Yesterday, I attended an event called Uncubed in NYC and spent my time talking to people that are either working for a startup or recruiting for one. I was extremely blown away by how poor the recruitment pitches were from the startups looking to hire engineers. Let me put things in perspective. I would start a typical conversation out with "What is the most challenging problem you have to solve in the next year?" or "What's your stack and why did you choose that route?" Many of the recruiters and CTOs surprisingly told me that they don't get questions like that very often and hardly ever broach the topics themselves. It seemed like every time I started getting technical, they would steer the conversation back to a superficial topic (list below).
- Work environment
- Buzz words
- Product / service demo
- Hardware (props to ZocDoc)
- Company history
That's an odd way of recruiting engineers who tend to be more logical than their design and operations counterparts. There's a major issue, engineers are being grouped in along with everyone else. The "one size fits all" mantra does not apply in terms of evaluating potentially serious commitments. What was totally absent from all but a handful of conversations was anything with the substantive response I was seeking. A brief review of my time spent is outlined below.
Interaction with requirements sources (Business) and how that plays on the agile process.
- Only one company brought it up and it was someone from ZocDoc.
Complexities of the issues that they deal with on regular basis.
Rationale behind decisions for using tools they're built on. This is really important to someone like me because I want to know that I would be working with thought leaders (or at least thinkers) not people that just use whatever is hot right now.
- I spoke to Tommi Forsström the CTO of Kollabora about what they evaluated and why parts of what they are currently working with are working well and why others are not. He did something that I have to say I am surprised more people there didn't do. He asked me how I would address those issues. I think that too few people there were treating the event as a place to pre-interview people and see if they could actually add value to your company.
Other conversations that sparked my interest:
Jared Christopherson from YellowHammer Media Group
- Just loved what he did and you could tell just was all about building cool stuff and having fun doing it. He earned a spot on my list of people I hope to do business with one day.
Josh Tenenbaum CEO / Co-founder of Malltip
- He walked right up to me and basically asked me if I wanted to be a part of building something cool. Then he managed to get me to the point where I almost considered building him a POC for free just because I enjoyed our conversation.
After thinking about my experiences yesterday, I have decided the current state of software development needs to be rationally dissected and reviewed. It should serve to promote new ideologies and evolve the industry without prejudice. My reasons for this are simple and I will outline a few in this post. Let's begin.
People just don't seem to get why the best talent out there is especially hard to find and even harder to keep.
Would you hire this person?
I am not your typical hire. For me to feel passionate about going to work every day I need to believe I'm being challenged. Working 100 hours a week with a smile wouldn't be out of the question if you put a tough enough challenge in front of me. In addition, I am a self-starter and always look for ways to contribute to solving problems outside the scope of my work. I am a jack-of-all-trades, and while I may not be familiar with a technology on Monday, if you give me until Friday I will have working knowledge. I am loyal, dependable, driven, and well spoken. I think quickly on my feet and often told that I impress people from CEOs of corporate companies to the most technical person that works under them. I am always looking for what I can learn from each person that I meet and am constantly looking to help the people I work with grow in any way that I can. I've often felt that when you are part of a team you should contribute to any challenge that faces the team to the fullest of your ability.
On the flipside, I believe that the coach of the team is there to make the team better not to hold their feet to the fire. When I have the opportunity to contribute as a coach I am constantly focused on how best to make each team member have confidence in themselves, believe in their teammates, understand the strengths of the team and their ability to face the challenges ahead. In the end, we should all come away better for having faced it together. Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to work for a few places that offered enough challenges to keep me invested and love the work that I produce. Before I left my last employer, the CEO of the company personally called me and stated "You're not leaving we will match and exceed any offer you have anywhere including partnership in the business if that is what it takes to keep you."
Can you keep that person?
The reason that I still decided to move on after a statement like that was simple. I had put together a program that would develop many of the entry-level people in the company. They would be trained by me (on our own time) to enhance their skills and launch their careers. Also, as part of the program, we would improve the company image by speaking at events and blogging about the technology that we used. This program would have cost the company very little, if nothing at all, since it was entirely based on volunteers. It would easily have brought value to the company both internally and externally as well as greatly boosting the morale of many people who felt like they were being overlooked.
So I set out and got the senior management to move forward with this program. The only thing that I asked from them was to take a few minutes and show some recognition to any entry-level employees who opted into the program. Two VPs agreed that it wouldn't be an issue and looked forward to our progress.
Fast forward to the day when I talked to the CEO about leaving the company. One of the VPs who showed support for the program was in the room. I was receptive to their proposition until I asked the VP what he thought about the first person that entered training for the mentorship program. He responded by shrugging off the situation as if it weren't important but in reality he never took the time to reach out. That's when I remembered that not everything is about me and what I'm offered in life. We finished the meeting and I never looked back.
Not everyone feels the same way about career goals but there comes a point when people will attempt to contribute to your company in a manner that is meaningful to them. This is the best thing that can possibly happen. It tells you that they are happy and want to play a larger role than they currently have within the organization. More specifically, they have identified some way to build upon the success of the company.
Is anyone looking for that person?
A very important question that any manager should ask is: Who do we have that is always willing to help our company no matter what we ask from them? Now go through your inbox and search for messages from them that include "proposal" or "idea." If you find an email from someone that has reached out, and is obviously trying to add value to the company, ask yourself this: Did I evaluate the idea fairly? If it had merit, did I take it up and champion it for them? If it didn't have merit, or couldn't happen given certain circumstances in the company, did you give that person the honest reality of why you are not supporting them? If you answered no to any of these questions then you should go back and reevaluate your position. If it wasn't worth pursuing 6 months ago that doesn't mean it's not worth pursuing now.
The reason that top tier talent is so hard to keep is surprisingly simple. You are trying to keep them in place. You understand that through their effort you are profiting. But let's be honest they know that too. Most people that are truly top tier talent will eventually want to go into business on their own. Add to that fact that through the day-to-day operations of any business you will have to make decisions that won't be universally accepted. No matter how well you compensate an employee, eventually more than just money comes into play and questions will be raised. And if you compensate them well enough and they have no other investments within your company then you have given them freedom to self-fund their own startup.
Now let's ask ourselves this. Given how talented this person is do we want them leaving our company as a friend? Why do you think that so many people that go out and launch their own companies end up partnering up with their previous employers? They actually like working with them. If you can get a few years of effort out this level of talent don't attempt to keep them longer. You will just be holding them back. Instead you should be coaching those talented individuals from the second they walk through your doors and support them when it's time to leave. It's a goodwill effort to make sure that talented people succeed. Their potential will outpace expectations if you are always there to provide encouragement. They will remember that goodwill when it comes time to form partnerships.
Here's a perfect example of attracting talent but letting them come into their own. My friend forwarded this to me and I think that it clearly exemplifies how the industry should operate in terms of recruitment. Jason Freedman (@jasonfreedman) posted this open letter reaching out to a contact and offers more than just a job. http://42floors.com/blog/posts/consider-this-a-job-offer-to-work-at-42floors
I will be putting together examples of how to actually go about building an ideal team of people in the next few weeks. The end result should deliver more empirical value than traditional teams. I am also looking for other good examples of how others go about working in this space. The posts will focus on finding raw talent and grooming them before they're on the map.
DISCLAIMER: I'm happily employed and only seeking networking opportunities.