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I just took over tech side of a smallish (20 person) startup. Obviously, maintaining and attracting talent are key to our success.

Recruiting is really hard, despite my efforts to hit the big parts of developer happiness:

  • We have big dual monitors.
  • Our Aerons have been ordered.
  • Friday beer is good beer when I buy it.
  • We score 10/12 on the Joel test and while our offices aren't "nice," but they are fun to work in. (I can't fix the open plan thing until our lease is up, so I bought everyone nice gaming headphones.)
  • I meet with my devs to ensure their careers are progressing (e.g "You want to be a software architect. Let's get you there.")
  • We use scrum, so the team organizes their work.
  • We offer a referral bonus for new hires.

Retention has been no problem, but recruiting is darn near impossible. (I'm running out of former colleagues to poach!)

Is everyone experiencing this kind of mismatch between supply and demand? Is there just a dearth of c# talent in Chicago? Am I uniquely fouling up my recruitment process? Am I going to have to just hire interns and grow my own devs? Advice is appreciated. Commiseration will be accepted.

(Edit: I forgot to mention money. We are competitive on money. We aren't losing people at salary, we aren't even getting good applicants.)

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closed as too localized by Mark Trapp Sep 26 '11 at 20:06

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Are you saying you are not getting any applications at all or you are not finding anybody who meets your expectation levels? –  k25 Sep 26 '11 at 15:42
Is this the office you are talking about ?tekistan.imgur.com/tekistan#3kqs9 I would try my level best not to work at such a company –  Imran Omar Bukhsh Sep 26 '11 at 15:46
@k25 very, very few good applicants. Those we get are very low quality--they generally fail the fizz buzz test. –  Code Silverback Sep 26 '11 at 15:49
Have you considered remote employees? –  Steve Evers Sep 26 '11 at 16:37
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7 Answers 7

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Quick Short Answer

Explicitly hire ASP.NET developers without MVC on ASP.NET, give them training, and give them several good benefits (salary, good environment, good equipment) to stay with your company.

Long boring extended Answer

  • Microsoft: ASP.NET MVC is a very new technology, and Microsoft has been changing and upgrading it at a brisk pace.
  • Many existing ASP.NET apps don't use MVC, and won't change from one day to another.
  • Many developers haven't even tried MVC, being very busy with existing technologies.
  • Be careful with your recruiting process, and the people that are interviewing recruiters, whether internal or external. That "nice, professional looking, young lady from a prestigious H.R. company" may not be doing her job right.
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+1: MVC is still very new ...yet, for some reason, employers expect experts ...just look for people that are passionate and want to learn. –  IAbstract Sep 26 '11 at 16:39
+1 for "nice, professional looking, young lady from a prestigious H.R. company" Several times I have had recruiters send me the resume they just submitted for me only to look on there and see that they have added experience in some technology (like SAP) that I do not have. Alot of them assume play buzzword bingo and fluff up their recruits resume hoping to get them through your door. –  Chad Sep 27 '11 at 17:22
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My guess, based on what I've seen in a similarly sized US market, is that you're eliminating a number of potential candidates that you shouldn't be.

First, are you practicing subtle ageism? As an older programmer, I see this a lot. People assume that older programmers aren't willing to learn, etc., etc. Even worse is getting told "you don't fit into our team dynamics" (aka, you're too freakin' old for us). Don't fall into this trap.

Next, are you demanding extensive MVC experience? Hopefully, you aren't asking for something like "5+ years developing MVC solutions in C#" like one recruiter email I got recently. Realistically, there haven't been that many MVC/.NET projects around for more than a year or so. While a few people may have 2 or more years of actual experience on an actual significant MVC project, you're more likely to find people who've been working on maintaining webforms projects. Maybe they've been learning MVC but haven't had a chance to really use it on a project. These otherwise experienced people would jump at a chance to get up to speed on MVC if you would give them the chance.

