Excited to kick off the first episode of an ongoing series, ‘Tech Leaders Hiring Well’, where your host, Zac Colip (VP, Tech Practice at Hirewell) will chat with Rick Kopeikin (Director, Cloud Architecture at Prime TSR) to discuss how he hires for one of the fastest-growing cloud consulting companies in Chicago. We cover his approach to interviewing, what technology he likes to see on resumes and what exciting things are happening at Prime TSR.
All right. Welcome Rich Kopeikin, the director of cloud architecture over at Prime TSR. Thanks for jumping on here with me. Oh, thanks for asking Zach, always a pleasure. We have a very good working relationship, so happy to do this. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah and it’s something where this is going to be our first on the Hirewell content series, where we’re just kind of jumping on and talking with hiring managers at great organizations to really get a better feel for
how you’ve grown into the position, how that’s evolved, how you hire good people and hopefully help educate people on how they can become better at kind of interviewing. So yeah. Thank you again. Rich and I have a great relationship. We’ve worked together for quite some time now.
In my personal opinion, Rich is definitely one of the best out there so I appreciate you taking the time. So yeah, let’s kick things off. Rich how did you grow into this hiring manager position? Can you tell me how you went from like maybe developer into like more of a senior level position making hiring decisions?
Yeah. Yeah, sure. So like anything, experience is that clear key there but I can tell you, I remember my very first interview I did, actually for a previous company and I thought to myself, “Oh, this is cool. I’m actually to the point now where they’re asking me to interview somebody.”
And I talked to this person and I got through at the end of it and then they asked me like, so what do you think? Do you think that he’s a good fit for this specific position? And I was like, I didn’t talk to him about that position or anything related to the technologies of that position. I thought he was good over here, but I don’t know if he’s done any of that.
So that was my first lesson in hiring is really understand the role, understand what you’re looking for going in. In terms of myself though, how I progressed into the level that I am now, where I am doing most of the hiring for Prime TSRs application developers. I started as application developer myself obviously, and the progression goes from there is that I was an intern, senior developer, lead developer,
eventually you get to this like architect level where you’re – or manager of teams level and you start to realize essentially what projects get put on your shoulders that you know it, the people you need to in order to deliver, especially once you start to lead, you get a better sense of how valuable
the good and right resources are to you versus the resources who are wrong.
How do you hire for consultants specifically?
How do you like, how can you tell if someone is going to be a good fit as a consultant?
Yeah. Yeah. So just really quick on that, it goes back to the role level where we’re not always hiring exactly for what we use as the term consultant. Sometimes we’re hiring for a role that we need a subcontractor and for a very specific technology.
And I still look for the same basic things out of that person but it isn’t as much of okay, do I think this person is going to be a real great fit with our company and can they grow with our company? And even that initial conversation can tell me a lot because some people are like, “I’m good.” Yeah. And I was like okay so right off the bat, they’re like – you’re not getting where I’m going with this. You just want to kind of get this over with. Or some people it’s harder to understand or certain things and in that area.
But then after that, again, there is a lot of soft skills in terms of enthusiasm and passion for technology. I always like to see that out of people. I don’t want somebody who’s like, “No, I don’t do this. Or no, I don’t do that.” That’s like red flags to me where it’s like, “I don’t really like that area.
I focus on this. That’s not my thing. Some other guys have handled that in the past.”
I would imagine in consulting that you have to be versatile. You have to be ready to jump into something new, especially when it’s a technology modernization consulting company like Prime TSR, right?
We are one of the most diverse companies in terms of what we do.
I feel like, which has always been a struggle with us. We don’t want to say we’re great at everything because then you’re great at nothing. But at the same time, we are very good at a lot of things, because I think that’s the type of people we like to hire and definitely the type of people I like to hire.
I love well-rounded people. That’s my thing. I want them to have a little bit of experience in each foundational area across the board and that way I know that no matter what comes in the future, that they have at least the basic foundational knowledge to take it and run with it. And all of that knowledge having a little bit of knowledge in each area really helps you pick up new things faster because you’re able to identify, okay, this is a mix of these three, or this is a mix of these two.
