I preface this article by saying I am not a recruiter nor have ever been and that ‘Top’ isn’t necessarily implying senior in terms of time in tech. For example, I am a strong believer that there are people who have been in tech less than 5 years who are of a higher caliber than engineers who’ve been in tech for 20+ years, but of course this is not always true. So, by ‘top tech talent’ I mean technical individuals who are:
- Fundamentalists. Extremely proficient in the basics of what they do (ie backend, frontend, sysadmin, etc)
- Working knowledge of multiple domains. At a minimum, well versed in the high level concepts of multiple fields (ie, a developer who can talk about ports and tcp/ip, etc)
- Proactive. Meaning, you can give them a roadmap and plan (or a list of problems) and they can take care of the ‘how’ largely on their own.
- Communicative. All too often, really good technical talent has a communication problem. Sure they can code in vi all day long with a blind fold on with only their ring fingers, but are unable to engage with other humans as efficiently.
- Apolitical. This is very important, I cannot classify as ‘top’ any engineer who is more concerned about his or her title/position of power more than the mission at hand.
- Resourceful. I’ve yet to meet any tech engineer who can do their job year round without having to consult external resources, be it a book, the internet or a colleague. The common component among top talent is the speed at which they access these resources and implement found solutions.
Again, a longer career doesn’t necessitate a more skilled engineer, so for the most part I don’t really take time-in-career as a factor.
It is no secret that technical talent with the above traits is not easy to come by. Having interviewed countless individuals throughout my career, I find that most candidates have anywhere from zero to some of the traits above. This makes it extremely difficult at times given that only the first two traits are ‘teachable’ in the traditional sense. The other traits are usually infused within an individuals personality which is not so easy to change. The ideal candidates are out there and they are really not hard to find and attract, you’ve just got to put time into it.
Beautiful Women at the Bar
Top technical people are the good looking girls at the bar of todays job market. Attractive women can generally go to any given bar and have their choice of free drink. This is the same concept with top technical talent today. A skilled engineer with all of the above characteristics will have his or her choice jobs in any developed country in the world and when I say choice, I mean literally dozens and dozens of choices.
Identical Recruitment Approaches
In spite of the aforementioned characteristics, recruiters still largely contact technical talent in one of two ways. This is true for both email/messages or phone calls;
, We have an excellent opportunity….blah blah
, Your skill set is out of this world
This may work for entry level individuals or average talent, but it will likely never work for great engineers. Personally, it takes me about 2 seconds to determine the copy/pasty-ness of a given email/voicemail and subsequently delete it. If a recruiter or manager has taken zero time to ready my profile and learn more about me, why would I give them even one second of my time?
Make It Personal
Technical engineers, at every level, are very busy people, myself included. The canned emails, messages and calls do not cut it. The most effective approaches are those that include questions relevant to what they do or have done followed by an invite for a face-to-face meeting over coffee or lunch near their location.
Make it technical
Be able to communicate in ‘tech-speak’ or bring someone with you who can (it is okay if this happens in the first intro call with the company). When engineers are evaluating a new opportunity they will certainly judge the technical aspects as much as any other piece.
Highlight the Differentiators
It’s cool that you can offer an engineer xxx thousand dollars a year, but so can everyone else, and quite frankly it doesn’t matter much after a certain point. It’s cool that your company can offer comprehensive medical/dental/vision/etc….so can everyone else.
Differentiators do not necessarily have to come in the form of perks in the traditional sense. Sure, not every company can offer free breakfast/lunch/dinner, but not every company needs to. Here are some that may not be obvious:
- What is the spectrum of skill sets among your current technical team?
- What contributions have you made to the open source community?
- What’s the dress code?
- What’s the work life balance?
- What are the colors of your walls? Is 100% remote possible (even if after a certain time period)?
- What is the coolest feat of engineering that the current team has accomplished?
- How tall or flat is the organization?
- Are the people ‘in charge’ from engineering backgrounds?
- How important are titles?
- What room for growth and professional development is there?
- Is there any official time allocated for personal projects?
Answers to the above should ideally be given in person.; you get the idea. The truth is I have friends that have accepted offers 10-40% lower than what they could’ve gotten elsewhere because of the answers the received.
The Bottom Lines
You don’t need to provide all the perks that Google or other tech giants are able to offer; if you can, great, but that is not the case for most businesses, nor is it necessary. What you need is to really care about the individual enough to do the aforementioned manual labor.
If you have an existing technical team, they need to be at the same level of the engineers you are recruiting or your new-hire will find him or herself on an island; the exception is when you are hiring a lead engineer who will then be tasked with building his or her own team.
The culture of your organization should embrace measured risk and the notion of the individual. Aside from compliance and regulatory components, there is really never a good reason to operate on a mode of no-trust with your technical team. The junior engineer should feel just as comfortable as the lead when it comes to voicing an opinion, concern or idea.
Solid engineers aren’t hard or impossible to find, they’re just not ‘easy’.