Xero employees start to add up

Software as a service accounting company Xero is on a hiring spree

In late August, Xero announced it had hired 128 new employees in the last calendar year bringing the company’s total staff number up to 267. Xero says there are still 103 vacancies to fill, ranging from .NET developers to executive positions.

Scaling from a small startup in 2006 to a $500 million company in six years has presented a challenge in recruiting the right staff, says Andrew Tokeley, product development manager.

Tokeley’s role gives him a strategic overview of the skills that are needed at Xero to support product development and the growth of its customer base. He is also involved in the recruitment of staff for the product team, which includes developers, testers, business analysts and support staff. He began working at Xero in 2009, and before that worked as a solutions architect and development manager at Intergen.

Tokeley says that in the past Xero has publicly announced its intentions to hire “hundreds of developers,” and of the 1000 job applications Xero has received in the last three months, he says around 300 have been for developer positions.

While developers are crucial for Xero’s growth, Tokeley says that a disproportionate focus on that role is probably a remnant from Xero’s startup days where the developers would often undertake non-programming roles.

“When you start a small startup all you really need is developers,” he says.

“They act as the testers, analysts, and market researchers. Smaller teams can get away with just having developers but as we scale we need to focus on specialists. As your business grows you start introducing communication challenges, and one person can’t do it all.”

Tokeley says Xero still requires developers for its back office systems, which is a growth area of within the business, albeit one without much of a spotlight on it.

“I think this is a particularly exciting area for younger developers because they get to use frameworks they might not otherwise be able to, like Ruby on Rails or Python,” says Tokeley.

Xero currently employs around 40 developers, 12 quality assurance experts, five business analysts, and three documenters.

Tokeley says quality assurance staff like testers are particularly important for Xero to support iterations of new features. Xero’s vacancies list 13 open positions for testers, and Tokeley says the proportion of developers to testers is around 2:1.

“It’s easier to hire developers than it is to hire testers,” says Tokeley. “To an extent hiring new developers is constrained by the number of testers we have.”

Business analysts are also being sought, but Tokeley says this need can often be managed by members of the management team.

Xero is a publicly traded company that has so far not reported a profit. However Tokeley says there has not been any pressure from investors to buckle down and focus on generating profits instead of making costly new hires.

“Our investors just want us to be a successful company — to be one we need more people to keep us moving at the pace we need to be at.”

Xero founder and CEO Rod Drury has said in the past that the company’s success lies in overseas markets. Of the 103 vacancies, 40 are for positions in Australia, the UK, and the US. Tokeley says a sales and development office in San Francisco led by CTO Craig Walker will the first step in Xero’s US expansion.

“There’s a limited pool of people in New Zealand,” says Tokeley.

Tokeley says from his involvement in recruitment he has learned to quickly identify candidates who would fit in with the culture and environment at Xero. He has two tips for potential candidates at technology startups; one is not to undersell yourself in salary expectations — “nobody wants to buy a cheap radio”; the other is to have interests in the wider technology community.

“The green flag in an application is when you can sense they’re not just a career developer,” he says.

“Having a hobby whether it’s a blog, or iPhone development, or being part of an open source community - something that gives a sense that they really enjoy working in the industry beyond just the pay cheque.”

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