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Recruitment II – Early Observations of Sri Lankan IT Market

Idea Stage

Having made the decision to build our product development centre in Sri Lanka starting with employing the first senior PHP and Drupal Developer, I thought it might be useful in capturing my experience so far, at least for my own reference. In my previous post, I spoke about the challenges we face at edocr.com due to lack of development resources. By March 2011, I decided to park my attempts to bring on board a technical co-founder on equity and concentrate on recruiting a developer from Sri Lanka.

Friendly Recommendations

The process started by inquiring from few Sri Lankan friends whether I could hire a senior developer for the monthly budget I had in mine. Whilst the budget was not high enough to attract the very best, the feedback was, it was sufficient to attract good developers. In April 2011, a Sri Lankan friend highly recommended an ex-employee, and I entered into the interviewing process previously discussed. The interview came to an end, when the applicant refused to work during rain due to the fear of possible lightning strikes.

Unexpected Threat

Now, who would have thought “rain” would be a critical factor in recruitment. At this point, I consulted Guy Fraser, CEO of Techcelerate Member, Adaptavist.com, who has been recruiting staff from across the world successfully to learn few more peculiarities of hiring from abroad. In Sri Lanka, it rains none stop during the monsoon season. I simply cannot have staff not completing their work load every time it rains. Whilst the applicant promised to work extra time on sunny days to cover for lost time due to rain, I knew this would lead to poor employer-employee relationships, and therefore not something I was prepared to go ahead with. At this point, I started to enquire from my Sri Lankan friends to understand whether this is the norm in Sri Lanka. And it seems, quite a number of people who worked from their homes would simply stop working during heavy rains. However, this is not a problem for those who work from offices due to surge protectors installed in high-rise buildings. Those who are brave to work during rain from their homes, already had access to a laptop, a UPS and surge protector.

Advertising

On 2nd May 2011, I advertised on the most popular job board in Sri Lanka, topjobs.lk for 14-day period. At the mid way point, I have received 30 CVs. All have been rejected due to lack of sufficient experience, except for 2. Most of those rejected were from those with less than 1 year experience or those who will graduate in this Summer. They have also adopted a shotgun approach, i.e. just sending the CV without a single word in the covering email. Not the best way to attract a job. Instead of ignoring, I replied to each one of the CVs I received, in some cases with feedback.

Opportunists

At this point, I realised that I cannot simply rely on topjobs.lk to produce the candidates I require. I started to look for talent through Linkedin with the support of Twitter and Facebook. Soon I realised that Sri Lankan developers are becoming business owners whilst been employed, i.e. most of them work for the local branch of an overseas company, in most cases headed by a Sri Lankan, and then during non working hours, they are either freelancing or running their own web development agency.

The problem this creates for me is that they are contend with their current predicament. The day job gives the security they require whilst the evening projects generate enough revenues to give them a better lifestyle. Of course, not everyone falls into this category. The large recruiters such as Virtusa pays higher salaries and attract the best in the market. They as well as other leading firms recruit direct from the universities, targeting the best raw talent and then mold them into the type of employee that is suited for large Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) contracts. Who wouldn’t want to have their CV littered with names of blue chips, such as BT, etc? Having sucked up the top talent, then the smaller companies compete for the second best.

Building brand awareness

In these circumstances, we almost have no chance of attracting the right talent for us without building brand awareness in the local market. With this in mind, we signed for 12 months co-sponsorship of Refresh Colombo, an initiative similar to early days of GeekUp in the North West of UK.

Tech Startups in Sri Lanka

Whilst we are competing with BPO companies and traditional software houses in Sri Lanka, there is a small number of tech startups that seek similar talent to us. At this end, I have discovered Curdbee.com, Creatly.com and WSO2. Both Curdbee and Creatly CEOs have helped me understand the market bit better.

Educational Institutions

I also discovered during this process that one of the leading education institutions is founded by a business contact I have known for a while. And most of the rookies who applied with a shotgun approach came from this Institution. A quick email resulted in a long conversation with his son who runs their operations from the UK. He was kind enough to further explain how the recruitment process works in Sri Lanka.

Way forward

Based on various advice received, the way forward for us in Sri Lanka might be to recruit a senior developer on part-time basis in addition to recruiting a young graduate on full time basis. Ideally, I am still looking for the right candidate on full time basis. But whilst I look for the ideal, the clock is ticking, which is not something we can take a risk on. I will report back in couple of weeks to share my experiences.

Of course, as usual, love to hear your experience of recruiting overseas labour, and especially from Sri Lanka.

Image taken from http://www.therethink-group.com

Published inedocr.comrecruitment
  • Laknath

    Yeah, I mostly agree with your observations. What I’d suggest is to use unconventional approaches rather than going into something like TopJobs (which quality isn’t a top priority). Focus on both gov & private education institutes (may be contact them for any sponsoring, mentoring.etc), try local user groups, try Sri Lankans who have done some Drupal contribution or some other PHP stuff (ie: phpclasses.org). etc.

    Also when it comes to the experience, rather than going with the years of play I’d try with knowing what they have done in the past and if anything can help my current work. Also having some open source (or some other form) contribution under the belt is a good indication of whether they are passionate about what they do.

    Anyway, good luck with your new venture.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Laknath

      Many thanks for your comments. Will check out phpclasses.org. Already making inroads with one educational institution, but will explore how to reach out to others.

      I’m only aware of Refresh Colombo. What are the other local groups I ought to reach out?

      Yes, I have been looking for Hackers and will continue to do so.

      Best regards

      Manoj

      • Another good place to try would be Sri Lankan Google summer of group which usually have good passionate developers. Even though it’s not related to group’s motives, if you explained your requirement you may find luck there.

        There are other user groups such as Ruby user group, Linux user group .etc even though not directly related might find useful.

  • The lightning storms are pretty scary down here. At home where I work I have 2 king coconut trees outside my windows which are armed with iron grills. Coconut trees are famous for attracting lightning, luckily I have a Mango tree on the other side which is supposed to repel it.

    This season (mainly around April) I’ve not lost work hours to due lightning but I do believe many would.

    I hire through contacts. News paper ads attract the kind of 0 experience CVs you got. The good guys don’t troll on topjobs.lk or even the Sunday paper. They are too busy working 🙂

    There are tons of PHP guys but very few drupalers. Laknath and I were just tweeting about this. Looking at the big picture it’ll help to inject some drupal interest through Refresh Colombo and the greater student community as well.

    Try http://kottu.org/index.php?s=drupal and keep asking around.

  • Interesting post Manoj. I didn’t realize the ‘lightning’ challenge faced by our work-at-home developers… 🙂

    I’d suggest finding one good developer, and then letting him/her sort out the remaining team. Most folk have enough contacts, friends…  Personally I’d look for the right can-do attitude rather than wizardly tech skills. 

    On the other hand, if you’re not that particular about having a full time employee, maybe you could try chunking out the work pieces and contracting folk based on deliverables rather than permanent employment. At least this would help cut your losses till you find someone who would work well with you.

    Also – Sound observations by Laknath.

    • Anonymous

      Good suggestions, Nalin. Finding that elusive individual has become challenging. The 14 day period ends today, and I am no closer to that individual than 14 days ago.

      In the meantime, I might outsource a small amount work to test the market.

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