Silicon Valley has returned to the craziness of the orignial dot-com bubble. Everyone is raising money right now and “doing their own thing.” Most of them won’t make it, but I admire their optimism. To go big you need the best software developers. This has made for an insane supply and demand problem, and is forcing great developers to choose between a dream, stability and the sea of series x rounds in between. But how are they making that choice?
Looking for a job is a lot like dating. You probably spend more time at work than you do with your significant other (when you have one), so test the waters and find out what’s best for you. If you’re a good software developer, you probably get 5-10 Linkedin messages a day about “new opportunities.” But just because you are in demand, doesn’t mean finding the right person/job is easy. In some ways my analogy breaks down here because when you’re dating and you’re in demand, you can opt to have sex with as many people as possible*. But most companies demand monogamy immediately and they are so clingy it’s not like you’re going to be able to see anyone else anyway. They also give you that four year vesting period with a one year cliff, so walking away from them won’t be easy. Breaking up is hard to do. Take is slow. Don’t buckle under peer pressure. Other people are judgemental and take note of who you’re with, but you have to be with them for 8-10 hours a day. This isn’t a choice to take lightly.
I’ve done some recruiting internally at companies that aren’t well known in the tech community and it’s a rough gig. Imagine asking a ton of people at a bar for their number and getting turned down 99% of the time; that’s exactly what it’s like. While recruiting firms can be great and deliver a steady flow of candidates; looking back, I’ve always found that the best candidates I’ve hired have been from the network of current employees or from people applying via the job posting on your homepage.
Recruiting firms usually charge 20-25% of the first year’s salary of any candidate that gets hired as a finders fee (a good developer starts somewhere between $100,000 - 150,000/year). There are tons of developers but their skills range from incompetent to Rainman. With each new startup, demand for these developers rises and the supply is just not there. The motivations in place push recruiters to force placements that aren’t a good fit for either party.
One recruiting strategy for companies with more stability (money) is to look at the folks doing their own thing, wait until they are in the “Trough of Sorrow” and go after the vulnerable developer with kids and a mortgage. One recruiter actually said, “every time I hire someone, I kill a startup.” I’ve also heard recruiters lie to employees about benefits and lie to employers about the job history of candidates. It always amazes me how honest candidates are about being fired after a recruiting firm gave me a story about how they left on their own. Recently a friend told me about a developer who was recruited to work at a company that works in the music business and was promised tickets to any show he wanted. It was only after he had started working that he discovered how far from the truth that was. Recruiters throw around terms like “big data” and speculate about the number of users a product has. I guess sales is a business where people are known to stretch the truth, but when selling human beings I think we need to set our standards higher.
Great developers are the pretty girls at a dance with way too many dudes. We all hope pretty girls go for the right guy, the nice, smart, honest guy that cares about them but may be a little awkward (See Brian Krakow), but sometimes they go with the good looking selfish doofus who lies (See Jordan Catalano)**. And let’s not forget, some of the pretty girls aren’t so pretty on the inside. When startups get frantic, they forget to take it slow, and end up with the pretty girl who is mean and maybe not so pretty under the layers of makeup (See Reality Television).
The appeal of startups is that they can run things the way they want to. They are open to changing the way people do things and usually have less unnecessary processes. This creates a wide range of work environments. Fortune’s “100 Best Places to Work” comes out every year with the assumption that one size fits all, and that we all want the same things from our employers, but we don’t. We don’t all have the same taste when it comes to dating. Why would we all want the exact same job?
We all have different needs and it’s important to figure out what they are. Most startups provide employees with an extremely wide variety of beverages, and a gym membership. But more importantly they all approach, hours, culture, management, communicatinion, and decision making in extremely different ways. Access to a ping-pong table and the ability to get food whenever you want is awesome, but it shouldn’t be a huge factor. We always give applicants an overview of the product and what type of sodas will be made available, but whether opportunities for learning and continuous improvement exist is something that is promised in interviews, and rarely delivered.
Some advice for employees: Don’t get too excited about the free lunch and Mountain Dew. Don’t trust every recruiter you talk to. Take into account the motivations of the people giving you advice and take these decisions seriously. Make sure to go on as many coffee dates as possible, and do your research. Don’t let a recruiter promise you a ton of money and make these decisions for you. I know it’s easier, but you may regret it for a long time. Get advice from people you trust who have been in your field for a long time. Make your employer give you concrete details about the job and the culture of the company. This is your life. Take responsibility for it
Some advice for employers: Prioritize recruiting as something employees need to be doing. Make your employees happy so they tell their friends about how awesome it is to work there. Remember, when people go out with their friends, they will bitch about their job if they don’t like it. Set the bar high and keep it there. If you have a great product and a great team, things will work themselves out. Every single person you hire will affect the daily lives of your employees. Even when times are tough, take these decisions seriously.
*If you want to explore this option, consider consulting/contract to hire.
** My So-Called Life was canceled after one season, but I think we all know the whole Jordan and Angela thing wasn’t going to work.