Attracting & Retaining Engineering Talent: Advice From An ISV Executive With 350+ Engineers

Giancarlo Di Vece

With over 2,000 successfully completed projects, 350 plus engineers, and 84 active distributed teams, Unosquare has been one of the 100 fastest growing private businesses in Oregon four years in a row and was named to the Inc. 5000 list in 2015, 2016 and 2017. This kind of growth isn’t possible without the ability to hire and retain top engineering talent, a challenge all software companies face. Unosquare’s president Giancarlo Di Vece sat down with ISVinsights to discuss managing and evaluating engineers, balancing soft skills versus technical skills, and the role of culture plays in attracting and retaining talent.

Q: Why is turnover so high for software engineers? What are you doing to combat this expensive problem?  

A: There are two main issues that we have identified regarding the turnover rates that are generally seen in the industry. The first one is the challenge level of the work required of the engineers. The second one, and just as important, is the sense of belonging that the company culture has to create for all collaborators. At Unosquare, we have just under five percent attrition, which is extremely low for this industry. We are laser focused on selecting talent that matches our company profile so that they can easily engage with the company culture. Secondly, we try very hard to be on the leading edge of technical adoption.

Q: Can good software engineers become good managers? What should an aspiring engineering manager know about the role?

A: Good software engineers want to be educated about how to be good managers. In the millennial workplace, it is very hard to try to create the path for collaborators. You have to keep communication channels open and stay close to the action. This way, your own talent will raise their hands on issues they feel strongly about and can help you work together. An aspiring engineer in this position should love to mentor others and to stay technically ahead of the curve. With so many changes in technologies happening so dynamically, this is a challenge. But, it’s a very rewarding opportunity if applied correctly.

Q: What tools, metrics, and benchmarks should engineering managers use to measure an employee’s performance?

A: Writing code is an art. There are multiple ways to manage metrics, but they are all relative. Either way, the standards lay in velocity, bug volume, and quality through coding practices and complexity.

Q: How important are soft skills?

A: The process of selection for talent and collaborators in a software company (most companies for that matter, as we all do software these days) has to be well balanced. Good software development takes lots of collaboration, and is intimate and constant. If you have weak soft skills, chances are you will not be able to fully realize your potential. In our company, we mentor people in the aspects we see as areas of opportunities, both technically and behaviorally.

Q: How much of a role do you believe company culture plays in recruitment? 

A: I am a firm believer that companies are not the contracts they hold, the cash in their banks, or their buildings. Companies, to me, are nothing more than a group of people. This is why culture is extremely important to our company. Culture is a living, breathing organism that cannot be simply instructed from the top of the organization. Culture is made by every single collaborator in the company and it changes constantly. Culture in organizations, as well as countries, is what makes us have a sense of belonging. Belonging is an incredibly powerful tool not only for recruitment (100 percent of your organization is recruiting now for each other), but it also plays a fundamental part in having very low attrition levels.

Q: Would you agree relying too much on a candidate’s technical skill and less on their ability to problem solve, think creatively, and work collaboratively can result in a less than favorable hire? What are your thoughts on this?

A: I think the selection process has to be well balanced. The technical skill is fundamental to the success of their career. In all truthfulness, coding is more an art than a science. Software developers inherently have to be creative, have to think on their feet, and absolutely have to work collaboratively. It is a very difficult craft that does require talent, and it also involves continuous effort towards improvement. 

Q: When hiring, do you focus on a specific programming language or technology? For example, would you pass on a good programmer who lacks a specific skill that your company uses or would you train them?

A: It heavily depends on the track record of the person and what they like doing. Companies have to understand that we can no longer hire with cookie cutter processes. Today it is about people and passion. So, yes, to me, everyone has the ability to learn new technologies and new languages, much in the same way that everyone has the capability to learn a new human language. The ever-important question is: Are you passionate about learning new technologies or languages, or would you rather go deep in the technologies you already feel comfortable in?

Q: The hiring process can be just as competitive for the company as it is for the candidate in the software engineering field. How do you set yourself apart? What gives Unosquare the competitive edge?

A: Very few companies are actually interested in candidates being a good fit organizationally for the undertaking. We have never lost sight of this. The personality and behavioral adjustment play as important a role as the technical alignment. Our main differentiator is that we have are a talent-first driven organization; we are not a client-first driven organization. That has its challenges, but it provides us with clarity as far as the people we are building our company with.


Giancarlo Di Vece is the president of Unosqure. Before joining Unosquare in 2013, Giancarlo was buying and growing businesses in Mexico. After working in the family business as a teenager, he purchased a small craft company dedicated to the North American market when he was only 22 years old. He grew that into a 100 person operation which sold specialty products to large US retailers. He later joined Unosquare as a sales executive where he helped bring technical teams and solutions to some of our biggest and best customers. Those who know him well say his intellect is matched only by his charm and humor.

His seemingly intempestive decision to move into the technology industry has proved successful. Today, he leads a team of US and Mexico based sales and marketing executives that drive the presales and marketing aspects of our business.