“I stayed in the same company for 8 years!”: How GfK retained this superstar developer
When we first met GfK Principal Engineer Rashidi (Shidi) Zin, we were blown away by his ability to articulate complex theories with clarity and precision. Then we found out something even more amazing. He’s been with his employer for a whopping 8 years!
That’s practically 5 job cycles in an industry notorious for the two year itch; the typical tenure for most software developers is just 1½ - 2 years.
We had to ask him: what made him stay so long in one company?
The answer can be found all the way back, in his job interview with GfK. When the interviewer asked why he wanted to leave his current job, he replied, “I was bored!”
Shidi is hardly alone. A lot of engineers and creatives love challenges, and start to lose the zest for their work when it becomes predictable.
“In my last two jobs, we had reached maintenance mode, so it just felt like I was not doing much anymore. I wasn’t learning many new things. I longed for the kind of challenging job that when I go home, I ask myself, ‘Why doesn’t it work? Where did I go wrong?’ It sounds masochistic, but this kind of stress actually gives me excitement or pleasure!”
An open culture
Shidi almost quit in his 5th year at GfK. Boredom had set in, prompting him to explore outside options. He had in fact secured an offer to work in Munich by a company that does electric vehicle stations, but he decided to give his incumbent employer a chance.
While many people will flee at the first sight of trouble or unhappiness, Shidi has a different take. “I feel it is only fair to discuss your job progression upfront with the company first. I had a heart-to-heart with my line manager and asked him honestly, ‘Can GfK offer me a different pathway that meets my goals?’”
Some might feel apprehensive about having this kind of discussion with their employer, but GfK practises an open culture - Shidi felt safe in sharing his concerns. “Globally, GfK is huge, but despite its size we don’t face a lot of bureaucracy. We are given autonomy to make independent decisions without having to get a stamp of approval from someone of a higher rank all the time. In fact, anybody can raise questions or challenge any decision. A healthy discussion is welcome.”
Keep things interesting
During his one-on-one with his line manager, Shidi found out that GfK had plans in the pipeline to introduce a talent development initiative called the Chapter system - and wanted him to be part of the pilot.
The offer couldn’t have come at a better time. He had recently mentored a junior colleague on an informal basis, and he loved it. “After that experience, I thought that maybe I have a knack for helping people to grow. Sure I can write code and help them build cool features but I can contribute by teaching and mentoring others as well. Over time, this might result in changing the whole company for the better, including how things get done.”
In March 2019, he officially got onboard as a Chapter Lead. His responsibility was to develop chapter members, consisting of Software Engineers and Test Engineers, by providing assistance and guidance. He was directly accountable for their career growth. In other words, their performance - or under-performance - would be part of his KPI.
Shidi discovered quickly that improving processes and people was very different from his previous role. He observes, “If you make a mistake in programming - let's say you write a bad code - you just have to fix it and then you're done. You can take risks.”
“With people, you can’t, because there are consequences. If I get something wrong, I might destroy someone’s future. Knowing that, before I can actually help someone or even suggest anything, I have to really understand the person - their motivation, their interests, their strength, their weakness. This makes my job harder but also more interesting.”
Last year, Shidi was promoted to Principal Software Engineer, “which is roughly the same thing, but with a bigger job scope. In my old job, someone else looked for the candidate and I just had to interview them. Now I also have to look for a candidate, conduct the interview, and recommend a salary.”
Strong Learning Culture
Other than a dynamic career progression, what Shidi appreciates most about being at GfK is the strong learning culture, which aligns with his personal values on knowledge sharing.
From his student days, Shidi has been a regular blogger in tech forums. “While I was in Nottingham University, I was active in a platform called Hack-in-the-Box. I would post questions and all these smart people and amazing programmers would give me hints on how to solve the problems. They inspired me to continue the favour when I started working.”
Paying it forward was unexpectedly rewarding, when his online activities got Shidi his second job at OnApp - the co-founder was so impressed with his blogs that they asked him to apply for the role! “Therefore, I always tell my team members that being active on forums and communities helps tremendously to gain exposure to employers and recruiters!” he declares.
At GfK, employees can take advantage of a “Community of Practice” whereby people can get together and share knowledge. “We also have Learning at GfK, an internal platform that offers upskilling courses. There’s also an official mentorship platform; for example, I signed up as a mentee under an HR specialist because I want to learn more about people development. And if none of these interest you, you can join an external provider of your choice like Coursera, Udemy, pick a course you want, and if it’s suitable, the company can pay for that as well.”
What he shares next may seem surprising and even counter-productive, but it makes sense if we look at the bigger picture: “A GfK colleague once said, make sure people keep growing, even though they plan to leave us.”
Being altruistic has its payoffs. “I tell my juniors that my main objective is for you to be so good at what you do, that when you go for an interview, people would be like, ‘I want that candidate by hook or by crook!’ My first mentee eventually left for a really good job prospect. But when I saw how much she had grown, I was happy. Getting them to level up to a point where they’re highly sought after has always been my goal.”
If there’s anything we can take away from Shidi’s experience at GfK, it’s that smart companies don’t give opportunities for their employees to remain stagnant. And smart employees like Shidi look back every so often to see if they’ve grown as a person or impacted the company in a meaningful way.
Whether to stay 6 months or 6 years in a job, you can’t really put an artificial timeline onto these things, he says. “Once you stop growing or contributing it’s time to move onto other greener pastures. You’ll never know unless you keep evaluating yourself periodically on your career path. For now, I’m still having fun!”
Want to experience GfK’s culture of openness and learning for yourself? Take a look at GfK’s open roles on techdesk, or speak to our specialist consultants for expert advice through the chat box below!
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