So I know and I can trust them then that they’re able to pick stuff up. Now, I do test on fundamentals as well to make sure that they have a solid understanding and foundation that they’re going to be able to speak to other technologists at that level and other technologists are going to identify with them and see that they really know what they’re talking about at a basic level.
So, I feel like I got off track a little bit with this question. I know it was, what do I look for a consultant? But I mean, I go on to what I look for in throughout the interview in general but as a consultant for that specific role, we generally consider a consultant somebody who is going to be able to
interact with the customer lead projects, going to be able to make those recommendations and expand our footprint and help our customers the most and build that rapport, build that trust.
Awesome. Awesome. Yeah, no and I think piggybacking off that a little bit Prime TSR, like what you guys have your like cloud partners with three different cloud technologies or cloud partners
and then also like constantly working with new tech. Sometimes I imagine you’re in a position where like you just started working with a new technology and you’re having to interview somebody for that new technology, like how challenging is that? How do you go about kind of tackling something like that?
Are you going to be able to talk to your platform guys who build out your systems that your code is going to be running on. You need to know about that if you’re going to be running a team and knowing a system. Do you understand your fundamental architectural skills?
If you need a big platform, that’s going to integrate multiple pieces together. How are you there? And just your basic fundamental programming. At least tell me you could look at somebody else’s code and understand that this is good, this is bad, guide them along, do some check-ins, do some code reviews along the way.
That’s a lot of the areas that I cover.
Okay. Wow, that’s awesome. That’s really helpful. And as far as like the technologies that you guys are excited about right now that you guys are working with at time, what grabs your attention as far as just looking at a resume and saying, “Wow, like that’s going to be a great fit with what we’re doing here at Prime TSR.”
Yeah. I have to say that certifications are always good. People have mixed feelings on them, but to me, what a certification means is that this person 1.) they at least have an understanding of all the basic concepts across this area of technology, they’ve been exposed to them.
They might not be experts in them but they know they exist so that when they have a problem, they’re like, “Oh, I remember that. I need to go look into that now and dig in.” Also it tells me that they’re passionate and that they care about what they do. Oftentimes a lot of companies want to see you get a certification or you just know it’s good for your career to have it on the piece of paper.
And that tells me you’re a hard worker, you’re somebody who’s willing to put the time to get it because oftentimes those aren’t very good. Or oftentimes, some people just will sit back and not have to do that and a lot of times it’s on your own time
you’re getting those certifications on top of the work you have to do. Technology specific, I nowadays with us being so cloud forward, I just love seeing the most cloud experience possible. it’s like anyone else’s job. You have to know the lingo. You have to know what somebody is talking about when they’re asking certain questions. Just to go on there, when I’m interviewing specifically is some questions I ask a person and I have to guide them and they don’t understand what I’m talking about and I have to continue to guide them and guide them.
And eventually I just say, “Well have you heard of this?” And a lot of them are like, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of that.” And some of them are like, “Oh yeah, let me describe it to you.” There’s a different reactions there. But then some people I asked,”What about this?” And they go on, they give me exactly all the key buzzwords that I’m looking for.
They know exactly what I’m going after. It feels like they’ve done these interviews and they know what I want. And then they sometimes will like accidentally answer the next two or three questions that I had lined up anyway. I’m like, “Oh, this guy is perfect. This person, they know exactly what I’m going for.
Great.” Sometimes by the end of the interview like that, I don’t even need to push or dig hard because I’m like, all right, I know that your answer is going to be the best, you know all that. I know what your answer is going to be to this. I know all that. Let me talk about other things.
Awesome. And that’s how I imagine how you look at candidates and just say, okay this person’s technical skills stand up, they’re going to be the right fit for this. Okay. Interesting.
Yeah, and we hire – we’ve generally hired more – we don’t have even senior level people, which is a weird word because senior is, to me sometimes senior developer means a developer that’s been about three to five years in development. I think five years is the youngest person that we have right now. Most of our guys are 10, 15, 20 years in the game.
