How to Bag a Hacker
On July 21, Filip Mares sparked a small uproar in the blogosphere with the following posting: "In order to query the post from memory, we bind a click event function to retrieve the contents for the < l i > id in question," he asserted.
Clearly, Mares is no ordinary blogger. Instead, he's a Web developer at Pulse, a Palo Alto, California–based start-up that makes the popular Pulse newsreader app. Pulse, like a growing number of companies, has asked its engineers, developers, and programmers—the most technical minds in the office—to put on their writer hats and start churning out blog posts as well. The goal: to showcase the business as an engineering powerhouse in order to attract top-tier programming talent
Pulse, which has seen its user base soar from 250,000 to eight million over the past year, had to do something. Attracting job candidates the usual way simply wasn't filling the open seats on the tech team, says Akshay Kothari, who co-founded the company in 2010. That got Kothari thinking about a successful recent hire, a designer named Tuhin Kumar. Kumar didn't come to the company through a job posting or networking event; he decided to apply because he was an avid reader of a tech blog written by Jean Hsu, one of the company's engineers.
Hsu writes her blog in her spare time. But Kothari thought an in-house blog could be just as strong an attractor. Last spring, Pulse launched its engineering blog, which is written by the 13 members of its engineering staff. Over the summer, the company hired six of those engineers; a few, Kothari says, mentioned the blog during interviews. "When you think about the small things that help tilt you over and apply for a position, the engineering blog posts can be a big part of that," he says. The posts usually generate several thousand views. That pales in comparison with the TechCrunches and Gizmodos of the Web, but in the context of the niche audience Pulse is targeting, it's a pretty considerable reach.
Hsu manages the blog, and she admits that it's something of a challenge. An engineer's first instinct when untangling lines of code isn't to blog about it. It takes a bit of prodding. But Hsu has developed a good sense of what techies want to read. Some of Pulse's posts have landed on Hacker News, a social news aggregator run by the funding firm Y Combinator. One post, titled "Design Secrets for Engineers," was voted one of the site's top five articles and was republished in the October 2011 issue of its print magazine, Hacker Monthly—something of a badge of honor among tech geeks. The post also generated 20,000 page views on Pulse's site alone.
That kind of publicity can make all the difference when recruiting ambitious technologists, says Evan Korth, a computer science professor at New York University who also helps run HackNY, a program that connects student developers with start-ups. He points out that transforming engineers into rock stars proved a winning strategy for Google, which maintains an extensive network of blogs about software development. "By bragging about your clever solutions, you get other young developers to see what you do and get excited about it," Korth says.
On the other hand, the last thing you want is for an overly effusive blogger to give away your secret sauce. More than most corporate blogs, a successful engineering blog requires a balance between overprotectiveness and oversharing, says David Brussin, CEO and co-founder of Monetate, a Quaker Park, Pennsylvania–based company whose platform allows clients to rearrange aspects of their websites, such as ads and text, according to each individual visitor. Hoping to contribute to the online developer community—and solicit some help with supertechnical coding problems—Monetate launched a blog earlier this year. "It's important to realize the things that are your intellectual property, versus the things that are really OK and beneficial to share," Brussin says.
Entrepreneurs who intend to patent their technologies should be particularly careful about what they choose to divulge. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office does not grant patents to applicants who have disclosed their work more than a year before filing applications.
So far, Monetate has managed to keep its secrets safe. But the engineering blog has led to some important changes around the company. During job interviews, for example, candidates are asked to produce a short presentation on a technical problem—to, in effect, write a blog post about it. "You need to be able to explain yourself well," says Tom Janofsky, Monetate's vice president of engineering. "The ability to do that correlates extremely well with working on a team."