How to successfully build data and AI teams

data and ai teams

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A lot of companies are becoming data-driven. Which is a fabulous thing since the world we live in is primarily revolving around data. Markets, businesses, and consumers, all drive decisions and actions based on information. But, purely recognizing the need for data is not enough. Becoming data-driven means either building your own data and AI teams or employing others. Either way, you are up for some challenges in building those teams. 

Hiring talent has become a bit difficult in terms of finding and attracting the right people with the right skills. Companies compete with each other for employees, so they push benefits and all the bright things to garner attention. That means that standing out among many others and becoming interesting to data scientists and data engineers, especially seniors, is a daunting task sometimes.

How to approach recruiting in a new market dynamic?

Well, this might be one of the hardest questions to answer. What is the most optimal way to attract talent and get them to work in your organization and data team? There is no perfect formula for this, but the best first step is to be authentic. Show that your company is somehow unique and share your expertise. You’ll have to distinguish yourself by becoming an expert in a field where your knowledge becomes attractive to others. 

Here is where employer branding comes into play as well. Your culture, mission, and vision show the purpose of work to those that find this important in their careers. This is the approach toward seniors. They are at the point in their life where they search for a higher purpose and work-life balance to fit into their everyday life. 

For mid positions, they search for career development and higher levels of responsibility. They are on the track to becoming seniors and career advancements are vital to them. For juniors, mentorships come as an integral part of work. Guidance and help are what they need in their pursuit of knowledge. 

Go beyond technology

Data teams should focus on skills and experience rather than technology. With the way technology rapidly changes, new things have to be learned. And what you don’t know, you will work on mastering. Technical skills can be gained. People can shift focus and technologies so that other skills can come first. Preferring technology-agnostic skills is how you can build employees up, you have foundational knowledge on top of which you can build further skills. 

Problem-solving, leadership, communication skills, and willingness to take responsibility, are things that predetermine how much will you have to invest in an employee and how much are they willing to work on themselves. 

First thing first, you are hiring people, not robots. Each individual is more than just their technical skills. What you want to search for in great employees are soft skills, empathy, and a collaborative spirit. As we said, technologies can be learned, soft skills take time to acquire and depend on personal aspirations. So, if you can nail down such employees that have soft skills and want to learn, those are the kind you want to chase.  

But let’s keep it real. You can’t search for something you, yourself, can’t offer. Positive culture and atmosphere are what most in IT search for. Enabling an empowering and stimulating environment is a must. 

Don’t sell lies

You can promise the moon and the stars, but if it’s not true, don’t do it. Being transparent is important. Set the expectations right and always be clear about projects and the work you expect from future employees. Even if you paint the prettiest picture ever, if it doesn’t hold up, you’ll end up with negative results. 

Manage expectations from both sides. It is better for the long run if both sides are completely honest since they all know exactly how things will flow. Trust us, even if that way you dismiss, or you are dismissed by some candidates, you’ll end up with a perfect match for your team. One great thing to do is introduce candidates to projects and technologies used in the company. Describe everything in detail so they’ll know exactly what will they work on.

How technology dictates who you need in your team?

Some companies specialize in certain technologies. And often projects dictate which technologies that will be used. So it’s no wonder that during the recruitment process, you will try to find people that fit that criteria and have knowledge of these technologies. But, when we are talking about projects that aren’t due soon, you can and should seek people who, even though have no extreme expertise in a specific technology, are willing to learn and deepen the skills they have. 

Let’s say someone has some basic knowledge and understanding of a particular field or technology. You can invest in such people and make them become masters in it. In this case, it’s up to you as an employer to provide the means and support for that person to become an expert. As we said, this relationship is two-sided. Also, think about how long will it take for an individual to learn and adapt to new technologies. 

What also influences your choice of employees are trends and predictions on how certain tech stacks will be attractive or necessary in the future. Is something going to be more desirable than the other? Will employees with knowledge of older technologies be harder to find if a project requires one? You have to think long-term and seek out what is sustainable. 

Can we talk about soft skills?

Anything can be taught, right? Well, yes, but some skills have to be ingrained in you. Soft skills are the way how you communicate with others. People aren’t tasks you can mark off when done. Compassion, integrity, and understanding are things you have to have when working with other individuals. You need to know how to listen to them, take their advice, and collaborate. Managing a team or even working in groups is not easy. You have different profiles of employees, different skill sets, different personalities. Combining that and providing an optimal environment requires an understanding of human nature.

Building a stimulating environment where one can grow and feel comfortable is a prerequisite for the people in your team to strive towards developing more social skills. You should lead by example and show that going beyond interactions with others and networking is how employees can progress. People are the happiest in workplaces that allow them to innovate, use the time to develop their skills, and be surrounded by like-minded people. 

Soft skills are one of the top things companies seek in employees, and for a reason. They contribute to the workplace more than we can imagine. It’s not even only about communications. It’s about going beyond technical skills. It’s about time management, persistence, leadership, willingness to step up, work ethics, adaptability, and critical thinking among others. If you have those skills, you are already one step ahead.

Why it all matters in data and AI teams?

If you look at the broader picture of data, ML, and AI, you know that having just technical skills is not enough. These fields require employees to put a lot more effort into seeing the big picture, going through all the nooks and crannies of a project. They have to think ahead and anticipate possible setbacks or issues. AI and ML are based on logic and learning. Without it, results don’t come in. 

The specifics of data science and data engineering need employees to work with others in understanding business domains and logic inside data systems. They also require learning and adapting. So, when building such teams, focus on building a positive and incentive atmosphere where this can be achieved. 

AI, ML, and data are such dynamic fields that they require flexibility from people working there. Each day brings new challenges and advancements. Your technical skills are a good basis for adaptation, but your soft skills are what will push you into easier and faster learning. 

Push for building adaptive teams, not short-term solutions

With high competition for a quality workforce in data-related fields, what you have to offer has to surpass the standard material benefits. Even though you might be in a bind to quickly fill up vacancies in your team, don’t be blinded by overly polished CVs. Find and talk to people who nurture their growth potential. In the short term, yes, knowing specific technology is an advantage. But what happens when suddenly trends or technologies change?

That’s the main reason why you should invest in creating adaptive teams that can grow with time. Think long-term. These teams will cohabit and evolve in such ways that they can be self-sufficient. You will end up with a strong collective of ambitious people that will drive successful projects and create a public image of solid professionals. Create teams full of potential, and avoid short-term solutions that lack room for more. 

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