How do you recruit technical talent?

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I found a great answer to this question embedded in a Forbes article entitled How To Create An App Without Programming Knowledge. And the answer to the recruiting question in my title actually came from Quora, which seems to have an agreement with Forbes, enabling Forbes to re-use answers posted to Quora. If you are a founder and you are not using Quora you are missing out!

Greg Poulin, Founder and CEO of Goodley, has five tips for founders on recruiting engineers in the current hyper-competitive marketplace. As usual I’ll annotate his post based on my experience hiring software engineers.

Don’t fake it

This was never hard for me as I never had enough technical expertise to even fake having technical expertise! But if you are tempted to fake it, don’t! Engineers will suss you out quickly and you’ll lose them. Rather show respect for their profession, describe their value to your venture, and explain how your culture supports engineers. As in all recruiting you have to sell you company as a great place to work. And it better be, or you’ll be in the startup graveyard faster than you can post an ad on Facebook.

Create an engineering-led culture

The best way to do this is my experience is to have a partner as CTO or VP of Engineering. Barring that make an experienced and respected engineering manager part of your executive team ASAP. It is possible, but very difficult, to manage engineers if you are not one. While domain expertise was only ranked number seven in Google’s survey of needed engineering management skills it still made the top ten. I’d advise anyone trying to hire engineers to study Google’s survey and follow their guidance carefully. But keep one thing in mind: the important difference between your venture and Google is that you can offer a tremendous opportunity for an engineer to have impact. No matter how good you are, Google has about 20,000 engineers – it’s very hard to make much of an impact on customers there.

Remember, talent attracts more talent

This is probably Greg’s most important tip. I was taught early on that A players hire A players, but B players (who are afraid to be shown up by A players) hire C players, and C players – well you can guess. As Greg says, People want to work beside people who are smart, driven, and hardworking. Hire A-players.

Be mission-driven

I taught my managers that no matter how much they paid their staff the amount was soon forgotten – simply taken for granted – until and unless a promotion was in the wind. But what should never be forgotten nor taken for granted is the mission of your venture. It has to be compelling – and memorable! I used to tell my team that we should be able to wake up anyone at 3 am and ask them the mission of our venture and get a correct answer in 20 seconds or less before they went back to sleep. When we sold my first company to Thomson their mission statement was so long I couldn’t memorize it to save my life, but it was good at putting me to sleep!

Don’t be a nightmare:

This should go without saying. Just because a genius like Steve Jobs could act like an asshole sometimes that is not an excuse for you. Here’s another great quote from Greg: Creating a positive company culture that rewards great work, treats people with respect, and works to improve people’s lives will be a place people want to work. 

Create a separate career path for engineering talent

And here’s my organizational design tip on engineers. Many, if not a vast majority, of engineers hate managers! Why? Because about all they see managers do is create meetings and meetings interfere with getting their work done. Engineers like to build stuff. And they like to build stuff that lots of people use and are delighted with. So set up an individual contributor promotion path for engineers, so they can gain the status and compensation of a manager without having to become a manager. Because you know what happens when you turn an engineer into a manager? You lose a great engineer and gain a lousy manager!

And if you want to retain those engineers you worked so hard to recruit, do your best to minimize interruptions in an engineer’s day! (Interruptions from product managers and others are one reason engineers prefer to work at night or better yet, from home.)

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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