Tips on Hiring IT and Tech Talent in Indonesia (Interview)

As Indonesia’s startup ecosystem grows, the demand for tech talent by both local and foreign companies are rising more than ever. Ken Ratri Iswari, CEO and Co-Founder of GeekHunter, a leading recruitment platform for IT and tech professionals in Indonesia, shares her insights about this topic.

The rising demand for tech talent it very competitive for different companies to tap into Indonesia’s limited talent supply. Ken advises on how to compete in Indonesia’s hot market for tech talent and how this market will grow.

Watch the full video here.


Transcript

Viktor

Good morning. We’re here at Greenhouse Indonesia with Ken, the Founder and CEO of GeekHunter. For those of you that don’t know, GeekHunter is the first recruitment agency with a focus on tech talent here in Indonesia — with offices in Bandung and Jakarta — and we’re going to be discussing the recruitment landscape in Indonesia and what challenges startups are facing with regards to acquiring great talent. So, good morning, Ken.

Ken

Morning, Viktor.

Viktor

So why don’t we start with you telling me a little bit about your background and how what was your motivation for starting GeekHunter?

Ken

Okay. So, my first introduction is always, “My name is Ken, like Barbie and Ken, I’m Ken.”

Actually back then in 2011, I joined one of the Europeans startup incubators in Bali, and at that time my task was to set up the company, especially the developer team, there in Bali. And then I successfully hired 20 developers for the company in such a short time, so that after that, the friend of my boss started to ask for my help as well to hire developers.

And then after that, I try to understand what is the situation, then it turns out not only in Indonesia, but also, like, globally they found a challenge of hiring developers.

So in the end, I saw it as a big problem and also an opportunity that I can tap on, that’s why I started GeekHunter. In the beginning, the aim was to help a foreign company to set up their development team in Indonesia.

Viktor

Okay, how long ago was that?

Ken

It was 2011, but I officially started GeekHunter in 2013. And, so yeah, now it’s already six years from 2013 for GeekHunter.

Viktor

Nice! And you already have offices in two cities and how big is the team?

Ken

Right now, my team in Bandung is a 20+ team. So our headquarter is in Bandung but we have also like rep office here in Jakarta. Mostly taking care of the community and also clients.

Viktor

And would you say that typically work mainly with startups or do you work also with corporates?

Ken

Well back then, actually most of my clients are Singapore startups. But now I think I would say 70% are startups from Indonesia, and also the unicorns, and 30% corporate and also foreign companies.

Viktor

So let’s focus on startups and let’s talk a little bit about that. So what do you think are the biggest challenges that startups are facing with regards to recruitment? And recruitment of tech talent in particular.

Ken

I think the thing is the supply, and the problem is actually not only happening in Indonesia but also all over the world.

Because based on the research that I read World Bank or World Economic Forum say that Indonesia will need 9 million tech talents by 2030.

But I found different stats from TechCrunch global or something, I forget what is it, they say that the demand and the shortage will be like 600k to 1.2 million shortage of tech talent. So the statistic is confusing because the gap is too high.

But what I would say is, some of the tech profession doesn’t exist 10 years ago, so it’s totally like a new thing. Back then we don’t have, let’s say Android Developers or Data Scientists.

And also, you know, with startup everything needs to be fast and if it is talent then you need time to groom them, you need time to build them and to shape them. So I would say that that’s the main challenge right now.

Because the supply is not equal with the demand.

Viktor

Understand. What kind of dynamics unicorns are bringing?

As Indonesia becomes more and more attractive and more funding is coming into the country and more startups are becoming bigger. How do you think that impacts companies that are just starting?

Ken

The impact is— because before we have like a set of salary level but because of all the funding they kept bump up in the countries, so then, it’s kind of like, I would say you’re ruining the market range, I would say that.

And also if back then in 2013 whenever I approached, like, developers they always will be super happy to talk with about opportunities.

But now, based on our statistics in one month, if a developer has a profile on LinkedIn then there will be 17 companies or agencies that approach them through LinkedIn.

So it’s like, yeah, they’re on a high demand, so then you need to have a different approach to them as well, right? So that’s why it’s getting more and more challenging, especially because of the unicorn kind of like raising the salary range as well.

Viktor

So what would you recommend companies that are not that well funded?

You know, let’s say companies that are just pretty say … series A, how can they compete with the unicorns for talent? What would be your recommendation? What kind of approach do they need to have with developers?

Ken

I would say that the approach right now needs to be more personalized, tailored to the developers’ needs.

So I would say that one of the successful examples that I have is that one of my clients, they’re not really well-funded companies, in terms of like salary that they can offer, it’s not as high compared to the others.

But they were successful because they used this personalized approach. So it’s like, they will ask the developers not like selling their companies, but they will ask, “Hey what you’re looking for in your career?”, “What kind of company that you want to work with?”, “What is important to you?”, “Do you want to have a learning?” or “Do you want to build, like, what kind of portfolio?”

And then from there, then they say, “Okay. So I think if you join our company then we can definitely meet up what is your expectation in terms of the learning, then you will get this kind of learning, and then also you will be able to build this kind of portfolio.”

Let’s say if they want to focus on building a company from scratch then you can also do it and you can give your ideas and make it happen.

If let’s say they want to do API integration or something else then that part also will happen in our milestone let’s say in the next 6 months, or something like that. So now it’s more personalized to the talent itself. That’s I would say the best way to attract your potential employee.

