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Hiring tech talent: a conversation with district m’s VP of development, Mathieu Hétu

May 29th 2019

Finding and recruiting qualified candidates for technical job postings is no easy job. Even for a city like Montreal, whose reputation as a hub for artificial intelligence research and development continues to attract talent from all over the world– it’s still near impossible. Like Toronto and Vancouver, tech start-ups are popping up and with innovation comes a shortage of talent to execute. The truth of the matter is that finding tech talent is highly competitive and by 2020, it’s predicted that Canada will be short 222,000 tech workers to fill open roles.

Desperate times calls for more creative and engaging ways to attract tech talent, which is why our VP of development, Mathieu Hétu, started doing things a little differently to stand out amongst all the other tech companies seeking the attention of qualified candidates.

Tell us about you. What is your background and how did you come to work at district m?

I’m a developer by trade and studied programming back in 1999. I’ve worked as a programmer for many industries from online gaming to apparel, to finance and real estate. When I was 24, I got a job offer and moved to Hong Kong for three years. There, I built an ERP for an apparel company and it was one of the best learning experiences – professionally and personally - of my life.

After returning to Quebec, I was working as consultant, which allowed me to work with clients from all walks of life. Following that I became the first employee of NVENTIVE, a mobile app developer, where I was able to wear many hats. For the last seven years, I’ve worked usually for software companies at a management level and started to move away from the more technical positions.

I have a passion for developing but I’ve also found a lot of satisfaction in integrating new teams and helping them find their chemistry. To me, being someone who is able to build structure, motivate employees, and incite change is something that I find really rewarding.

I joined district m because I had the opportunity to do all of the above and I really felt that we could create something great together.

Instead of a traditional job posting, you decided to write an open letter to all future applicants. What gave you the inspiration to do this?

Currently if you’re a talented coach or have a technical background, recruiters are sending you tons of messages in LinkedIn.

I’ve worked as a scrum master throughout my career and I’ve also worked alongside a lot of coaches and scrum masters, so I think I have a good understanding of what their priorities are. It was important for me to post something that would cut through the hiring noise and I didn’t want to just be another offer in their Linkedin inbox.

I wrote a letter to be different, but also because I know that these applicants care about mission and corporate culture and company values. I know that engagement, clarity of goals, setting and meeting goals, team building are important beyond how much money they’re making and I wanted to tell them: yes, you can get all of that here. For me a letter was more human and was something that would resonate more powerfully with future districters.

How is your interview process different than the more traditional one used by all the other companies?

Our interview format still follows the more traditional method in the sense that there is an initial screening call and a formal interview with the hiring and HR manager, where we ask you behavioural questions in a situational context. These processes are still important because it allows us to better understand the applicant.

However, the next step is where we are able to validate our assumptions and at the same time, give the candidate the ability to check out what working for the company is actually like. When I was hiring for a scrum master we did a third interview that I like to call “Work Sample”. This is where we simulate a situation as close to reality as possible (without sacrificing our company confidentiality) to see how they would behave within our corporate environment.

I like to choose a topic that I know is somewhat polarizing for the team and invite the candidate to facilitate a meeting with that topic. For me, it’s a way to test their ability to help the team think together. I like to see how he or she addresses time, agenda and how they ensure that everyone has a voice.

It also allows me to gauge their emotional intelligence, see how they analyze personalities and synergies and their ability to read between the lines.

What has been the reaction of this from the community?

I posted the letter on Linkedin, Facebook and in a Slack workspace of Agile coaches and I’ve received a lot of positive feedback. I think a lot of people in the community are seeing district m as a tech employer brand, which is a side goal in addition to finding great talent.

Have you found successful candidates so far using this new interview methodology?

Yes, we have hired a new scrum master and he is starting next week!

To speak to Mathieu in person, please join district m at this month’s Montreal Agile Coaches Gathering. It will be hosted by district m at our head office on Thursday, June 6 and is managed by Agile Partnership. In addition to networking with other scrum masters and agile coaches, a hot dinner will also be served by a zero waste caterer! If you’re interested in attending, please reach out to Isabelle Therrien at [email protected] to secure your spot.

To learn more about Mathieu, check out his LinkedIn. To get more information on all of district m’s current job postings, check out district m’s careers page.

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