Ep.19 Ken Gilmour and Solene | Retaining Sought After Talent
In this episode of the Cybrary Podcast, we sit down with Ken Gilmour, the CEO of Knogin, Solene, the marketing director of Knogin, and Katie Wandtke, the Head of People for Cybrary. We discussed how to engage and retain highly sought after talent in the tech field. I really enjoyed this episode and learning about how other companies and people view different benefits and perks differently.
Share it with friends now!
This podcast discusses a great topic about finding and evaluating talented and culturally-fit individuals. Representatives from Cybrary and Knogin share some insights on their work culture and work practices to keep their employees happy with what they do at the place where they work. Finding a culturally-fit individual for a company is not an easy task, especially with the fact that it is very time consuming to go through the screening process and potentially, training process. Therefore, it is important for companies to know what they can do to retain the aspiring sought after talented individuals that they may have at their company.
Depending on the job role, there will be different baselines, pre-requirements, or non-negotiables to consider when evaluating an individual’s CV. On the technical aspect, of course, a company wants an individual who is talented and with the right qualifications or has the right skillset to perform the job at hand who has a reasonable amount of experience, exposure, or involvement in a community. Networking is also a great factor for recruiters to notice individuals by means of referrals or recommendations from familiar friends or acquaintances.
Though an individual may have the right skillset, some companies like Cybrary and Knogin also seek out culturally-fit individuals for their companies, because it is believed that with the right individual with the right attitude who will be brought into an open and diverse culture, will enable their willingness to learn and develop further on the skills in a field that they may still be new to at the beginning.
Both Cybrary and Knogin share how in their work culture they show appreciation of their team’s commitment and achievement to the company; provide work benefits such as free lunches or working from home certain days of the week to save time and avoid traffic; have fun get-togethers, events, and activities among teams to enable employees to get to know one another outside of the usual work process and in a comfortable space, which also builds strong and open relationships within the company; and giving individuals the opportunity to explore other talents or skills they may have, which may even allow them to become cross-functional within an organization, such as a graphic designer also being a cybersecurity expert.
Thomas: All right. Well, welcome back everybody to another episode of Cybary’s podcast. Today, we will be talking about how to retain a highly sought after tech talent. In the building with me today, we have Katie Wandtke, the Head of People here at Cybrary; Ken Gilmour, the CEO of Knogin; and Sol, the Marketing Director from Knogin as well. So, take it away, guys.
Ken: Good stuff. Yeah. So, I mean this is a topic that interests me a lot. I often see debates online. So, you know, one of the things, I guess, which is the hardest one is, you know, let's say if you posted a job online on LinkedIn and you get a hundred applicants and you've only got one role to fill, how do you get through all those CVs? And I mean, what's the best way to screen applicants?
Katie: I would say; what I do when I'm first talking to the hiring manager about what role we want to fill is I talk about the non-negotiables. And so when we're looking at our CVs and all of our applicants, how much of the non-negotiables do they fill? Do they fill all three of them? Do they fill two and a half? Almost three? If they fill one non-negotiable, then it’s likely they're not going to pass through that initial resume screen. And it's really kind of determining, you know, when I'm having my first conversation with them, do they hit the bare minimum of what we would consider for that role or does their CV even show that they would be able to hit that bare minimum?
Ken: That's a good point, actually. So I mean, like one of the things, you know, that I think about as well; so let's say someone with a college degree, right? College degree is mandatory, but what about, you know, someone who's really good at what they do and they're about 2 or 3 months away from graduating, you know; so they'll have a degree in a couple of months but they don't have it right now, would that disqualify them?
Katie: Not at all. And for a lot of our jobs here, we actually don't even require a college degree. It's really just dependent on their experience, you know, what they've been able to accomplish either on their own or, you know, working like so; equivalent work experience is completely fine. But no, I mean, looking forward and if you're able to start a conversation earlier with a candidate, and even if you're planning 3 months out, like it's great. Get that conversation going cause you don't want to lose out on a candidate or start a really great relationship too late.
Sol: So, are your non-negotiable more of the technical skills then? Or is it, I don't know, you know, certain years of experience or?
