Tabspace has re-engineered the hiring process for software engineers

26 Mar 2018

Ana Slipcevic and Kyle Stephens. Image: Andrew Downes/XPOSURE

Our Start-up of the Week is Tabspace, an NDRC-based company that has created a peer-review platform dedicated to software development.

“It captures and presents data about the different aspects software engineers care the most about when browsing the tech market, but have no way of finding them out before they engage in the interview process or begin employment with the company,” explained Tabspace co-founder Ana Slipcevic.

“Data is collected from current and former employees in development teams and presented in a structured way.

‘We are committed to ensuring that our data is legitimate, valid and high-quality’

“By providing quantifiable insights into development teams, Tabspace enables software engineers to quickly find out about culture of engineering teams and their working practices, and to identify teams that align with their professional and personal values.

“The easiest way to describe Tabspace would be as a cross between Glassdoor and the Stack Overflow Developer Survey,” Slipcevic said.

The market

Slipcevic said that today, many companies struggle to hire and retain tech talent.

“Talent shortage sometimes leads to companies outbidding one another to hire developers, often forgetting or not putting enough emphasis on hiring a person that is a fit for the team.

“On the other side, developers are often met with vague tech job listings that don’t reveal much about the engineering team itself. While the company’s branding might be strong, engineering teams don’t really have a way to present themselves, their values, their approaches and methodologies, leaving developers with very little information about the team.

“For that reason, software developers don’t have a way to know how the engineering team is before they actually start the interview process.

“But that is where the problem is; interviewing for a software development role can be a very lengthy and demanding process. As a developer, you often have to go through tech screening calls, whiteboard interviews and code challenges before you even get to ask basic questions about the team and the role itself.

“Just imagine this example: you are being interviewed for an accountancy position and a company gives you a set of accounts and asks you to take them home and audit them in your spare time. Oh, and they give you a deadline of four days. This is how interviewing for a tech role can be.

“Juggling this kind of interview with your current job and personal commitments can be a challenging task. You might also end up spending hours or days preparing for the interview and going for it, just to realise the team or their culture isn’t an appropriate fit for you.

“This is the problem we are solving with Tabspace; software developers can find out how it really is to work for a tech team before they even start the interview process. And who can offer better insight into those teams than developers currently working there or the ones that just recently changed the team?”

The founders

Tabspace was founded by Ana Slipcevic and Kyle Stephens.

Both are professional software engineers with about 15 years of combined experience in the IT industry and have worked on many different projects in various industries, such as e-commerce, gambling, banking, finance, advertising, pharmaceutical, mobile, state and advisory.

“We’ve held positions from junior software developers to team leads and external consultants,” Slipcevic said.

“During this time, we’ve had a chance to work in many different teams, from small teams to larger distributed teams working together to deliver a product, and have been both interviewees and hiring managers. We quickly learned that no two teams have the same approach to working.

“The approaches to developing a product and the interactions between the individuals and teams working on products and services vary enormously from company to company. And, as a developer, you have no way of finding these things out. This has led us to the idea of Tabspace, which solves a problem we have experienced firsthand over and over again.

Slipcevic moved to Ireland from Croatia four-and-a-half years ago to pursue her career in IT. She holds a master’s in computer science and has experience working on projects at Deloitte, AOL (Oath), Three, Paddy Power, Intesa Sanpaolo Bank etc.

Stephens has master’s degrees in law and computer science. He has worked on projects for companies such as Deloitte, Mastercard, Bank of Ireland, Revenue, Paddy Power etc.

The technology

Tabspace’s idea is driven by “developers helping developers”.

Slipcevic explained: “We enable software developers to review their current and past development teams and thus help other developers by informing them how it is to be working in their team.

“Tabspace measurements are taken around key aspects of any software role: the engineering approach and the culture, opportunities for career growth, and personal wellbeing.

“Aggregated results are then shown in a structured way and can help developers to research teams and find roles that best fit their professional and personal values. At the same time, it helps software development teams to identify and action any particular trends or areas of concern, and to recognise successes.”

Slipcevic said that reviewing an engineering team is an interactive process.

“Our conversational interface leads you through a series of questions and asks you to appraise various aspects of the engineering team using our review poker cards. Review poker is our adaptation of planning or scrum poker, a technique often used by agile development teams to estimate the effort related to a certain task. At Tabspace, we take a similar approach but instead apply it as a scale of maturity.

“Since developers are data-driven people, aggregated values are presented in a structured way, using graphs and charts, and provide insight into a team’s values very quickly. Different developers prioritise different things. For example, some might emphasise working with high-quality equipment while others might care the most about team collaboration. That is where Tabspace comes in; you can quickly find out which teams share your professional and personal values and then you can go ahead and interview for those. As for the teams, Tabspace helps them to attract developers that share their team’s values and are a good fit for the team.

“Our goal is to help both sides; developers will be happier having found the teams that share their values, while teams will be more productive having developers that are happier at their workplace.”

Career goals

Slipcevic said the ultimate goal is to become the go-to-place for software developers when informing themselves about software engineering career prospects, and a trusted resource when making career decisions.

“We are committed to ensuring that our data is legitimate, valid and high-quality, which is why we check every review and reject the ones we cannot verify. All contributions submitted to Tabspace are anonymous to other community members, including employers, and this will always be the case. We ask reviewers to sign up so we can validate a review and avoid having fake data.”

Since its launch in December 2017, Tabspace has gathered hundreds of reviews from professional software developers around the world, from places such as Germany, Portugal, Croatia, Brazil etc.

“The feedback from developers has been superb, ranging from comments like, ‘Why hasn’t this been around before?’ to ‘This is such a useful thing, will become even better as you gather more reviews.’

“We have also been receiving suggestions and requests that have fed into our future product roadmap. It is great to see your users being passionate about the product and wanting to help you shape it.

“As our community grows, we will look to attract investment to sustain the momentum. We have a lot of things planned in our pipeline, we just need more hands and time.”

The start-up learning curve

As with any start-up, Slipcevic said that the learning curve has been quite steep.

“Having a strong technical and product background allows us to iterate and incorporate feedback we get very quickly, but nothing prepares you for all the other challenges you face as a start-up; how to quickly get your idea and thoughts across, how to get better in other non-technical skills, all the paperwork you have to do all of a sudden, and the list goes on and on.

“As most founders will probably agree, you have days when you are questioning what you are doing and where you are going but in our case, the great feedback we are getting from the developer community really keeps us going.”

Slipcevic said the start-up scene in Ireland is very vibrant and inclusive.

“It is very welcoming, helpful and wants you to succeed. The people you meet on the way are amazing and we believe we couldn’t have picked a better place to start.

“Joining the NDRC accelerator programme has been a great push forward to us and has helped us to get plugged into the scene easier. Help and support is simply great; it is like we’ve gained a friend who is there to help us on our journey.”

Her advice to fellow founders? “Listen to your users and customers. They are the best help you can get when building your product and company.”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years