Startups have a skills problem. It’s one they won’t solve by hiring.

With live team coaching, startups can empower their current tech teams to achieve goals that seem out of reach, says Skiller Whale CEO, Hywel Carver. 

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An obsession with growth is to be expected when you’re running a startup. Success tends to be measured by the numbers raised at each funding round, the endless stream of new customers raving about your product, and the rapidly expansion of the development team. But as the recent layoffs across the sector have shown, growth is not always linear. And hiring at pace is no longer a viable option for many companies searching for more productivity or innovation at lower cost. 

With VC funding less forthcoming in 2023, startups are slimming teams down to make ends meet. Leaders are being pushed to do more, with what they already have. That’s not helped by the rapid pace of technology – it’s estimated  that the half-life of technical skills is already less than 2.5 years. That means that skills gaps are opening up within teams all the time, and competition is fierce for software engineers with the right niche of skills (for example deep expertise in AI and data science). After all, non-tech companies, such as those in retail and finance, now want those developers too. And remote working has meant local talent is being pursued by the whole world. 

It’s a crisis that has the potential to severely curb business ambitions. A Gartner survey found technology  executives see the talent shortage as the most significant adoption barrier to 64% of emerging technologies that enable innovation in 2023, versus 4% in 2020. Not being able to utilise that technology is leading to delays, low productivity, more errors, and  the release of inadequate products .

The tech sector is between a rock and a hard place. Something needs to change. And it’s by considering how skills are nurtured internally that startups and scaleups can start to overcome the barriers holding them back. 

Targeted learning to help startups succeed

The tech industry has been addicted to hiring to advance its tech team’s abilities. That’s no longer a viable option. The sector needs a marked shift in favour of developing its current people so they’re agile, resilient and able to adopt new technologies with ease. 

Live  team coaching taps into the potential of a startup's people. It focuses on specific needs and goals of an organisation, and the skills gaps that exist within the team. With regular coaching from a live expert, software engineers can build a deep understanding and develop new capabilities through problem-solving and feedback. More innovative features are built faster, with higher quality code and fewer bugs. And the confidence and resilience of the team as a whole is improved. Technologies and targets that once seemed out of reach become achievable.  

That has clear business benefits. With next-generation technologies, developers can work more productively and innovatively. AI, for example, can automate large parts of coding and debugging, leaving software engineers with more capacity for higher level work. Research by GitHub, which polled 90,000 developers in its most recent survey, found a third of developers say AI has increased their productivity and one in four are achieving greater efficiency. 

Targeted learning can also help developers work smarter, removing bottlenecks and streamlining workflows. Almost two thirds (63%) of the developers GitHub surveyed spent more than 30 minutes a day searching for answers or solutions to problems and 53% agree they’re slowed down at work by waiting for answers. Imagine the uplift in productivity if they had access to targeted learning, which would bring solutions to those problems well within reach. 

More confidence, more autonomy

That’s what happened at Datamaran. The company has created a software analytics platform that identifies and monitors the risks and opportunities of ESG strategies. Skiller Whale has been providing live-team coaching to its 20 developers for just over a year, with a particular focus on developing their skills in Python and JavaScript. 

Datamaran’s CTO and co-founder Jérôme Basdevant tells us it’s already had a big impact. Efficiency has improved significantly, and the team is now able to appropriately use  more advanced coding patterns and practices in their work. Basdevant says they’re more autonomous now because he can trust  them to write code in the right way. Plus the team has improved their understanding of the complexity of estimation, which has resulted in a more predictable workflow. He’s also been able to hire people from more diverse backgrounds and use Skiller Whale to upskill them on the job. 

It’s time to bridge the skills gap

In many ways, technical skills gaps in engineering teams are inevitable, particularly in startups. They’re often breaking new ground, disrupting whole industries, and using the latest technology to reshape the world. But it requires a long-term commitment around continuous learning to maintain that pace. To bridge skills gaps now and in the future.  

The UK tech ecosystem is at an inflection point. Growth depends on the growth of the developers who are building its products. The good news is software engineers love learning, and  they’re obsessed with finding the best ways to solve problems. What they need is leaders who will support them to evolve, and  give them the tools they need to perform  to the best of their abilities, rather than just hiring new people around them.  

Hywel Carver Skiller Whale
Hywel Carver - CEO of Skiller Whale

Skiller Whale is revolutionising developer learning with expert-led live team coaching.

Skiller Whale
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