Katie: Yeah, it could be; it's completely dependent on the role and completely dependent on what the hiring manager views as the non-negotiable. So, one that comes up pretty frequently for me is have they worked in a startup environment before? Have they had that familiarity with the rapid scale or any kind of ambiguity in their role? Part of what we're finding is that we need some more process champions. So people who can identify where a process needs to get implemented or improved and they can champion it and move it forward rather than kind of waiting for someone to bring it up. So that's been a very popular one, you know, those kinds of game changers. Also, yeah, it could be years of experience. Sometimes it is really required, like we need someone with at least 5 years in this, cause there's no way anyone with fewer than 5 years of experience are going to be able to achieve the goals that we need for this role.
Ken: That's very cool. Yeah. So, I mean, like as far as actually getting, you know, employees and finding them in the right places as well, one of the things that I think is great is, you know, this community called OWASP, the Open Web Application Security Project. So, they would generally have chapter meetings regularly and things like that, and it attracts people who like cybersecurity and I just find it great. Now the thing is, obviously you can't sponsor it because it's, I don't think it's charity, but it's an event that doesn't have advertising in it, right? That’s kind of against the ethos of it. But, it's good for kind of talent hunters and things like that. So I'm not sure if you've ever kind of tried that/know that approach. We find it actually quite good because, you know, it's people who are enthusiasts about the topic that are going voluntarily, you know; maybe I don't know, maybe some of them want to go for the pizza, but I think most of them want to go for the talk, and it's a great way to find them as well.
Katie: Where are they looking for the most part?
Ken: Chapters are all over the world. So actually, our CTO at Knogin is a Chapter Lead for Costa Rica, so he does some conferences every now and then as well. And it's just, I find it a great way to find talent, but I mean, are there other ways that you find them other than, you know, online websites and things like that?
Katie: Yeah. I mean, I would say referrals are obviously a big one. DC is still a relatively small tech community, like you're going to find people that know people that have done similar work and, you know, similar start-up kind of like industries. So definitely we take referrals as much as possible. I mean, meetups are a great way to seek help but then, you know, sometimes yeah, it depends on the role and depends on how fast you need it filled. Not going to lie. Sometimes we need recruiters. You know, they definitely fill a really strategic role, when we're kind of, you know, really, really at a tight spot.
Ken: That's very good. Yeah, so, I mean, another one that I like to use is, you know, people I've worked with before in the past, you know. So if I've worked in another location, I know generally what the talent pool is like. Even if I've left it a few years ago, I know how they used to hire and how they, you know, I guess, go through CVs and things like that. I find that's a good way of poaching; that makes me sound like a real meanie. But, you know, sometimes yeah; just nobody would ever do that to me at Knogin, and you know, and if they do, I'd be very sad. But otherwise, that's how I do it sometimes for, you know, organizations where I had worked before as well.
Sol: No, we do. In truth, marketing team has been using that as well at Knogin. Just friends in common, contact in common; but also because I think it gives you, I mean, if you're friends with someone you're sharing same values, I guess, or you have kind of a common field. So, if their friends are also, I mean, you know; the friend of my friend are my friends. So, it also gives a higher, I guess, probability to have people that will fit.
Ken: It's known, right? Not really trying them out because you've known before that they were good. Yeah, makes sense. So, I mean, the other thing about retaining staff as well is, you know, the community field. So that's very 50-50. A lot of people think, well, you know, the community, we're a family and that's just cheesy. And, you know, some people don't like it, other people think, well, look, we really are kind of like a family and I really love working here. I mean, what's been your experience with that?
Katie: I don't necessarily like to say that we're a family. Cause I think that we are professionals, we're coworkers, we take care of each other in a completely different way. And so we all have our responsibility in that. And so I think that, you know, having a very positive relationship and working relationship where you can, you know, talk to people and ask for help especially, is really great. But I would say staying away from kind of family, cause that's always kind of like; you're so close that it kind of borderlines over that professional line. And so I like to kind of keep that kind of reference apart.
Ken: Yeah. And that's a good point as well. You know, I think a lot of the family issues is that people tend to get into cliques as well, and that's hard to control as well, because then it's kind of it's us versus them, and then they start fighting against each other for no reason other than they're not in the same clique.
Katie: Yeah. There's also the expectation of a work-life balance with that. And so like with work-life balance, you know, if you kind of try to make everybody feel like they're a family; No, you're a family, you have to stay late tonight, you have to do this thing with me on the weekend, you have to do that because, you know, we're a family we're doing this together, you know, that can really affect how people; you know, they view their engagement; it can cause burnout pretty quickly. And then also, yeah, I mean, it's just, again like that blurring of the lines of like what's professional versus social.
