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Hire smart people, and give them time to learn

Everyone recognizes the importance of hiring smart people to join your team. There are many blog posts and companies whose sole purpose is to help you screen better, interview better, and otherwise improve your odds of finding smart people to join your team.

(Side note: many of those posts under-play the importance of mission and/or purpose. Smart people are likely to know they have many options in today’s job market. Your company’s mission, plus how well you convey it to them, play an important role in standing out. But that’s a topic for another blog post.)

One thing I’ve found under-rated is the importance of time given to these teammates to learn the new domain, get comfortable with its lingo, tools, and other concepts, so they become productive. This doesn’t seem to get discussed as often; maybe because managers want instant results?

In the leadership literature, there’s a well-known model about team formation, called Tuckman’s Model, better known as Storming-Norming-Forming-Performing. I’m not going to elaborate on it here, except to say I’ve seen it happen many times, and it takes time too. Informed leaders know this, and give teams the time to get over these “soft” but crucial issues.

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Tuckman’s Model of team formation; photo credit Stephen Graves.

We often assume smart people will just learn anything, but we have to give them time to do so, along with complementary structures, autonomy, and guidance where possible.

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Photo credit: “Jambo” at JamboNewsPot.com

One such example from Jana is our Fraud Squad. As a product that pays people, there is a strong economic incentive to defraud us, robbing us (and other users) from the free internet we try to provide. So in the middle of 2015, we created a new team dedicated to fighting fraud, as well as wasteful behavior.

Like most of our teams, this one is cross-functional. It has a product manager who was previously on our revenue team, working with many customers, and thus understanding how they approach, measure, and think about fraud. It has a lead developer with significant broad technical experience, another developer with strong analytical and math chops, and a kick-ass data scientist. This team interacts with our sales reps and account managers on an almost-daily basis.

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Photo credit: TheCleverst.com

What you might not know is that none of these folks have a background in fraud. They are all smart, and happy to learn new domains, but this takes time. It can also be frustrating, because fraud is one of those areas where an immediate silver bullet is unlikely, the battle will be waged for years, and so the team has to stay determined and upbeat in the face of challenges. (We say this because everyone else in the industry, e.g. Google, has been fighting their form of fraud for decades now.)

One of the most delightful things for me, as their teammate, is to see the Fraud Squad apply general concepts, such as Benford’s Law, to our domain, in a creative way. You can read more about it in the “Fraud Squad Field Notes” series of blog posts. Now that they’ve been at it for about six months, the team is picking up steam, confidence, and knowledge, and starting to deploy effective counter-fraud measures that our customers (not just us) tell us have had significant results.

If you’re curious about learning a particular domain, and you care about making the internet free for billions of people around the world, we’re hiring.

 

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