Sourcing developer talent
I've been asked multiple times over my career, if I know of any developers that are looking for work. I'm writing this up to share what my thoughts are today in 2022 but also for folk reaching out to me in the future. Some of what I'm sharing applies to other R&D talent.
First things first. Sourcing great talent is hard. There are no easy quick wins, doesn't matter how great your product or technology is. You and your team have to invest time and effort into sourcing. Always look for unique innovative ways to reach out, distinguishing your company from the others. So evolve what I share, don't automate it.
I very rarely refer talent I know to those that ask. Most others don't either. For a couple of reasons.
- I respect my peers and work hard to be a good human. If I start sharing around details of those I know, they might not like that. They might not be looking or I don't know what they are looking for next. Sure, I can ask their permission before hand, but that requires work on my part, I'm not a recruiter.
- I can’t keep track of those that are looking. Sometimes an individual reaches out to me specifically, in which case I always intro and help them, but this rarely happens.
- I have moral and legal obligation to the companies I’ve worked for, companies I respect and admire. Therefore I don't like sharing details of those that still work at my previous companies.
But that doesn't mean I don't help those struggling to find great talent.
What ends happening is that we switch to talking about what your company can do to attract and source talent. What makes your company distinctive over the other opportunities out there. It can even start with just looking at why folks are working with you today.
This content below is a little biased towards early stage companies who are trying to compete against larger companies. But some of it can be applied in larger companies.
Your hiring and retention formula #
As with most things, understand why your current talent work with you. Why did they choose working with you over other opportunities. Hopefully it's not just compensation.
What is it they love about the work, mission, product, or technology. Perhaps they used to work at a large enterprise company and they like working with a smaller team. Maybe it's the security of being in a company that is well funded and gives them job security. Are you able to offer promotion opportunities that other companies can't. Roles you have are able to offer more range, ability to ship valuable features daily over stakeholder alignment/document discussions. Ability to impact millions of users with hard work over longer periods of time. Each of these are suitable to someone out there in their career journey.
Leverage what you learn by promoting it in your sourcing material (landing page for careers), making sure that others in your industry are aware of the reasons on why developers work in your team over other options out there.
Most teams I talk to forget about this. Marketing whether it be via community engagement, talks, blog, social media, etc. Don’t forgot the power of sharing how you build your products with others. Building in the open, shares the great opportunities and learning that you can offer to folks out there. It also places a brand on their mind to reach out to. A larger company sure, but take a look at the awesome Shopify Engineering blog. Your developers will want to share content like this as it'll help them grow in their role of mentoring others.
What you write doesn't have to be Hacker News worthy or unique, just be genuine. I'm sure your current team are proud of work areas they are working on.
This is part culture that your team should embody, sharing what you learn with others, giving to others.
Community events #
Conferences and meetup's are great to source individuals. Remember to be real and genuine. Don't send recruiters to an engineering event.
Join a community, don't just ask from it. When running the Vancouver Ruby meetup, I saw too many times folk enter it just for recruiting, get names and disappear. Great talent see through that. I advised sponsors that they attend regularly or send developers that are truly excited to share or learn. In your company, only sponsor a meetup if there is a champion in your engineering team that is already a member or attending.
If your content is built by your team and they are proud of it, they will naturally share it in their social channels.
Personalized direct outreach #
This is probably my most effective approach on building great long term relationships and leads. When I formed my agency Brewhouse, I was very picky about who I wanted to join the team, so I sought them out personally.
When I'm actively growing an engineering team, I probably spend an average of 4 hours a week sourcing. Reaching out and building a funnel of diverse candidates. If you’re not doing this as an engineering leader, start today.
It compounds over time. I recently had an individual reach out to me after a conversation 2 years ago.
When having an initial sourcing conversation, remember to make it a two way conversation, is there something you can give. Offer not just information on opportunities but pick up what an individual might be looking for. Offer advice if permission is given, calibration on levels, mentorship introductions, book recommendations, relevant technology learnings etc. It’s a two way relationship you’re building.
Always have engineering folk do these outreach conversations. You prevent the default response from a recruiter “I don’t know that answer, I can find out”, at which point you've lost a potential candidate. You might only have that first interaction, so make it count.
Here's an example of a outreach message via Twitter, LinkedIn or other. Make it personalized, why are you reaching out them, what is it in their career story so far that makes a conversation worthwhile for them, perhaps something that might allow them to get to their next promotion.
"Hey, I'm an engineering leader at X. Wondering if you'd like to learn about what we're working on at X and our opportunities. (INSERT TEASER THAT APPEALS TO THEM). I know you might not be looking but would love to make the connection. Love learning more on [TOPIC] from others."
That's just an example, but try to work on your own tone, be genuine.
It's hard to truly know where someone is in their career journey. I feel we can do better at this to prevent spamming developers, a reason I'm investing a lot of time into Path.
Don’t undervalue your small team #
I've heard VPs/CTOs say, why would developers want to work at our company, it's boring, when they could work at a FANG company for higher comp. I share that those FANG developers are different and there are a lot of developers out there. Many are driven by purpose, mission, balance of work, wanting to ship something they are proud of that will be a fit to your company and stage of engineering. You have to learn what that is and target those developers.
There are a lot of developers out there perhaps looking for a change. They might have the right personal situation to work in a smaller startup. Might even always prefer working in small team over large corporate.
Working in smaller companies can mean that individuals want to feel a part of a mission, have a closer connection to the purpose. Perhaps a reason for the mass resignation earlier this year, pandemic triggering folk to think hard about what they do with their precious time. Remote work is also allowing for more affordable locations not requiring higher incomes.
Do the work #
Hiring is hard. So be prepared to do the work. It's sometimes boring and seem like you're an account manager or salesperson. Building a high class team starts with building yourself and growing your team to be the best they can be. Talent attracts talent. You will naturally attract those that want to learn and grow with those that have a growth mindset.
This write up turned out to be a lot more than I had intended, and I was going to add more, perhaps another blog post in the future.