Sol: I don't know if there is a, maybe also a cultural background around there, because if I'm thinking about us at Knogin, people very easily tell you that's my second family. I mean, we hear these quite a lot though, and it's really just a very natural thing. I mean, we're raised in Costa Rica, so Latin American culture, and it's so natural for even I include myself just thinking about like, yeah, that's, you know, we have; it’s a bit weird there saying it's not like healthy, but it's really kind of having this family relationship where you need to; you also have conflicts and you need to talk about it, and you need to communicate about it, and how can you build something. Maybe because we are, kind of in very early stages as well as a company. So you can't; I mean, it takes so much time and money to fire someone, look for someone else that you want to make sure you first find a good fit, and then once you get with the good fit, just fight for any little battles or complexity you could have, so you can keep people on board and you can make them grow.
Ken: Yeah, I think that the advantage of having a startup is to give people the sense of ownership, right? Because people can own stuff, but when you have departments, you know, departments are more scalable and it's better for the business. But in general, you know, it doesn't really feel the same because there's not really ownership, it's like the boss kind of owns that. You know, but, you know, one of the things I guess is that we try to consciously do which, I haven't really seen many people doing it. I'm not sure if you do it here in Cybrary as well is we plan events during working hours and the working week. So, you know, if you want to go out for pints on a Friday evening after work that's okay. But the official work party would probably be a lunch time on a work day and, you know, we'll close down the office or whatever, and just get everybody together for that event, you know? And I think it means that people will have more community because you know, they can all attend because maybe you have kids at home and you got to get home on time or, you know, you've got jujitsu at night and, you know, you just want to go to your class. You don't want to spend your time with work colleagues. It doesn't mean you don't like them. It's just, you have a personal life too.
Katie: No, that's a great point. We have lunch brought in every Tuesday and Thursday, and that gives people a chance to have lunch together and be here without having to rush out and go grab something and come right back with a very short window. So I think that is a little bit of that. The events that we've had for the most part have been a little bit closer to the end of the day, but I completely hear you, you know, like I have two little kids at home and I would love it if like some of our events started at like 3, so then I could actually stay for a good two hours before I have to leave. But yeah, I mean, I think that's awesome and something that we can definitely consider, like moving forward and I might steal from your playbook on that.
Ken: Fantastic, that’s the first time I ever heard this. Fantastic, I feel so great now.
Katie: Let me ask you actually though, Tommy, cause you were at Cybrary a few months before me. Did we ever do anything that was a little bit more like earlier in the day?
Thomas: Not that I can really think of. I mean, not really anything during the day, it was much more kind of like happy hours after the end of the day, maybe starting at 4 or something like that. But now that, you know, we've kind of grown and, you know, we have a lot more people working here, we've started to do kind of like day outings, like per team. So, like a team will go out and just kind of do whatever they want for the day. Like one, I think they went to like an escape room or something like that, just to, you know, get out of the office, spend some quality time with your teammates and kind of does create some bonds. And, you know, maybe the next time somebody asks you to do something you're a little more willing because you know, you've kind of had those connections and stuff outside of the office, you know, during the office time, which is nice.
Katie: Yeah. Our marketing business development team went to like a golf range, our engineering team went out to the racetracks, and, you know, got to do little stuff like that. But yeah, it really is team based as opposed to everyone.
Ken: Yeah. I guess when you're big enough; Cybrary’s bigger than us, that’s what we’re trying to say, you know, that's okay. I'll accept it, you know, for now. Cool. So, I mean, you know what, one of the other things is, I guess the diversity and fair payment thing, and that's another thing that we focus on a lot. And I actually only realized about a month ago that we have exactly 50-50 male and female at Knogin, and it was like, Oh my God, how did we achieve that? So I was quite proud of that. I'm still not sure how exactly we got there.
Sol: Because I'm here in your company; because it’s my mission.
Ken: I think it’s probably to do with Sol. Yeah, I mean, I thought that was quite an achievement.
