Some tidbits from Joel Spolsky’s talk last night on recruiting programmers

Joel was kind enough to speak last night to Hunch and a bunch of other startups.  For me it was like being a teenager at a Justin Beiber concert – Joel’s blog is perhaps my all time favorite.  Some tidbits I recall:

– Sept is critical month for recruiting interns and college grads.  Big companies all have representatives at top schools but startups almost never do.  this is something where startups could get together and benefit from economies of scale.

– Internship programs are critical for recruiting.  Joel recommend 1:1.5 ratio of summer interns to full time devs.  (My advice: even if you are super tiny company start this now – one VP Eng at the meeting said even when he was between jobs he was recruiting so when he got a job he could bring a network with him).

– Great programmers are 5-10x more productive than ok ones yet only get paid 2x or so more.  (Perhaps this is why many leave to start companies?)

– Joel is super strong advocate of : 1) private offices for each programmer, 2) free, nicely catered lunch every day (everyone eats together and bonds), 3) usual internet stuff – comfortable office, dogs, flexible schedules etc.

– Bad yield at Stanford (too much competition) and MIT (too many go on to graduate school)

– GPA is really good predictor of good programmers (this surprised me).  You can have great programmers who have bad GPA but that often means they are great only when working on super interesting projects which won’t always be the case in real life.

– Wall street (and to lesser extent big tech companies) offer a very different “product” than startup:  Lots of money but crappy environment, dull projects etc.  You can’t compete on $ so differentiate your “product” even more by emphasizing what is different.

– One guest suggested giving every programmer a monthly dinner budget to take out programmer friends.  No obligation but this turned out to attract some of their friends to join the company.

– Screening process:  Resume screen, phone screen, web based Etherpad code test, then fly/bus in and day of interviews and whiteboard code test.

– Programmers with motivation problems:  Joel has rarely seen successful “turnarounds”.  

Tons more that I’m forgetting (maybe other attendees can add some in comments?).  If you haven’t read Joel on Software, it is a MUST read blog (go back and read all the old articles).




6 thoughts on “Some tidbits from Joel Spolsky’s talk last night on recruiting programmers

  1. Scott Magdalein says:

    Joel is an amazing resource. I love that “experienced” guys are becoming so willing to pass on their knowledge for free.I’m interested in hearing more about what said regarding the screening process. I’m building a hiring tool for tech startups and the foundation of the application is creating a smooth, uniform screening process. Is there anything more to share about that?

  2. scotttam says:

    Thanks Chris and Joel, very informative. I’d love to understand why Joel thinks programmers should have their own private offices. I’ve been in both environments and I prefer having everyone in the same room, working very closely.

  3. Paul Rosania says:

    Brilliant! Thank you for the notes. I do worry a little about single-metric filtering (i.e. GPA > 3.X). This type of approach seems to work for some companies but can fall flat if it’s cargo-culted into another organization with a different culture, even in the same industry.We started CollegeJobConnect in large part to address the types of issues Joel raises. In particular, small businesses get hosed in the current undergraduate recruiting process. It’s too political, time-consuming and expensive. However, startups and small biz could really benefit from tapping a talent pool filled with smart, hard working and *cheap* prospects.We’re in an economy where a lot of the “big boys” (I-banks, consulting firms, etc.) don’t have as many openings as they used to. Kids are looking for alternative tracks. It is a great time to start bringing new companies to campus, if it can be done in a way that works for management.

  4. Anonymous says:

    What about people not out of Comp Sci programs? What schools give the best yield (CalTech? CMU?) Do engineers transition well to being programmers? What about the self-taught?

  5. phil gauvin says:

    Thanks for sharing Chris. Very interesting, especially his view on interns ratio. We need some kind of HackNY in Montreal and more initiatives to bring in students in startups.Especially that you guys (at Hunch) stole Georges Duverger from us … 😉

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