Do you put as much effort into hiring first-rate interns as you do managers and other staffers? Maybe you should. That's the argument Joel Spolsky makes in the May issue of Inc. magazine. Spolsky is the founder and CEO of Fog Creek Software in New York City, and a well-known blogger. His Joel on Software blog (here's the link) has been a hub of entrepreneurial conversation online since 2000.

In a guest column this month, Joel argues that for a bootstrapped company like his, it is critical to hire better, faster, smarter software programmers. The problem is, recruiting this top one percent of the profession can be incredibly time-consuming and expensive. The best of the best are already treated really well by their bosses. And when they do decide to make a switch, they typically sound out a few selected industry contacts and are quickly made an offer. In other words, they are rarely on the open market.

Which leads Joel to college students. Everyone in this category, he points out, is in the job market. None of them are affiliated with an employer and all of them are, to some degree, impressionable. So Joel focuses his recruiting efforts on college kids. You simply won't believe the lengths he goes to to woo fledgling programmers. Joel says that, to some degree, he feels he has to be lavish to keep up with the Joneses in his industry—the likes of Google, Microsoft, and Oracle, who are already going after in a methodical way the best, young programming talent out there.

Still, as a one-time intern whose first duty was (literally) to clean cow manure from a pair of cowboy boots (don't ask), I was blown away by the extent of the perqs he offers members of Fog Creek's intern program. Plus, I appreciated the thinking behind the strategy. (Here's the link to the column.)

What do you think? Are interns, in a surprising way, an incredibly crucial hire? If so, do you devote extra resources to finding the best interns? Who is the best intern you've ever had and how did you find them?