Sol: Yeah, it's pretty amazing. I think it's, well, that was also on the podcast we talked about, but I think it's because the people in the company and that's one of the thing I said on a previous or after episode that when you have the top management that is sharing this vision and including to these top management, you have employees that are also really engaged with the idea of achieving this fairness between male and female employees; there is a very high probability that you're going to achieve it because, I mean, I'm definitely very aware of that, so I'm trying my best to make sure that we have these inside the company. But if I didn't have the support of the HR department, our CTO or CEO, I could not make it by myself only. So I think it's people that are in the company as well as the top management that is giving this vision from the very beginning.
Katie: Absolutely that's what's happening here too. Like, that's a big thing that, you know, when I was brought on, we definitely talked about how we can increase diversity here, how we can make sure that we are kind of being a much more inclusive workspace overall. And I think we’ve done pretty well overall and I think, yeah, and I'm very proud of it and I want to keep it going and get it better.
Sol: You’re engaged with these topics, but if you go to the top board management, they will hear you and they'll support what you're doing. So, that to me; the key of success.
Ken: So you think it comes from the board down and it's not directly hiring managers.
Sol: No, definitely. I think it's come from the board because if I didn't have the support that we have at Knogin from the board, and if I have a concern of something about that, it will, you know; I mean, having top management level that are concerned and they're aware about these bias. It's pretty amazing. And then you can talk for it and through it and I mean, you'll achieve great things, I guess.
Ken: Yeah. So I think there's a lot of internal bias as well that needs to, you know; like I guess part of training within the organization should also cover kind of internal biases as well, based on specific cultures, depending on where you are as well. It's something that's not generally done but it's incredibly helpful because, I mean, definitely having 50-50, I see huge performance increases, you know, and then we combine that with other things like working from home. So, you know, if you're a parent and you need to take care of your kids, you know, you can still work and you can still do really well, but you're more determined to keep your job and do things well, if you have that ability, I think.
Thomas: Yeah. And that kind of leads back to kind of the overall thing is retention. And kind of what I was thinking of is how do you kind of differentiate, especially in like the tech sector, is like the difference between like a benefit and an actual benefit you're giving your employees and like what many would think of it as like a perk. So like working here, we get free lunch, like two days a week, we have a very nice office, we have snacks and drinks and stuff, which like many people would consider a perk, but a lot of people think that that is a benefit of working at that place. You know, how do you mitigate that, you know, when you're looking for new employees and trying to bring new people on, trying to, you know, what they might consider more important to them.
Katie: I sell the culture. And so like a big part of my role here as I'm recruiting; cause it really is kind of like that piece of reverse sales, right? And so when people are talking about; well, I should first say like that is the most common question I get asked during the interview process is tell me about the culture there? And so, I mean, I usually answer it along the lines of like, yeah, you know, we definitely have like the cold brew on tap and we have lunch twice a week and we have all of this stuff, but like I said, the main part of what makes us special and what informs our culture are these things. And I go through what our values are actually during that point. And so, and that usually is kind of like, you hear like a little click in there. I can't even describe it. It's like, yeah. Yeah. And usually even though that's at the end of the conversation, because that's at the point where they're asking me the questions, you end the call with them on this high note up here, you know, as opposed to just be like, Oh, you know, they're like every other tech company I'm interviewing with right now. And so to really kind of push that, I think is a big part for us. I don't know about you all.
Ken: Yeah, no, I think that's great as well. I mean, you definitely have to run these things based on your company values and your mission. And, you know, one of the interesting things, you know, I was having a shareholder meeting one time and one of my shareholders is very direct and very good. Well, actually of course, they're all very good. But, this one is very direct and he just said to me, you know, straight out, so if I went to any developer outside on the floor and ask them what your company mission was, would they tell me? And I'm like, Oh, ah, I'd like to think they would, but I can't say with all certainty that they would, and it's something definitely that we need to kind of work on to ensure that people know what our mission is and what our values are and why we're doing things in a certain way. It's not just, you're here for a job, you know, there is something that you're here for; It's a purpose and, you know, we want to achieve something and that's why we are here as an organization. So I guess that kind of leads into my next question as well is, you know, how do you encourage camaraderie and encourage people to, I guess, work together and not get into those cliques, you know, like we're all here for one common goal. Like what's your way of doing that?
Katie: I think that the best one is that everybody has a cleaning duty rotation.
Ken: Oh, very good.
Sol: Yeah. I saw that. I was like, wow.