Viktor

Okay, understood. In your experience what is the difference between recruiting tech talent versus regular talent?

Because you know, you’ve been hiring a lot of developers, how is it different?

Ken

Very different, because most of the time they don’t talk to people, they talk to computers. So you know, the approach, let’s say if I approach someone for sales or marketing position it’s very easy because they are extroverts, right.

But when you talk with developers, sometimes you cannot talk to them on the phone. Sometimes it’s funny because when they talk over Skype or over WhatsApp, they will be super talkative and write a lot of stuff, but when you call them they will only say, “Okay, yes, no, thank you, back to WhatsApp.”

Viktor

So a very introverted approach.

Ken

Yeah, a little bit of an introvert.

So that’s why the approach needs to be a little bit different and also that they feel annoyed when, let’s say, you call them during the working hours. So you must make sure that you call them at the time where they don’t have meetings etc, so it’s a little bit challenging.

And then also, what else, yeah because it’s like they get a lot of companies approaching them you know, so it’s like right now they don’t really care if it’s not something that is sexy for them. Because can you imagine in one month they got 17 messages from companies saying “Hi we are hiring, are you open for opportunity?” “Hi, one of our clients is this startup, do you keen to explore?” or stuff like that.

Those approach doesn’t work anymore, you know.

You need to actually ask them what is important for them.

Viktor

Understood. So it’s building relationships and trust, and showing them that you’re actually trying to find something that is better suited for their profile.

Okay, and what are the most in-demand positions from a tech point of view right now in Indonesia? What do you think?

Ken

Right now developers are always number one, but now mostly on the latest technology or hype technology. Last year it was Node.js that was the number one demand. Now it’s shifted to Golang and also React Native, and also Data Guy in super high demand right now. And also some Cloud engineers because I think Indonesia for cloud and DevOps the demand just started to be high in the last two years I would say, so it’s kind of new.

Viktor

Okay, so it’s changing year-by-year depending on the latest trends in technology.

Ken

Yeah, always depend. And I would say that in Indonesia the adoption of the latest aspect it’s a bit slow compared to others. So it means that if you’re looking for a programming language like Java, PHP, Dotmap, then we have a lot of those developers. But when it comes to all the latest one, they don’t have their portfolio but everyone is really keen to learn about it they just need to have the opportunity to explore that.

Viktor

So since you know we at Greenhouse are helping a lot of foreign companies and especially startups to enter the market, I wanted to ask you, what advice would you give to foreign startups?

You mentioned also that in the beginning, you helped a lot of Singaporean companies when they were entering the market, so what would you advise them when it comes to acquiring talent and also retaining talent in the long run?

Ken

Okay. I think for acquiring talent, employer branding become one thing that is important. But what I mean by employer branding here in Indonesia, more relevant is like engage with the community.

So let’s say, if you have a CTO and then your CTO be involved in, let’s say some meet-up, become a speaker or something like that, that’s really one of the most powerful things to start with, I would say.

Because in Indonesia all the developers kind of like follow several “prophet”, I would say. Like vidio.com, there is Tommy Sullivan and people really look up to him. At DANA there is Norman Sasono and people also really look up to him.

So if you have like those kind of leaders that is also close to community and also always want to share about their knowledge, their expertise to the community, that will be a great thing to start with.

Because also one question that most of the candidates always ask is “Who is the CTO?” “What is their capability?” or “Who will be my tech lead?” “What kind of a team dynamic?” “What kind of experience the tech team has?” So that will be one thing.

I think for the second one, as a foreign company there is an opportunity of working with an international team that you can emphasize. Also, it’s something sexy for the developers, although at the end, what’s funny in Indonesia is they always kind of underestimate their English capability.

And sometimes, let’s say if it is doing Trello, Slack and all the conversations through email that will be great, but when you have to do speaking like this, you’re doing the actual conversation or in the interview, they’re always nervous. It can be like one of the challenges as well. I think it’s only happened in the interview after that, things will be normal.

Viktor

I see. So it’s very important when a company is entering the market for the CTO, for the leader on the technology side to be well-known in the Industry so that—

Ken

I would say that’s the fastest way to hire developers in Indonesia.

Viktor

What about retention? In your experience, what do you think are the best initiatives the best practices to invest in so that you retain this talent? Because as you said there are on average about 17 messages a month for every developer, so how you make sure that you retain them?

Ken

Right now everyone doing the same thing, they focus on the ‘fancy’ kind of startup, kind of office, right? And then, give also learning opportunities. So you need to do more than that, I would say personalization always.

It’s always asking, “What is what your career aspiration?” “What kind of things that you want to learn for, the focus on this one year?” and then, after that try to tailor it to your developers. I think that’s how things work because also in my team that’s how we do as well.

Let’s say they want to be involved in the community, for example, then you give them the opportunity for that as well, because if they’re involved in the community and it’s good for you as well because then your company brand will be there.

Viktor

Yeah, so understanding what actually is their aspirations and trying to support them into chasing—

Ken

Most of the time, people think that “Okay well, I cannot always do everything that they want.” So at least what you can do is, “I can help you to get at least, let’s say 70% of what is your career aspiration or at least 80% of your career aspiration, really close to what you want”

Viktor

Okay, well I don’t have any more questions, so thank you very much for this.


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