The Visualist Blog

How to Hire – When Every Employee Can Make or Break You

I’ve been asked for hiring advice from other small companies in the past, and as we’re gearing up to grow our staff again, I have these thoughts on my mind about the things that help companies like mine hire talented software engineers.

Certainly, culture is an important factor.  In Mersive’s case, we are positioned two blocks from the Rockies Stadium (Coors Field) in the historic Ball Park District of Denver. Our office is surrounded by breweries, bars and restaurants. In our office, we’ve got a foosball table, a dart board, bean bag chairs, and a slew of big displays showing our software. Many of our employees bike to work from nearby neighborhoods. We have a dog-friendly office and a beer-friendly fridge.

Then there are proven business processes for interviewing, follow-up and other vetting techniques that are fairly well known, which we follow. If you need suggestions in those areas, take a look at experiential interviewing techniques that are in favor today, or just lurk for a bit on websites like Glassdoor.

Beyond that, here are a few things I’ve learned from recruiting and building teams, both in the academic world (stocking large research labs with world-class students) and in the startup world at Mersive:

  • Always be hiring.  It is rare that an outstanding, free-thinking programming guru will turn up on cue when you decide it’s time to hire.  Folks like this tend to cross your company’s path in other ways.  It is important to have the company culture and personal mindset that allows you to recognize a rock star when you see one and hire when the opportunity arises.  We run regular searches that have turned up some great developers, but by-and-large, we have to be flexible and grow the team when opportunity arises.
  • Hire entrepreneurs.  I’ve seen this pointed out in other blogs, but it is worth mentioning the importance of hiring developers who have the entrepreneurial mindset.  This doesn’t mean you should bias yourself to 20-somethings who have jumped from one job to another in the valley after securing a Stanford CS degree. It’s just the opposite.  Successful entrepreneurs have the ability to latch onto a particular vision and hold-on despite all evidence to the contrary. Their creativity can produce paths forward that no one else sees. If you can find someone who has this spirit, and your particular vision is something they can engage with, then you should hire them.
  • Hire problem solvers, not problem identifiers. I’m assuming that you’ve already determined raw programming talent and problem solving intelligence.  However, I’ve noticed an interesting distinction between intelligent people who focus on identifying and characterizing problems instead of solving those problems. Problem solvers will become aware of a problem and spend time formulating solutions. Problem identifiers, on the other hand, can spend 90 percent of their time discussing the problem itself.  In large organizations, you probably need both (for example, physics needs experimental and theoretical scientists).  But in a small company, problem solvers are far more valuable, so you’re going to be much better off hiring mostly problem solvers.

How do you interview/find great talent? What other advice do you have for small tech companies?

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