Now, as far as like challenges that you guys are facing over the next year or so, things that you’re excited about at Prime TSR, can you touch on any of that for me?
The point that we’re at right now is where I really feel like we are kind of exploding and in a lot of different areas and now we have to grow as a business and as a core organization. What’s our organizational structure look like, what is our specific roles and responsibilities on projects?
How do we handle our pipelines? But again, a lot of our customers are larger fortune 500 companies or big
product companies like an apartments.com or something. They own a big product. They have an engineering team inside there that’s been doing it for years. They might need some help from the outside though because that engineering team may have gone stale, because a lot of them may have been around there for 20 years.
And some of them may have not just wanted to update in that time. So that’s who we mostly interact with. So it’s a little bit different for us figuring out how do we start growing a – for me, I was the third hire. Seeing that grow from a company of three to 10 to 20 to 50, to 100.
Now it’s like mind blowing when I look back on how we’re managing all of this. Again, after having done like about a hundred interviews last year, I feel like I’ve gotten decent at scaling the company, which sometimes is important during – I mean, that’s honestly always important during an interview.
You want that good candidate to come in. And honestly, the company sells itself. I don’t need to that much. One, we just work across a broad spectrum of all the newest, latest, and greatest technologies. We want to get companies on the cloud. Once they’re in the cloud, we want to get them using it the right way.
We want to start using the more cloud native services and taking advantage of those. On top of that, our culture is just really special I think and everyone says that who joins our company. One of the things that I’ve learned about consulting companies in the past, some of them are okay, go work on that project and we don’t really care if we ever hear from you again, as long as the checks are coming in
and as long as the customer is happy. You know you’re kind of on an Island over there. Prime TSR doesn’t do that. Again, we have guys who are all 10 15, 20 years of experience from a lot of different backgrounds. There’s a lot of application and software developers like myself. There’s plenty of DBAs,
there’s network guys. There’s just general IT managers and we all kind of overlap in each other’s areas. Again, these people have all been around for so long so we all help each other out and it’s nice having that expert. I can do this thing, but I need an expert, I could turn around and talk to that guy
who’s been doing it for 20 years and has worked on more about it than I’ll ever know. And we maintain this tight center core where we are always all chatting about what our work is. We have a very active Slack group in the office before we come in on Fridays, everyone would talk about, Hey, what are you doing?
What are you doing? We’re all passionate about technology and then we all just know have fun too. Again, we look to hire people with good social skills, I should say because that helps a lot in building relationships. As well as passion.
We maintain that tight center core, no matter what project you’re out on, you’re out on, you’re out on, I don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know what I’m doing, but Hey, we have a happy hours every week. We have video game nights. We have board game nights. Actually Prime TSR is starting to become a lot more of my social life than I realize, but in a good way. It’s a great company to work for.
And not only that’s, it’s growing. So people always want to be involved with that who are really taking off, get in on the ground floor. That’s the promise. That’s the promise when I joined the company that was less than five people at the time. It was I want to get out on the ground floor of this and see it grow.
And honestly, your question earlier of how I’ve gotten, where I am right now is I’ve been a part of that since the beginning. And I’ve really grown with the company. The co-founders believed in me. They put a lot of time and effort helping me, developing my consulting skills, developing my leadership skills.
We all want to develop each other. Now I’m developing my own people that I’ve brought in. They’re still developing me in certain areas. Other areas now I realized, oh I actually do this better than you, but now we’re starting to get that even more. It’s where, oh I need your help on things, but you also need my help on some things too, which they always have. It’s just a very fun culture.
That’s awesome. And it’s amazing to see how things have progressed at Prime TSR and with your career. So really do appreciate you jumping on here with me and kind of going through it. I think people out there are going to really learn a lot and hopefully know the best way to kind of approach interviews like this and possibly even look at working for Prime TSR.
Oh yeah. Yeah. We’re always open to good people.
Perfect. Well, hey thanks Rich again.