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Building talent, developing tech leaders from within

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South African companies are in dire need of skilled and experienced ICT professionals, particularly software developers, coders and data analysts. As a result, for those companies that employ these professionals, staff retention is an ongoing challenge.
While many companies approach talent acquisition and retention from a purely monetary point of view, offering higher salaries and benefits, Gareth Hawkey, CEO of enterprise software developer redPanda Software, asserts that job satisfaction and career advancement are as important.
“Providing formal career-pathing with mentorship from the top-level executives of our organisation, has created a culture that not only results in skills retention but it also develops leaders who will help shape the future growth of the company,” says Hawkey.
“We aim to be an employer of choice for software developers in South Africa, and have instituted a number of initiatives for employees to be mentored into management roles, but we equally pay attention to those who choose to pursue a technical career.”
Zintle Jacobs, technical lead at redPanda Software, has been at the company since it was established in 2009. She joined as a software developer, and quickly moved into a team leader role. From there, the opportunity became available to become a development project manager.
“At redPanda Software, there is constant encouragement to try new things, and to learn as much as possible – from both a technical and leadership point of view. Management has an open door policy, so there is always an opportunity to discuss your role and your personal development,” says Jacobs.
For Jacobs, she ultimately chose not to pursue a management path, opting instead to focus on her technical role and develop her expertise within a niche area of software development.
“There is a lot of room for advancement and exposure to different areas within the business. We have developers that have opted to be support engineers; we have people who have moved from 1st line support to second and third line support and to team leads. We’ve had people move from the support department to QA positions. So the possibilities are endless.”
By providing ample opportunities for employees to grow and explore different roles within the company – and to move towards more senior, management positions – redPanda Software has been able to nurture its staff contingent from within and retain top talent.
Ross McLaren, for example, joined redPanda Software five years ago as a senior developer. He quickly moved from this role to team leader, then to systems architect, and is now a senior development manager. He has further ambitions to move into an executive role in the future. For a developer who joined the firm as the stereotypical, inward focused ‘techie’, such quick progression to management is almost unheard of.
“The support that I’ve received from the company, at every step, has been quite phenomenal. There is a constant feedback loop, and management is always ready to have a conversation about your personal growth and ambitions,” explains McLaren.
He notes that there is a very clear vision at the firm that is centred on the ethos of building from within – and always creating a dynamic path for employees to progress along, whatever their professional ambitions may be.
“A skills retention strategy is vital to our success. We currently employ 120 talented people, and we are recruiting further to provide teams for our growing list of clients. Our international expansion has also contributed to our need for talent, and this looks set to increase in the coming year,” says Hawkey.