Tinkering for success

Software development house Tinkerbox Studios is not afraid to get its hands dirty to cultivate a robust talent pipeline for not just itself but also, the wider software sector. The company is also building a strong learning culture within its ranks, as HRM Asia finds out .

Tinkering for success

Kate Lim was a flight stewardess for several years, before she also spent a year in a pharmaceutical sales role.

However, she had always maintained a long-term interest in technology, and software coding in particular.

In February last year, she became part of the first cohort of “TechLadies”, a  ten-week coding bootcamp for women.

There she met Jaryl Sim, Chief Technology Officer of Tinkerbox Studios, a software development firm, who was serving as a coach.

Following the conclusion of TechLadies, Lim was accepted into an internship programme with TinkerBox. And after completing that intensive five-month training, she was offered an ongoing role with the firm, and is now a full-time product manager.

Encouraging software careers

While TechLadies is not the brainchild of Tinkerbox, the firm does actively participate in a wide range of career development initiatives for the software industry. As well as its mentorship efforts, its industry engagement includes sponsorship and participation in various technology conferences.

This is part of a strategy to engage with the software development community in Singapore, and to convince budding developers that local firms are serious about cultivating technology talent, says Kelvin Tham, Chief Operating Officer.

He says Singaporean graduates of engineering and computer software courses have typically not favoured careers as software developers.

“For example, they prefer to work in banks and be analysts, while the talented developers also prefer to work in Silicon Valley,” he says. “They don’t view Singapore as a place to practice their craft,” he says.

“This is something we want to improve,” he says.

Multiple hiring touchpoints

Besides conferences, Tinkerbox actively engages with universities, particularly the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and Singapore Management University (SMU), the alma mater of Tham and Sim.

For example, Tinkerbox took in several interns from SUTD’s maiden intake of software engineering students.

“It was well-received and we now have a mini cult-following among SUTD students,” says Tham.

While Tinkerbox participates in recruitment fairs with universities, most of its hiring centres on those who have completed its internship scheme, as well as through employee referrals and the firm’s outreach programmes.

Tham says Lim is a prime example of how participating in coding bootcamps can lead to the recruitment of promising coding talent.

Overall, Tinkerbox’s recruitment strategy encompasses various strategies,” he says.

“We have multiple touchpoints with people through conferences, universities and clients.”

Thirst for knowledge

Tinkerbox has also implemented a strong learning culture across its 22-strong workforce.

“We believe that learning and growing as a developer doesn’t come from lecturers, reading, or online courses,” Tham says. “You learn when you have a mentor and when you work on a project together.”

Hence, the organisation tries to inculcate this form of co-learning on all of its projects, with junior employees being afforded opportunities to work on client projects under the guidance of their assigned mentors.

At a basic level, every code written by an employee is reviewed by their peer before it is approved and integrated into the application.

Learning and development is also undertaken at every opportunity, even after the conclusion of a client project.

Aptly termed “Post-mortem”, this entails a reflection session held within teams to sum up what was done well, what were the mistakes made, and what could have been done better during each project.

Tinkerbox’s inquisitive learning culture has also led to it building its own internal software tools, including a proprietary web-based project management application that helps manage projects, clients, and manpower resources.

“We used Google Sheets, but that is not translatable to clients and developers. Since we’re software writers, we decided to do something for ourselves,” says Tham.

The “Tinkerdex” platform has also become a tool for employees and management to manage basic HR matters, such as leave applications.

Tham firmly believes these learning and development initiatives are assisting employee retention efforts.

“Our belief is that if we give opportunities and continue to grow people in the company, they won’t then find a reason to leave, unless there are external reasons that we can’t control,” he says.

Fika sessions

It’s not all work and no play for Tinkerbox employees.

The company encourages employees to let their hair down and step out of their work zones on a daily basis, by partaking in its regular “Fika” sessions.

Fika is a Swedish term meaning “coffee break”.

These sessions were championed by Ted Johansson, Tinkerbox’s Swedish-born Technical Lead.

“Ted encouraged everyone to stop staring at their computer screens and to use these Fika sessions to talk to each other in a casual setting,” says Tham.

The daily 15-to-30 minute break sessions take place in the mid-afternoon, and employees can engage in conversations, grab snacks, or play board and table games.

“It has evolved to become one or two games of the card game Uno or foosball,” adds Tham.

TinkerThursdays

Tinkerbox’s Studios’ desire to continuously broaden its horizons in the software development space has led to the creation of “Tinker Thursdays” within the company.

According to Kelvin Tham, Chief Operating Officer, TinkerThursdays is a fortnightly event where employees stay back after work to share knowledge and update each other on the latest developments in the software development sphere.

To add a fun element into it, employees participate in coding, design and website challenges, with dinner ordered into the office.

“We work on different client projects, and teams are often fragmented. Hence, we wanted to have an activity that brought everyone together,” says Tham.

“It’s about understanding what new technologies are out there, what some people may have tried, and to help those who aren’t aware of new developments.”

Kate Lim, a product manager with Tinkerbox Studios, says TinkerThursdays has been a huge hit with employees.

 “Even though it’s held every fortnight, we feel sometimes that we have to wait too long for the next session,” she says.

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