How to Find a Hacker

One of the more interesting discussions that came out of the hacker news comments to my previous post was a question of how to find those passionate developers I referred to. I’m not a recruiter by any means, but I have hung out with hackers, so I’ll try to give a few tips for finding us :)

I forget where I heard this quote from, but it was something to the effect of “good developers aren’t looking for jobs – they already have one”. Which is a pretty valid point; if you are a passionate developer, odds are you’re probably already working somewhere, and could be quite content with your current lot in life.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t better opportunities out there for you, or that you wouldn’t be interested in them. Developers are just like any other employee; there’s a certain comfort level in knowing that you have a solid job, and even if there were one or two things you don’t like in your work environment it doesn’t mean you’re going to drop resumes in every inbox you can find. We may just need a push in the form of a legitimate email (none of the recrutier form-letter crap) or to meet someone working on an interesting problem.

That being said, and being how a good chunk of us are on the introverted-side of the spectrum, you have to come find us.

Online

Profiles like Github, Bitbucket, CoderWall, Masterbranch – these are all places where we show off our skills. And unlike other profiles like Linked In or Twitter, they’re fairly factual – it’s hard to fake content in a commit, or to hack CoderWall to show a bunch of achievements (not impossible, but harder). If you want to get our attention, follow us on one of those services, and reach out to us in context. Ask a question about a project we’re currently working on, show that you’ve actually done some research and might even know what you’re talking about.

On that note, if you don’t have a qualified recruiter get a team lead or developer in your company to reach out. Developers like talking to their own kind, and there’s going to be a much more relevent conversation between two peers than between a hacker and a (non-tech-savvy) recruiter. At the same time, the developer on your team gets a feel for that person and can figure out if they’re worth pursuing.

Meetups

Meetups are a good indication of a passionate developer. These are gatherings of people who have taken personal time out of the their day to meet and talk about technology, which in itself is a good indication of passion. These are the same people who will spend their extra time learning new technology or trying something just because they’re interested. Meetups come in several forms as well, from weekly “beers & conversation” to monthly presentations to bi-annual hackathons. The key point here is someone’s going out of their way to advance themselves in the field, and those are the people you want to hire.

If you have the capacity, host one of these meetups in your office. This not only shows that your company supports the dev culture, but burns your company name into the minds of the attendees as a supportive place to work. Most meetup groups will give you a chance to say a few words before or after the event in exchange for space, sponsorship, and/or other services. It’s a great way to get a recruitment message out to a very targeted audience.

Open Houses

If you’re a tech company and one of your “selling features” is your culture or work environment, have an open house! Invite all your industry peers, invite students and faculty from the local tech schools and universitities, and anyone else who might be interested. Have some food and drinks available, and host a social. The worst that can happen is you make some friends, the best that can happen is you attract talent from university and other companies.

This is also a great form of “cultural interview”, seeing how these potential candidates interact with the existing team members in a social setting. You can eliminate people who your team wouldn’t like working with before they even apply, simply by asking the team who they’d recommend.

And again, this is a great way to burn your company’s name into the community as a good place to work. When those new grads are looking for a career, or those industry peers are between jobs, they’re going to remember the company that had them over for a beer just to say hi.

Be Interesting

When you do find a potential candidate, don’t ask them interview questions, show them what you’re working on. Explain the problem space, and some of the road blocks you’ve run into. This will instantly get a hacker’s mind spinning, thinking about potential solutions and prompt us to ask you questions. If it doesn’t, then they don’t care about your problem, and they’re probably not going to be a good hire for your company. You’ll be 10 times more effective if you can get a hacker curious about your company or project as opposed to trying to “qualify” them for a job opening you have.

Code Factories Need Not Apply

Some of the push back that my previous article has received, as well as some other articles since then on recruitment, basically amount to “we just need people to get work done”. If that’s your personal or work philosophy, then don’t bother trying any of the above. We hackers can pick up on that pretty quickly, and we’re definitely not going to jump ship for a job that counts us as resources as opposed to craftsmen.

These ideas, and the concept of hiring someone passionate over someone who can type the right words into a text editor, works best for those who actually care about their company and teams in the long game as opposed to those who are just trying to finish project X before Q3. If you want code monkeys, hire code monkeys. If you want employees who can help contribute to your company’s long term success, find and hire a hacker.

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