Sarah Nickson photoSarah Nickson, Owner of Yellow Cat Design

Yellow Cat Design is a small, family-run design agency offering web design, print design and branding services.

As a graphic and web design agency, we have very specific requirements for prospective employees. The most important attribute for a designer has to be creativity and I will always look for this first and foremost as it isn’t really something you can teach. That means that any CV submitted in Word format goes straight in the bin because if you can’t sell yourself how can I expect you to sell for my customers?!

After that I think that personality and work ethic are very important. I’m looking for people who can engage with customers to build a rapport and are willing to go the extra mile to get the job done. Basically, someone who is easy to get on with, a great communicator (visual and verbal) and not afraid of hard work!

Many designers fall into the trap of thinking that a beautiful-looking design in your portfolio is the most important thing. Obviously great looking designs always help because it shows you have a good eye for design. However, I always look beyond the visual appearance and want to know how successful the project became. There’s no point creating the most fantastic-looking website for example if the conversion rate drops and it ends up selling less products or generating less enquiries than it did before. Successful design has to deliver results and I always look for someone who understands this as it is fundamental to how the design agency is run.

Jonathan Smith photoJonathan Smith, CEO & Creative Director of Bounce Media
@im_jsmith | @bouncemedia_

Bounce Media is a digital agency offering web design and web application development.

The two most important values to us when recruiting are: Craftsmanship and Attitude.

It’s important that we offer our clients the best digital service humanly possible and to do this creative and technical skills are essential. I’ve read so many CVs that all state the same thing: “I’m a self starter,” “I’m a motivated individual,” “I work well as part of a team.” As important as these attributes are, skill and experience trump any generic term you wish to throw in your CV.

Every company has an internal culture and every employee affects the dynamic of that culture. When we look for employees, it’s important that the individual is positive, respectful and passionate about their chosen field.

Russell O'Sullivan photoRussell O’Sullivan, Senior Digital Marketing Manager at Legal & General
@russosullivan | @landg_uk

Legal & General is a multinational financial services company offering products including life insurance, general insurance, pensions and investments.

Capability and fit within the team are highly important when recruiting anyone into a role. A team can make or break how you achieve what you set out to do, so although personalities can always be different, you need to know that the person you are hiring can fit into the team, culture and the business as a whole. The experience side of employing someone can be seen around who they have worked for, what the achievements are and how they played a part in making campaigns be successful. From a digital marketing point of view they also need to show the strive to move forward and how they keep abreast of digital marketing technologies and what they mean within the role that they are employed for.

Keiran Russell photoKeiran Russell, Managing Director of SnowSpire Solutions

SnowSpire Solutions build bespoke business efficiency tools on mobile and tablet devices. They also recently launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to run a large gaming/eSports event in Cardiff.

When employing new staff, we always look for personal traits over technical ability. Most of our team work concurrently on multiple projects and often outside of traditional IT roles. When we create a new position, the core responsibilities normally contribute only half of the total job. Employees are encouraged to devote the remainder of their time into investigating new opportunities and assuming responsibility to make these successful commercially. For this reason we are very flexible with job titles and normally allow an employee to determine their own. Overall we tend to prioritise candidates that have diverse skills and who can demonstrate previous examples of entrepreneurial activity.

Jaymie Thomas photoJaymie Thomas, CTO of PayZip
@jaymiethomas | @payzip

PayZip helps community-based clubs (such as a sports clubs, choirs, societies, etc.) to manage their money more easily.

What makes a good employee?

For me it’s about the ability to self-learn. As a startup employer, I’m happy to support my team with books, learning resources (podcasts, e-book subscriptions, magazine subscriptions), R&D time and project experimentation time. It’s that willingness to learn that sometimes makes an employee or candidate of more value to me than being expertly-skilled in an area already. Beyond that, it’s someone who wants to share your journey and together you’ll do what it takes to get there.

What makes a good employer?

I’m happy to support my team with books, learning resources, R&D time and project experimentation time. It’s that willingness to learn that sometimes makes an employee or candidate of more value to me than being expertly-skilled in an area already.

Flexibility is key. Some business spend a lot of time locking their employees down. From a startup perspective, that doesn’t really work. As long as you’re not supporting clients who have set business hours, I think it’s important that employees are able to work at the time they know they work best. In any business, employees who are treated with respect and given authority will delight you in return – it’s surprising how many businesses don’t get that.

What makes a good recruitment agency?

Simple – just listen to me. I’m going to describe my business, my vision, our ethos and the type of person we want. If that gets reduced to just a list of hard skills, you probably aren’t going to deliver the right candidates to me and we’re both going to waste our time. Recruiters are known for trying to maximise the commission on each placement. An agency that fairly looks out for both me and the candidate is going to get our repeat business.

[We have a post all about PayZip due to be published in the coming days – be sure to keep an eye out for it!]

Dan Zambonini photoDan Zambonini, Founder & CTO of Bipsync
@zambonini | @BipsyncApp

Bipsync is a research management tool that helps analysts, portfolio managers and CTOs to do their jobs better.

As a small but rapidly growing tech startup, I think our attitude towards hiring is different to that of a web agency, who might be looking for a safe bum-on-seat “resource” to hire out for £x per hour. Every single person shapes our company and product, and therefore our success, so it’s critical that we look at the long term rather than short term gains.

Of course, we’re looking for some kind of proven ability in the person’s area of expertise – though we don’t mind if that’s proven through commercial experience, side-projects or some other demonstrable output. But on top of the basic level of talent we also like to work with people who want to get in deep over their heads and thrive on constant learning and iteration. The nature of a tech startup means that the product and commercial environment are constantly evolving and you need to be able to keep up with them. It’s a place for people who thrive when they’re outside their comfort zone.

At this small size, every person also has a disproportionate effect on the culture of the company, so it’s also important for us to build a team that enjoys working together. I don’t like using the word “culture fit” as I feel like that’s often used as an excuse to only employ people who look like existing people in the company: usually young white able-bodied males. Instead, I’d say we like “nice” people, and in terms of “fit” we think the more diversity the better in terms of background, gender, age, race, sexuality, or wherever else you might come from or associate with. We want to build a team that can solve challenging problems with an incredible product, and a non-homogenous team with varied outlooks and thoughts will help us achieve that.


Whew…! Where do we start? These are the factors that we spotted the most when reading all of the above responses:

  • The most commonly occuring factor from the responses wasn’t skill-level/expertise: it was attitude. In fact, many of the employers mentioned that their employees can be trained if they are lacking the skills – attitude cannot be. By the sounds of it, many of the employers would prefer an employee who lacks experience but has a great attitude over that of someone who’s experienced but lacking in the right attitude…
  • Another factor that we spotted repeatedly: someone who is a team-player, and a good ‘fit’ in the company. Even though you may be recruiting an individual, they will likely be working as part of a team – and it’s no good if they do not fit in well with their colleagues.
  • Other honorable mentions include having the technical skills to do the job, good communication skills and the ability to be self-reliant, to have the drive to improve your personal development and to be excited and passionate about what you do.