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I'm not mentioning any years of experience and I'm still not seeing more than a handful. That said, I cut mvc from must haves. Thanks. –  Code Silverback Sep 26 '11 at 16:16
I love the jobs who demand 10+ years of .net experience... seeing as .net came out in 2003 (8 years ago for those that have trouble with the buzzfizz) –  Chad Sep 27 '11 at 17:19
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I would favor the OP's company over one that was a nightmare to work for but paid more. If people are going to a company due to money solely, you don't want them anyways. The issue is that great engineers hardly ever interview or are in the process of looking for a job. So you are left with average and desperate engineers from recruiters and door step interviews. You have to stretch out of the local area and go to conferences, find out what the top people are doing and try to convince them what you are doing is fun and to make the switch.

Think about it. What are the chances the engineers at Apple/Microsoft/Google are sitting at home sending out resumes through recruiters?

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Chicago is an expensive city to live in, have you considered that perhaps you just aren't offering enough in salary?

A lot of people, myself included, are wary of a lot of perks in a job as we tend to see it as one of those things that companies do when they want to try and make people happy without giving them a good salary or bonus. It was also the only "perk" you didn't mention. But then again you state that retention isn't a problem so if you pay poorly I wouldn't expect people to stick around.

If Chicago has a tech council, consider joining it. Many municipality tech councils offer job searches to people who are looking. If that doesn't work then consider posting the opening on the new SE site for job postings, or Monster, or get in contact with a recruiter.

I think your problems are based on exposure, since it sounds like an awesome place to work from what I read.

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In my experience, all of those things you mentioned are great, but come second to a great salary. It will probably help make you the favoured choice, if the candidate needs to pick between two companies, but if there's more than a 10% salary difference, they will sit in the basement if they have to.

Also, you didn't talk too much about where you are having trouble exactly; do you have plenty of candidates, but no takers, or are you struggling to get any responses at all? Are you focusing on MVC experience heavily?

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I disagree... I have taken a lower initial salary in exchange for a greater chance for growth within a company. A small start-up is a good place to start working, cause if and when it grows, you'll be at the top. –  AJC Sep 26 '11 at 15:59
@AJC: I will take a lower salary to have the environmental amenities the OP mentioned ...and having the chance to really get solid experience with MVC (and other .net tech). –  IAbstract Sep 26 '11 at 17:21
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Yes it has been hard to hire in the recession, I dont know specificlly about Chicago but from personal experiance (not a fact, my opinion) lots of people with jobs are just sitting tight and not risking a job move.

My advice would be to use recruiters. Its their job to find you good candidates.

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Job recruiters are NOT reliable. There are several stuff that job recruiters do in real world, that. I've planning to make a whole web site about that. Example: Company wants a developer in .NET and don't care about age, and tell the recruiter. The recruiters only hires below 35. –  umlcat Sep 26 '11 at 16:02
@umlcat it sounds like your dismissing a whole profession based on a couple of personal experiences. –  Tom Squires Sep 26 '11 at 16:04
Then you will have to find a good recruiter. I'm not sure that is much easier than finding a good developer. –  Jaap Sep 26 '11 at 16:07
@Tom Squires: Wish it was a couple of experiences, but not, Im a software developer that was going to study either psychology, or H.R., and I still study both as a "hobby". In theory, there is a whole career to find the better employee for a job, but in real life its not working. I actually would like to make a "H.R. audit" company that reviews H.R. depts., just like some external Companies audit Accounting depts. –  umlcat Sep 26 '11 at 16:15
I've worked with plenty of recruiters in my day and very few of them actually care about finding good candidates. They care about finding any candidate that will be good enough to keep the job. –  James P. Wright Sep 26 '11 at 17:21
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First things first. When looking at your pictures, you see large dual monitors, I see cabling and wire all over the place. This is fine if it was a garage with a couple of guys and I'm one of the startup guys, but I would never work in a company that looked this way because it shows a lack of organization.

Second, the interview, I thing you should focus on what you want. Do you want someone who already knows everything you need, or someone willing to learn? A good programmer with programming experience should be able to get the hang on MVC, to some level within the first month dedicated completely to it. Won't be an expert, but will be able to start working on projects.

Third, your referio job application makes you sound "cool". People don't want to work on Google because it's "cool" to work there, they do because it is one of the top tech companies in the world. "Coolness" only factors in when you are already stablished. Until then, be serious about it. Be serious about where your company wants to go, and where it's going to take you. Programmers with experience looking for a new job need to know the have a bright future at a new company. Only newly graduates are looking to have "fun" and just gain some experience.

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