I talk to founders, CTOs, CEOs and hiring managers of startups often. I host and go to quite a few social events monthly that they gather at, besides them being a large part of my friend group. While they are all amazingly brilliant and I gather much wisdom by osmosis; one thing I hear quite often from all of them what a difficult time they have finding and hiring developers. I end up saying the following to them, and I thought it was a good thing to share with everyone. Hiring developers doesn’t have to be hard. While they are in demand, good employers are increasingly rare, and if you genuinely care about finding your developers and keeping them happy it will be easy to set yourself apart.
A lot of the points of this post originate from the book Smart and Gets Things Done by Joel Spolsky. If you can, just read that book. It’s full of wisdom about hiring that is much more than “how to get a developer to work for you”. I hope to cover some of those topics myself, but in all honesty you should just read that book. In case you don’t, however, you can start with this post.
THEY ARE NOT GOING TO COME TO YOU
I have posted several job posts when hiring developers, I have never hired a developer through a job post. The developers you want to hire are never applying to job listings. The are either gainfully employed, or directly contacting you because they have found your company and love what you do. This field is so saturated right now that the good developers can pick and choose the companies they want to work for.
So, how do you find them? Resumes are meaningless. If you gave me a pile of resumes, and told me I had to hire one of the developers in the pile, the first thing I would do is schedule a party and invite all the developers on that list. This is what you need to do. Either go places where there are many developers and meet them, or create your own event and invite developers. That doesn’t mean doing a speaking series, either; ideally you can be more creative than to sit butts in seats and have someone talk about caching. At Levo League we had (and we still have) the developer potluck, which was a monthly event where we all drank wine, ate each other’s food, and discussed thigns that were important to us. Find a way to promote developer fellowship and then they will come. You can also go to them. Meetup.com has a plethora of events you can go to. I recommend targeting hack nights and other situations where, rather than sitting in an audience listening, you are chatting and getting to know each other.
Don’t be turned off if a developer that you want to hire already has a job. Chances are their company will not be focused on the points below and they are not 100% happy. Keeping your developers happy is the job of every good manager. If they aren’t happy they aren’t working with the right people. If they are happy keep in touch, chances are they may be looking for something in a while given the short tenure of this industry and the volatility of most companies. (read: I will straight up gank one of your developers, watch out).
CARE ABOUT WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO THEM
Often I have heard people say things like “this job would make any developer a huge deal in X industry”. Developers don’t want to be huge in the fashion or artisan food industry, generally they’d rather be huge in the developer industry, and your app that is the foursquare of trunk clubs is not going to get them there.
Developers like solving problems, they are basically technical detectives. What is the interesting problem that developers get to solve with your company? This can be hard if you’re not a dev yourself, so, in that case, think about what’s unique for a developer at your company. Will they be building a team? Will they have a high salary comparatively to other developers? Will they have the chance to work with brilliant people? Will they be working out of an amazing space?
Moreso, find out what is important to them besides coding and perks. Do they have a family? Find a way for them to bring their kids in a few times a week, or have a family meal on Fridays. Do they like to travel? Invent a travel bonus, where they get to go where they want one week every three months. Do they want to speak at conferences? Become their agent, allow them time to commit to open source.
Actually care about these things and don’t pretend. Your developers will be working with you more than they do anything else in life, more than they sleep, more than they are with their kids, it’s your job to ensure they are brilliantly happy doing it.
HAVE CLEAR INCENTIVES
If your developers work for 70 hours a week, if they don’t have a say in product, if they have to be in at 8am, if they have to wear a suit, or any other arbitrary thing that doesn’t matter in the end: you’re going to end up with a bad team.
Why a bad team? Developers are getting the full court press every day, what they do is valuable. If they have to pick a company that forces them to be uncomfortable it means other companies aren’t hiring them.
Stupid perks like a keg and a ping pong table don’t make up for making them follow rote ritual. It’s time to give up your dad’s version of how business is done, and recognize that this is just a different culture.
KNOW HOW THE DOUGHNUTS ARE MADE
Here is something that boggles my mind, I don’t know how it’s possible that so many people with web startups have no idea how the internet works? If I were to open a shoe factory, I would learn all about making shoes. I would make a few shoes of my own. I would make sure that I knew everything that goes into making a shoe. Especially if I need to hire shoemakers, how else would I know if they are any good?
Developers can smell a non-technical founder from miles away. It tells them that you have zero respect for what they do, and you think they are just tools. The Twitter book by Nick Bilton mentioned few developers. Somehow that company was built with a few developers. Your developers don’t want that to happen to them, and if you don’t care enough about what your company produces to learn how it works that’s the message you’re sending.
Show them that they are important to you. Offer them what they are worth, don’t negotiate to death. Sure, if you haggle you can pay them 10k less, but guess what, tomorrow they are going to get an offer fro 20k more and they will remember the hard line you drew.
Take them to nice dinners, or, spend a whole afternoon with them doing something they enjoy. Walk in the park, go to a movie, meet their spouse, take the spouse with you. Show them that they, and the people that are important to them are important to you.
The $200 you save now from avoiding all this wont be worth the 10k you lose because you ended up with a terrible developer.
I NEVER SAID THIS WAS EASY
If you are at this point and thinking “wow, all this is too much” then you are in the wrong line of work. Coding is a skill that is maybe the most in demand in the world, it’s unreasonable to think it’s not going to take some sacrifices to attract the people that are talented.
If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line.