Katie: Yeah. And so it's funny cause our catering company; they always say, well, we can send somebody back to clean up, you know, every lunch and I'm like, no, we're not going to do it. I'd rather have everybody have that rotation and it's a grounding piece. It's like, no, like every single team is gonna help out and you know, see what it's like to clean up lunch every six weeks I think is the rotation right now. But, they're responsible for things that kind of keep us organized. And so everybody has that common goal too. Like if somebody leaves stuff in the sink, it's like, very commonly it's a member of the dev team will say, who did this? You know? And so it's not on me, you know, I'm not the one sitting there kind of like wrangling that piece of our culture and comradery. It's like the other people are kind of like, you know, reminding each other, like, no, we are all part of a team, we're supposed to be taking care of our things together. And so do your part.
Ken: That's great. Cause I actually noticed last night; so we went out for beers for everybody and at the end of the night, I was like, you know, I'll go and pick up some beer cans and like, Oh, there's literally no beer cans. Everybody has put their own beer can in the bin and there's no plates or anything. They just all did it. So I guess I know now why.
Thomas: Yes, Katie’s done a very good job of setting all of that up and making sure it's kind of everyone's position. So, I mean, if you're the one person who always seems to be cleaning up, you know, you just kind of get fed up after a while, but when you see every team doing it, and I mean, it goes all the way up to the executive team. I mean, Ryan and Ralph will be in there cleaning out the dishwasher and stuff, you know, it definitely makes kind of an impact and makes you feel like, kind of everybody's in this together and then kind of using, you know, we're very communicative and Slack; using it for work, but then also, you know, for fun, we have a lot of random channels, you know, looking at cats and things like that just makes it seem like you're not just at work. You can kind of share, you know, things that you think are funny with other people and just kind of have a more relaxed kind of atmosphere around, which kind of seems to bring people together a little better.
Sol: There's one thing I was thinking also regarding your last question. When I think about Knogin, I was trying to think about why are people staying in our company, especially because we're pretty young and also because we're in such a small country. I mean, we’re 5 million people in Costa Rica and I mean, we all know that cyber security talents; they're not that much out there, even less in Costa Rica. So, why do we have, I mean, and it's not because I'm working for this company, but we have very talented Costa Rican cybersecurity experts and just talented people in general. And I think there's one thing that we're doing very good with, for example, we don't have free lunch twice a week and we still have extremely dedicated people, I guess. It's also because what I feel that it's very different from the other companies I worked in is that we value people and we let them know when they do a good job and not just when things go wrong. I heard many times from my superior as well; very happy with what you've been doing so far. I'm also doing the same with my own team, telling them, look, for example, my graphic designers, they're fantastic workers and I told them very often recognizing that they're doing a good job and I know that's the way it's supposed to be, like, we're all supposed to work and do a good job, but yet when someone is telling you, I see it and I recognize it and, and I'm proud of you for that, it also really helps. I mean, that's what I heard from the girls at design and also our dev team and everything that we recognize the work they’re doing for the company.
Thomas: Yeah. I mean, I think that goes into like retaining people as well as like how your company culture is because a lot of large companies that probably don't think about it, I would say have kind of more of a toxic culture in that, you know; I worked at a very large company once where you almost only talk to your manager when something had gone wrong and so anytime you have a meeting, you already start kind of clamming up, you know, you're going to get yelled at or something was wrong. You never get kind of that session of praise at all. And you never, you know, you never have like a good back and forth. It's just always, this is wrong, this is what you did and it's a little demoralizing after a while.
Sol: That's not what we're doing at all. And again, we're very young, so there's no like a pingpong table or whatever. And so how can you as a very young company or startup, like put into your employees’ mind, this sense of ownership when they don't have all these physical benefits that, for me, even more when there's so much work outside, it doesn't really matter for them to say they're just for free lunches. And the fact that we recognize them as human beings and as a good person to me really makes a difference. We know. And I know that I can go right now, talk to anyone, even from the top management; CTO, CEO, COO, I can tell them, text them right now, look, I need to talk, and there is 95% sure that they will say yes, no problem, what is happening?
Ken: Yeah. So I think probably the key is nobody gets into trouble for making a mistake as long as you can move on, right? So take the blame, move on and that's it as opposed to saying, Oh, I don't want to get in trouble, she did it, you know, and blame somebody else. So I think that the blame game is probably the thing that it causes the most toxicity in a team and stops people working together and doing obviously the opposite; brings them closer.
