Ilya Brotzky of VanHack on Thinking Global and Having Patience
Ilya Brotzky is the CEO and Founder of VanHack, a global network of the world’s top software engineering, design, and digital marketing talent-available on demand to relocate to help companies grow. Originally from Russia, Ilya has worked all around the world and has developed a unique global point of view on how technology is shaping careers. Since starting VanHack, Ilya and his company have helped hundreds of highly skilled, global talent relocate.
Looking back five/ ten years, where did you think you’d be by this time in your career? How did you get here?
Five years ago, I was just graduating from university and a lot of my friends were talking about wanting to go work on Wall Street or in Management Consulting. I knew that wasn't the path for me because I wanted to be an entrepreneur and have a global, less traditional career. In 2010, I moved to Brazil and as a result, had a lot of my friends asking me about how I went about doing that. I quickly realized that there was a big opportunity to help highly skilled people relocate to Canada given the need and demands that exist for our local companies, especially when it comes to tech jobs. The idea for VanHack evolved overtime and wasn’t a result of a big “aha!” moment: it developed via word of mouth. It's been incredible to see how our business has grown over the years and how many people we've been able to connect with amazing jobs. That being said, I never thought I would be in this kind of industry.
Tell me about how technology has transformed the way we need to go about building a career today? What are important trends to take note of?
The biggest trend today is that technology has made the world smaller and much more interconnected. A few decades ago, it was impossible to collaborate and get work done across the world and now, most companies compete with each other on a global scale. The best thing that people can do today is remove the mindset that they are competing locally for jobs and work. This is especially true when it comes to knowledge workers. Most work these days can be done from anywhere, and having a global mindset is very important: it allows you to tap into a bigger labor market. If you are in the workforce and you are not doing something to get yourself on the global level, start. That could include making a website for yourself, getting a blog going or just creating content and sharing it. It is also important to experience different cultures, and if you can, work abroad. I've worked in some pretty amazing places that have done a lot for my development. If you are thinking of relocating, Lisbon, Brazil, Sydney and Luxembourg are some of my top choices.
What is the most important thing a company should know about when it comes to attracting and retaining top tech talent? Does that advice change depending on the size of company?
To hire great people, a company first needs to understand who they are and why they exist. Then it becomes a question of building the right culture so that great people want to work for them. Without these things, it will be hard to attract and keep the right people, especially if you are a small company. Once you grow a bit, you then need to focus on building out the candidate experience and the core process around recruitment to ensure you are getting the right people and delivering a good recruitment experience. At a certain size, candidates expect more from you so you need to have those processes otherwise you will get a bad reputation and tarnish your brand. If you are a big company, you need to consider how to become more like a smaller company, because things happen so slowly when you are big. Great people don't wait around for big companies to work through their red tape and this means that you need to get rid of bureaucracy.
Tell me about the most important business lesson that you had to learn the hard way? What did you learn?
The biggest mistake that I've made has been around hiring the wrong people. Hiring the wrong person is the easiest way to derail a business because those people are distractions and cause a huge amount of drag. They are also very expensive. I've come to learn that despite how fast you need to grow as a startup, or even as a larger company, you need to take the right amount of time to hire the right people. In interviews, candidates may try to oversell their skills and what they bring to the table and when you need to hire quickly, it is easy to talk yourself into believing someone because you need the extra help for growth. That is a mistake. When hiring, don’t be so quick to trust people. Having made that mistake, I've put a lot more process around the way we hire. Air BnB waited a year before they hired their first person and that is something important to think about.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone to help them get ahead and find work that is fulfilling?
Have more patience. I have admittedly been on more of the impatient side throughout my career because I have always wanted to get to where I saw myself at the end point. In hindsight though, I should have been more patient because I ended up making mistakes along the way that could have been avoided if I had taken things slower. Earlier in my career, I was involved with a few startups that failed because we raised too much money and tried to scale too quickly without validating our business model. I spent too much time looking over my shoulder at what other people were doing and it wasn't helpful. I’ve come to learn over time that everyone has their own journey and it doesn’t matter what your peers are doing. There is no rush to get where you are going, and people often forget that.