HOWTO: Recruit Rock Stars

Yesterday, SimpleGeo announced the hiring of five new employees. Four will be engineers and one is an engineer moonlighting as a developer advocate for us. The feedback I’ve received about the team we’ve managed to put together in such a short period of time usually involves two statements:

  1. How on earth did you manage to build a team like this in such a short period of time?
  2. Will you please leave some engineers for the rest of us?

The answer to #2 is easy; no. The answer to #1 is somewhat funny; I’m a better recruiter than I am a coder or architect. No, it’s true. Ask Jay if he was more sorry to see his lead architect or his top recruiter leave Digg. My guess is he’s more upset his top recruiter left (I recruited about 40% of engineering and over 10% of the company by the time I’d left). The simple fact is that I would have made more money as a recruiter for Digg than as their lead architect.

But, how do I do it? Good question. I honestly don’t know, but I am going to share some insights that might help you land your own rock star. Here’s an arbitrarily ranked list of do’s and don’t’s for finding, recruiting, and hiring great engineers.

  • Make sure your ego is in check. My only rule in hiring is to hire people that are smarter than me. Top engineers like this will be smarter than you and most likely command a higher salary than you. You need to be fully prepared to pay¬†handsomely¬†for someone who will likely make you look and feel like a fool on a daily basis.
  • If you take nothing else away from this post, please remember this: amazing engineers are not perusing job boards for their next job. Do you honestly think Alex Payne or Ian Eure actively seek out employment?
  • Great engineers generally seek out two things when looking for new employment: interesting problems and awesome people. If your startup is “like Twitter plus blah”, you’re not likely going to be able to recruit top engineers.
  • Get involved in local meetups, bleeding edge protocols, open source, etc. I’ve found, and recruited, two of the best engineers I know via meetups (Arin Sarkissian) and open source projects (Chris Goffinet).
  • Do not, under any circumstances, send a recruiter after an engineer you covet. Send your most senior technologist after them. Pitch them on your team. Pitch them on your problem sets. Tell them about your strict adherence to TDD and Agile. My point on this is you need to send in someone who can speak engineering and sell that aspect of your company.
  • Pay them what they’re worth. If you don’t, someone else will. You aren’t going to lure these guys in with dreams of IPO or M&A riches. They’re smart enough to know that 1% of your company won’t lead to “fuck you money.” So don’t bicker over paying them an extra $10,000.

I’ve got a lot more ideas on how to manage and foster such a team once it’s been built, but those will have to wait for another blog post.