Sol: And we're not scared of asking. I mean, I started this position as an assistant marketing; Now, I’m a marketing manager, and there's tons of things I'm still learning and trying and figuring it out. And I can go to Ken, which is a CEO and ask hiim even like what could be a stupid question and he'll take the time to answer and will not make a comment of if it's a like a very simple question or if it's something that is more complex. So that's also the space we have to just ask and grow also makes a big difference, I guess.
Ken: Great stuff. Yeah. So, I mean, one of the other things I wanted to ask about was, you know, there's a lot of talk online about, you know, ninjas and rockstars and things like that. So I mean, I've had my few of my share of them as well in the past, and I find that, you know, having these types of people; while they might be good if you only have one person in the business; they're not good when you have more than one person simply because, you know, first of all, they're doing everything and the problem with that is that it's difficult for them to hand anything over and then it's difficult to know what they have done. So if they decide to move on, it's hard to know what to fix, but additionally to that, the rest of the team is kind of almost felt made to feel dumb, right? Like, Oh, just give it to this guy, you know, and he'll do all the work. And I find the contrary when you have really good people, but you don't hire those rockstar-branded; that actually teams are significantly more productive for not having those kinds of people within the team. So I don't know what your experience is with that too.
Katie: No, I mean, I think there's definitely always going to be a room for, you know, an individual contributor who is a rockstar, who is amazing. But I think part of it is recognizing that and recognizing the limitations that having someone in that role puts on everyone else. And so I think part of the non-negotiables of the role is like, what are we really looking for? If we want someone who is very collaborative, if we want someone who is going to ultimately help to scale other people, that's when you're kind of looking at your hiring model and saying like, okay, we do definitely need someone in this, you know, in this case. And if, you know, it does mean that it's important to hire a very highly skilled individual contributor that cannot manage a team, that's okay. But how can we then make sure that some of their contributions can also better reflect the culture in a different way? So, how can they, you know, lead training sessions? How can they show a few people in a different way how to, you know, learn the skills, or basically like show people how to learn these skills that they bring. So, I think recognizing people for their strengths and what they can bring to the team as an individual, as a team lead, and then also just identifying other opportunities that you can always mirror the culture at the same time and still have really great talent.
Ken: You said it much more elaborately than me. Thank you.
Thomas: Yeah, I mean, have you ever kind of run into it where you have maybe two candidates for a role and you have, you know, one of those kind of rockstar candidates that, you know, you might have some issue, like kind of coming into the culture or you have somebody who is going to be much more collaborative and you think will be an easier fit with the rest of the team, but might be a little bit junior to that other person and mitigating like, well, which one do we really need now? And then kind of future thinking, you know, what is going to be more, you know, six months from now, what's going to be the better play, you know?
Ken: I go for the junior every time. And simply because the power of the team is better than the power of the individual. And, you know, there are cases where the individual is good to have, but I haven't found very many of those. Maybe it's just my own experience, I don't know. But I find that, you know, when you can promote within the team, people will love to learn, you know, if people are doing a job that they love, they will just learn it all day and they'll do better, you know, very quickly.
Thomas: Yeah. I mean, I myself, worked at a place where I was a very junior developer. Hadn't really had a background in it at all, but I was given the space to learn from my peers and everything and it does make a huge difference in giving, you know, it makes you want to do more and kind of you do maybe eventually get more work out of that type of person who is trying to learn and trying to kind of keep up with everybody else and learning as much as they can from everybody. So it's always nice to hear that, you know, those are the people that, you know, you guys might be kind of on the lookout for, instead of somebody who's been doing this for years and years and might just be slightly difficult to work with.
Sol: But there's also, I see it and it really starts to be hard to handle from it. It's these kind of social media, especially now with LinkedIn, which is the major social media for professionals, and these trends of personal branding, and you have people selling themselves, promoting themselves, doing marketing for themselves, and I'm from marketing so I don't know, I should maybe agree with that. But we’re all human at the end of the day. I mean, you can have a lot of experience in something, it's fine. But when it starts to be really self promotion and branding personal image to me, it's just way too much. And I wouldn't like having these kinds of superheroes coming to our company just because; everybody's good at something and you can learn from everybody like literally.
Ken: There’s always one who’s smarter than you or anybody else. Exactly.
