The smartest tech talent--programmers, designers, engineers, IT pros--can pick and choose where they want to work, leaving a dearth of candidates for many companies to choose from. But there are ways to find and lure these coveted workers, says Chris Nicholson, CEO of Skymind, a company that supports deep-learning/artificial-intelligence technology used for everything from fraud and anomaly detection to image recognition to predictive analytics. Skymind's investors include football great Joe Montana and Matt Bellamy from Muse, in addition to institutional investors such as Tencent and Y Combinator. Here are Nicholson's words on several unexpected places to find stellar tech talent.

1. Open-source projects are an excellent place to find talent.

Because the contributors' work is public, you have almost perfect information about how they code and relate to their collaborators over long periods. Contrast that with the résumé, interviews, and single day of testing that closed-source companies use to gather information on job candidates.

Bob Young, the founder of Red Hat, once told me that if the company hadn't worked out, he would have gone into recruiting, because he knew exactly where all the talent was hiding. It was hiding in open source, for everyone to see.

Companies can tap the open-source recruiting pipeline by allowing their engineers to contribute to open source, so they get familiar with a community. And also by open-sourcing some of their code if it might be useful to the world. Open-source code is like a beacon: The people who find it useful self-select, people you might never find by spamming LinkedIn profiles.

2. Let artificial intelligence (A.I.) do it for you.

If you don't have the time to contribute to open source and really get to know people, a paid service like Gitlead or Hikido helps surface talent by analyzing the GitHub repositories of programmers and ranking them. This will surface talent in unlikely places.

3. Look outside Silicon Valley, and hire remote teams if necessary.

Silicon Valley is trapped in a feedback loop of job creation and higher real estate prices, which means hiring talent is highly competitive, and that talent requires higher and higher salaries just to pay rent. Startups have become vehicles for transferring money from VCs to landlords. Companies can offer salaries that are above market in other regions or countries while avoiding the pay scales of the Bay Area. Remember, most sectors don't know how to properly value engineering talent. Hiring the best can save or make a company many millions of dollars a year. Spending a little more up front can save you 10 times that much down the road.

4. Pay them to apply.

This isn't exactly a place to find talent--it's a method, and it only works for certain roles. Let's say you're looking for UX or visual designers to work on your product, and you want them to share some product ideas for your specific use case. Just pay them a little for their time, maybe a couple hundred dollars. You'll set yourself head and shoulders above most prospective employers and job candidates will turn in much better work.

5. Use compelling content marketing to lure them.

When you're recruiting technical talent, you're really selling your company as an idea. Your workplace is your product. And just like with other products, you need to start by knowing what people really want, and then find a way to give it to them. Technical talent, particularly software engineers, have slightly different priorities than other roles.

Understanding them will help you recruit. Those priorities include:

  • Solving hard problems. Show them how the work presents an intellectual challenge. If solving problems central to your business represents an accomplishment, a milestone in the way they practice their trade, they are more likely to want to join you.
  • Impact on the world. Show them that by solving the problem, they will have a positive impact on the world. Tie their work for your company to greater meaning.
  • Recognition. Make sure they know that their work will be known, and that your company knows how to respect and value that work. Open-source projects are a great way for engineers to show one another what they've done. Contrast that with typical closed-source software, in which programmers do the work, and very often it's never seen outside the company and sometimes not even used internally.
  • Culture. Remember, beyond a certain salary level, money is a weak motivator. People leave their jobs most often because of disagreements with their direct supervisor. So make sure you can offer talent a workplace where management understands and values them, and they feel they can do their best work.

When you have all the right elements in place, write about it. Publish pieces on Medium and Quora. Comment on Hacker News. If you're compelling, the talent will find you.

6. Use your own engineering team and their network to do recruiting.

It takes experts to separate the wheat from the chaff. Sometimes, the best recruiters are not actually recruiters but your own engineers. In fact, there's a fundamental disconnect in most technical recruiting, because most recruiters don't really speak the language of the talent they seek to hire, which leads to a lot of misunderstandings and bad blood. When engineers talk to engineers, it's a different conversation. So make sure your engineers get the support they need to speak at conferences and meetups about the cool stuff your company is building. They'll be a great recruiting channel without even trying.

Published on: May 23, 2017