Before moving to Atlanta for a job leading engineering with Career Builder, Atlee Breland found herself with a very short timeline and a house to sell in Jackson, MS.
“Real estate has been part of my professional life for a long time,” says Breland. “When we relocated to Atlanta, it happened very fast and we didn’t have time to sell or renovate our house. We kept asking ourselves why couldn’t you sell a house like you can sell a car and move on with your life.”
After three and a half years in that role, Breland was ready for her next move. Recently she took the reins as leader of real estate startup Opendoor‘s new engineering hub in Atlanta. It’s the first engineering office that the California-based unicorn company has outside of its San Francisco headquarters.
“When I was looking around for my next opportunity, I wanted a product with a tangible connection to making people’s lives better. At Career Builder, I was helping people get jobs and that’s a great way to get up and motivate yourself in the morning,” says Breland. “I could see the value proposition for Opendoor very clearly and I was really excited for the opportunity to make houses liquid, plus an engineering stack that I was interested and familiar with.”
Opendoor streamlines the home buying and selling process by using machine learning and data science to accurately price homes. Consumers who list on Opendoor start receiving competitive bids within 24 hours and can close the deal within a few days. Opendoor takes a fee comparable to a standard real estate commission.
The startup launched its services in Atlanta last October and saw immediate success in the market, according to Akuansa Graham, Opendoor’s Atlanta General Manager. “Since we’ve entered Atlanta,we’ve averaged one home purchase a day,” Graham told Hype last year. “That means that Opendoor is really resonating with home buyers and sellers, and we look forward to continuing on this trajectory and growing within the market.”
Now two months into her tenure as head of engineering, Breland is ready to capitalize on that growth and kickstart a developer hiring spree. The office is looking to hire about 20 engineers by the end of the year, and VentureBeat reports that could reach 150 by 2020. While Breland sees this as an ambitious goal, she think the quality of talent within the city will be her great advantage.
“We’re using traditional recruiting processes, but what I’m trying to personally do is that I’m physically in the tech community and that I’m involved in giving back to that community,” says Breland.
“Hiring in tech is often a personalized project. It goes beyond looking at resumes and seeing projects on GitHub. I think you have to get out there and talk to people, especially those that come from backgrounds that are not traditional computer science.”
Breland believes recruiting should go beyond resumes and algorithmic questions and focus on the individual’s fit within the team.
“One of the things I’m hoping to bring to the interviewing process is a bit of a human touch. We would focus not only on ‘can you code,’ but can you work in a good collaborative environment, get along with people, and are good at breaking down problems. The most important qualities I look for as a hiring manager is not just technical skills, but are you humble and are you curious,” says Breland.
One of her favorite interview questions, she shares, is asking prospective developers about a time they really messed up. From her perspective, it shows whether the candidate can be vulnerable in the workplace and admit mistakes while learning from them. “When you ask questions like that, or about their career path, you see curiosity and see where somebody wants to go, not just where they are today. Beyond a list of things you accomplished with your team, these questions tell you more about the person.”
Breland takes that focus on active listening into her day-to-day leadership style as well.
“There’s a lot of suggestions that I can bring to the table for efficiency, but at the end of the day, the job is putting together a great group of people and helping them have a chance to shine with the right project; then, stepping back, letting them do it and see what happens,” says Breland. “It’s about supporting the individuals, not about leading them.”
Unlike San Francisco, where Opendoor does not currently operate, in Atlanta the team will be in close proximity to their customers. Breland sees that as an advantage, as the team able to see on a day-to-day basis how their software is being received in the field.
“As an engineer, we’re driven by how our stuff works. We’re builders. We’re makers. We like to see the tangible results of what we do,” says Breland. “Having the opportunity to experience that on a daily basis, I hope will drive tons of forward motion for our software and tools and our engineering culture as well.”