Thomas: Yeah. I mean, going back to retention and everything, being from kind of smaller companies, I mean, how do you keep up with benefits versus like a competitive salary that you're able to give that? I mean, you're not, you know, you're not going to be able to provide the same things as like Amazon or like Google or somebody like that, but, you know, how do you try to mitigate what, you know, you are able to provide to, you know, make people want to come and join a smaller company that you might be a part of.
Ken: Yeah. I generally like to give a higher salary, because you know, if I'm choosing what the benefit is for the person, like health insurance, for instance, maybe they have health insurance already and maybe, you know, not paying $200 a month for that and just giving it to the employee will benefit them in another way, because maybe they can buy car insurance or some other thing with it, you know, or they can just buy their own health insurance at a different rate, different packages, whatever they want. So you're not kind of dictating to them what, what they should have in life. You're just giving them the money and enabling them to choose what they want to do.
Katie: I think it definitely comes back to culture and what we want to set as, like, this is the baseline for what we'll definitely provide for you as anyone who wants to come to this company. And it's tricky because you want to make sure that, you know, your baseline benefits are what set you apart, but then are also at market with other competitors. And so, there's even some, like, what are some low hanging fruit that then you can add on top of that or little things to set you apart? I mean, my favorite benefit that we added earlier this year, was student loan repayment. And what it was is, you know, it's 50 bucks a month. And for like, you are eligible after your first 6 months with us and then through 12 months we pay $50 towards your student loan. And then after that, it's a $100. So you look at that and while it's totally optional to then increase people's salaries by, Oh, just add $1,200 to everybody's salary. It's not the same impact that saying like, you know, we recognize as an organization, that a lot of people have this kind of issue in their personal lives and this is a relatively inexpensive way for us to recognize it and know our demographic and say that we're going to take steps in order to help like make this better for you.
Sol: I think it's an excellent insight that you're giving us is to basically not have these checking the boxes of the best benefits, if not, more know your employees and what their need, what they're looking for. For example, Costa Rica, we’re having terrible traffic, and when I say terrible traffic, it’s terrible traffic. People could spend hours in a car for a couple of kilometers. The fact that we can work 3 days from home, it's a huge advantage for all of our employees, because it fits with the situation that we're having in this country. So it's also, I mean, to us actually having maybe two lunches, free lunches for a week as it's really not expensive to have food anywhere. So it's fine. It doesn't really matter. But having the 3 days from our home; that really makes an impact on someone living in Costa Rica.
Katie: Yeah. I completely agree. It's just really an understanding of what's important. And part of the reason that we have lunch is basically because we had to know our geographic area too. There just weren't that many lunch options available. And even now you have to drive at least a mile in order to get something. And so it's, you know, it's an option for people. They don't have to eat it, sure, like they can go out anytime they want, but you know, it is an option for them to not have to go and kind of like search for something in the middle of the day.
Thomas: Yeah, it's nice. I mean, it's kind of become part of our, like the company culture is that, I mean, we coincide them with our all-hands, but sometimes our all-hands is just kind of like go sit with somebody that you don't usually talk to on a different team, that you don't speak to all the time. And we did like three fun facts a couple of weeks ago where you just had to write three fun facts about yourself on a card, you put it in a hat and then everybody drew, and then you were trying to figure out who that was. So you're just learning, you know, little tidbits here and there about, you know, the people that you work with and just kind of just keeping everything kind of light and fresh and not, you know, just like, Oh, we're here for a meeting, you know, which a lot of places kind of do.
Katie: So we do twice weekly all-hands. And so for the most part, it is talking like greater strategies, some big initiatives that are happening or really highlighting some of the team's achievements. So, for example, next week, we're going to be talking to customer success to hear about some of their most recent onsite onboardings and it's just a way to really understand how we're connecting with the customers. But then yeah, to Tommy's point, you know, we mix in fun ones there too. We had a Halloween contest, costume contest a couple of weeks ago that ended at a dance off. There was a trophy involved, it was pretty intense. You can check it out on Instagram. But yeah, I mean he and I also one time did a trivia and we did people-based trivia. So we went and asked certain people, certain questions and then like had everybody vote. And I think those kinds of little things too like increase the comradery and just kind of like it cracks people up. And I love that. I think that's my favorite part of like coming to work and leaving each day is knowing that like I cracked up at least once during the day, I need that.
Ken: And it's good to go home with a happy face isn’t it?
