There is no question that the Toronto tech sector is growing – and fast. Tech companies are heavily recruiting and culture has become imperative in terms of attracting and retaining top talent. To better understand what makes tech different, we sat down with Flipp’s Director of Talent, Lucy Cooke, to hear more about her experience in tech, what differentiates ‘tech culture’ and how to stand out when trying to break into this industry.
Q. Lucy, tell us a little bit about your professional background?
A. I started my career in financial recruitment in the U.K. when I was in my early twenties. During that time, I was asked if I was interested in meeting a hiring manager who was looking for a Junior Recruiter on a corporate team. The company turned out to be Electronic Arts. I joined them and spent two years in the UK, before moving to Melbourne where I helped set up a new studio for them. Eventually, I was given an opportunity to come to Toronto to join the Ubisoft team. I made the move to Ubisoft Toronto as employee number 160 (or somewhere around there) and we grew that studio to more than 350. After some time in the entertainment industry, I made a conscious decision that I wanted to join a company that really understood talent. I’d known of Flipp for a couple of years at that point, and decided it was the right time to pursue this role.
Q. What made you decide to take the leap into tech?
A. I join companies for the people, not the industry. When I first made the jump into tech with EA, the hiring manager sold me with his vision for the company. It was a little bit maverick and a little bit renegade, and I thought that was pretty cool. When it came to joining Flipp, I wanted somewhere that really walked the walk when it came to investing in their people. I met with a number of people during my interview process and there was both passion and a high level of accountability. I think that accountability piece really makes or breaks both a culture and a company.
Q. Jumping ahead to your current role as the Director of Talent at Flipp, what does your day-to-day look like?
A. A lot of my role focuses on ensuring candidates have the best experience they can when they’re meeting Flipp. Really, it’s about delivering the value-add. It’s things like our candidate information pack that really tell the story of our company in a way you wouldn’t find elsewhere.
We’re also working to ensure that our interview process is as transparent as possible. Even when a candidate’s interview has not been successful, our goal is to make sure they understand why so that despite the outcome the interview experience was valuable to them. That’s a key part of driving a reputable talent brand and reflects our Flipp culture of being highly feedback driven.
Q. Building on that, what do you like the most about your role at Flipp?
A. For me, it’s the impact that I have on my hiring managers and really pushing them to think outside of the box. For example, ‘what if you find your ideal candidate and they don’t check every item on your list, what do you do then?’ Additionally, offering value to candidates when we call them to let them know we aren’t moving forward. These are crappy calls to make, but the value-add that the candidate gets, the positive feedback on how the process went and the thanks that I get back from the candidate makes these traditionally difficult calls very positive.
Q. What would you say are the biggest differentiators between tech and other industries that people might not be aware of (aside from things like ping pong tables in the office)?
A. In tech there is a lot of value put on the idea itself, as opposed to where the idea has come from. At Flipp, we are looking for people at all levels who have great ideas and want to drive them forward. In other industries, you have a very hierarchical structure, and therefore it’s more likely to be the people at the top’s ideas that are implemented and carried through. In animation, we used to say that the ‘colour of your money is the same no matter who you are,’which means we saw value in all of our clients – big and small. I think it’s the same with ideas. An idea is worth the same weight no matter where it comes from. This means you’re getting the best out of everybody.
Also - the pace! In tech, it’s really about pivoting quickly. I think the people that do pivot quickly, are naturally more suited to the fast-paced tech environment.
Q. On that, are there things that you took from your more corporate jobs that you think serve you now working in tech?
A. Yes - structure and scalability. In a corporate setting, you quickly understand the importance of how to scale something and how to scale it quickly. The other piece for me is creativity. Given my experience I feel pretty comfortable saying ‘I know this is a crazy idea but...what if we were to put this money behind a certain project?’
Q. And when you look at a potential candidate who has experience outside of tech, what do you look for?
A. We look for people who are able to demonstrate innovation and change. If you’re working on a project and you’re not constantly thinking of how to make it better, it’s likely not going to work. We liken it to the sports world. If you have an Olympic athlete who has won the 100m, they are only the best on that day. The next day someone can come and beat them. The understanding that you can be the best but can always be better is paramount for us.
Q. And lastly what are the top five tips you’d give to someone looking to break into the Toronto tech scene?
- Get involved in the tech community! There are so many different types of events (not just job fairs!) but real learning opportunities that give you the chance to listen to thought leaders and understand what companies are doing. These are the events that give you the opportunity to meet people who are not just trying to recruit but looking to meet like-minded people interested in a similar field. It’s a natural transaction where you’re not just trying to sell yourself and your skills but building relationships.
- Understand that your skill-set is a basis, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to know every single coding language that a company is looking for, but you need to have a willingness to learn and ideally, some proven experience in learning at pace.
- Be yourself. A lot of people are hiring the person as much as they are the skill-set. They want to see and understand that the people they’re hiring are coming to the table with their own ideas.
- Have examples of your work ready. This is especially true in visual roles, but even outside of that, have examples ready of the challenges that you’ve worked on in the past.
- Be selective. This is a community here in Toronto. You want to avoid the ‘I don’t really care where I go’ mentality. You should be as selective as the companies in selecting a role that is right for you. Research your companies and be strategic.