August 31, 2011
Engineers aren't from Mars

Recruiting is hard.  Finding the best talent is never easy—especially when it comes to finding a rockstar engineer.  But could it be that companies simply don’t understand what engineers want? 

As an engineer and entrepreneur, I’ve seen it over and over.  Companies – even startups – still tend to treat engineers as boring coders who can sit in a cube for 18 hours a day as long as they are supplied with beer and pizza.  But we aren’t like that.  We need to feel included, we need to see growth opportunities, and most of all, we need to like the people we are working with. 

So what can companies do to be more attractive to top engineers?

1.  Be collaborative, not competitive.  Engineers naturally work best in a collaborative environment—not when they are competing against each other for bonuses or promotions.   When I was a student at MIT, everyone always collaborated on class work, and as a result, we were able to solve problems that none of us could solve on our own.  The same holds true in the business world: incentivizing us to collaborate (as opposed to compete) allows us to operate at our best.

2.  Stop with the swagger. Engineers don’t like to brag.  You don’t need to tell us that your company has the smartest people ever and that we will be working amongst gods.  We can figure out if that is true on our own.  Introduce us to our potential co-workers and start off with a fun and collaborative relationship—you’ll see much better results.  Starting an interview in an adversarial manner (which I see many companies do) may work out in the short term—but can fail in the long run as retention suffers.   

3.  You can get a pretty good idea of our capabilities after one 8 hour interview.  Somehow, Facebook and Google have created the impression that we love sitting down for days of interviews.   We don’t.  Shortening the interview process saves you time as well as ours.  I know several of my college classmates would be interested in testing the waters if the recruiting process weren’t so drawn-out.

4.  Give us real incentives, not gimmicks.   Although we like perks, remember that we are engineers, and we do a cost/benefit analysis on everything.  You can offer us a hefty signing bonus, but if we don’t like the work environment, we won’t take the job.

5.  Finally, don’t tell us you want entrepreneurs if you don’t.  Most companies aren’t looking for entrepreneurs, even when they say they are.  They are looking for engineers.  They want someone who will take a problem, solve it well, and provide them with the answer.  There’s no real incentive for building amazing side projects or solving problems outside of our niche.   If you want us to be creative and build really cool stuff, offer us a serious stake in the success of that stuff.  If you don’t, chances are, we’ll be starting something on our own.

Raj Dandage is the co-founder of Appguppy, which will have its beta launch on September 15th.   He has over 10 years of experience with leading innovative software companies and has a Masters & undergraduate degree from MIT.  You can also follow Raj on Twitter @appguppy.