Thomas: Yeah, to feel good. You were talking about it at lunch is there's nothing worse than waking up and dreading going to the office when you just don't like your job or you don't like your workplace or the people you work with. It really does kind of drain on you. So it is nice to be at a place that you end up having fun, you know, a couple of times throughout the day, you enjoy the people that you work with, and you enjoy your workplace kind of overall is always a great feeling, definitely just adds, you know, to most people's lives, it just kind of makes it a little better than disliking where you have to go every day for 8 or 9 hours.
Ken: I think that's the most important kind of thing about work is; work is there to improve your life and not to provide food, right? It shouldn't be there just as a food provider, it's to improve your life so that you can win enough money to do the things that you like, while doing things that you don't hate, I guess, and hopefully things that you actually like as well.
Katie: And get to learn.
Sol: There's also one thing that, I guess, really matters at Knogin is the fact that we have this very; we're very open to let's say cross-talents. I don't know if you can say that in English. But basically, we have this new QA engineer, a junior engineer and it happened that she's also a scrum expert; a scrum master.
Ken: It’s a type of project management.
Sol: Exactly, type of project management. And I mean, she entered like a couple of weeks ago as a QA junior. And we immediately, I mean, her boss immediately gave her the possibility to teach all the other employees about that. And the fact that we give, I mean, people have many talents that we might not know. We have our junior graphic designer that is actually extremely competent in cybersecurity. And she knows about that, so now she's completely in charge of the UX UI of our software. And she was supposed to go there just for graphic design to do like ads or banners or whatever. And so she moved and now she's really just in charge of that. So the fact that we giving the space to people so that they can explore all these areas that were not defined at the very beginning is I think also something great.
Ken: I think it also gives us another benefit, which brings us back right to the very beginning, which is we've been looking for project managers for ages. We hadn't found any suitable for what we need, and then someone applies for a QA job and we find, Hey, she's a scrum master. You know, I was like, Oh my God, after all this time, this is now brilliant. So yeah, just I guess you've got to give people space and let them do what they do.
Sol: This is why I am telling you, I love doing podcasts.
Thomas: Yeah. I mean, I think that's a huge part of retention too, is giving people the ability to maybe grow into another role or giving them a roadmap on what they can, you know, become. I mean, that's a huge part of Cybrary’s kind of main mission is, you know, that where you work or something might not be giving you kind of the roadmap, but you know, with Cybrary you can kind of use it and start learning your way and kind of get into, you know, what we always call is like your next level. It's like, you might be starting here as a, you know, a junior developer or something like that, but you can kind of learn and keep going so that you have that opportunity the next time it comes up at your company or something. Cause a lot of times, you know, you work places where they don't provide any forward movement; you don't really see, you know, where you might be able to go in. It's always seems like a bunch of lateral movements, but it's like, if I don't have anywhere to go up, you know, what am I really doing here? So it's always, you know, as being Head of People and the CEO, I mean, how do you, you know, make sure that people understand, I mean, obviously you guys are doing a great job with, you know, letting people kind of fill certain roles and kind of grow into them. I mean, how do you mitigate that and make sure that people understand, like, you know, you might be starting here, but where you end, you know, it could be anywhere?
Katie: I think part of it is giving them the opportunity to also search, what do you want to be doing and kind of give them the reins a little bit because sure there's going to be the job that needs to get done. But, how can you add to your plate a little bit? So I was a waitress for a very long time; 6 years? 7 years? 6 or 7 years. And so I kind of like to use this analogy of, you know, when you're doing your initial job, you have like a three table section, but then as you get better, you get four tables, you get five tables, you get six table sections. So all of a sudden, you know, you're handling a lot more tables than you ever had before. And that's the same thing with the opportunities, at least at Cybrary and what I've seen in my previous role at another startup where, you know, do the job at hand, but take on more and then all of a sudden what you're going to see is the opportunity to move into that other space, you know, because you've created it, you've carved it out. Ideally with the support of management, of leadership in general.
Ken: Yeah, I agree. You didn't even need me in this podcast. I don’t know why I was invited.
Thomas: I feel that way most times. Well yeah, I mean, thank you all for being here. I mean, it was a really great conversation to go around and get kind of some differing opinions and, you know, seeing what other companies are doing and providing. I think it’s a great way to learn. So thank you all for being here and thanks everybody for listening.
Sol: Thank you.
Katie: Thank you.
Ken: Thanks a lot.