Feb 022015
 

Over the past month a few people have asked me for some advice on where to advertise for software developers. In truth, advertising is a tiny component of a successful recruitment function, but if you are at the point where you want to spend some money on adverts, you might find the following useful.

Many of the sources are internationally relevant, but all I’m doing here is reflecting my own experiences which are exclusively drawn from hiring for start-ups in London.

Budget

It is amazing how little companies consider the costs involved in recruitment. For some reason they happily sign off on a recruitment agent with a fee of 18-25% of first year’s salary then balk at the idea of a few hundred pounds on a job board. This is especially important when considering the costs of your own time. Even in small nimble companies it is entirely possible to spend 4 figure sums in staff time on each successful candidate hired.

Speaking of agencies

Recruitment agencies get a bad press, really it comes down to the incentives in the industry. It is possible to get results, especially for more junior staff who lack a pre-existing network but I generally think there are better ways to spend the time and money. YMMV.

Hacker News

Most people reading this will already know Hacker News. It is a community curated content aggregator backed by start-up accelerator Y-Combinator. It focuses mainly on start-ups and technology but has a bit of everything. Every month it runs a ‘Who is hiring?’ thread where companies can advertise their roles.

Be warned, it is not the most user friendly experience and you’ll need to wait for 12pm EST on the first of the month to post. The signal to noise is very good meaning that you can invest more time on each candidate. Given the nature of the board it is common to receive very strong applications from overseas candidates wishing to move to London, so it is worth figuring out your position on relocation/visas ahead of time.

I’ve hired most of my current team through HN and recommend it very highly – though be mindful that it’s very start-up focussed, if that’s not you you’ll need to work that much harder to be attractive.

Also worth a mention is the complementary thread ‘Who wants to be hired?’ where potential candidates place ads about themselves. This thread sees much less traffic but it still an interesting path and I would recommend it as a supplementary source of candidates.

Stack Overflow

Again, anyone in software will know Stack Overflow, through their Q&A service they have built a formidable community of smart and helpful developers. As a company you can pay to post ads for a few hundred pounds a month which appear along side the Q&As. There are various options to suit a range of budgets including bulk buy and featured posts. SO also offer analytics and applicant tracking tools – though you are free to use your own email to contact candidates.

You’ll come up against some fierce competition from other companies who do a great job of selling themselves. You’ll need to have a hard think about how to position yourself, to this end SO have produced a range of docs to get you going. It is also worth investing the time in creating a company page and using that to further promote your culture. I can speak from personal experience that you will see a big uptick in traffic if you take the time to tweak your content to work well in SO’s framework.

My results were mixed in that SO introduced me to many interesting candidates (and very few inappropriate ones), however to date I’ve not hired through this channel. When I was using it most heavily I was looking explicitly for people with a demonstrable entrepreneurial background, I suspect that with more generalist requirements I would have had more success.

It is also worth noting that you can also pay to contact SO users directly through their Candidate Search product, this means access to the SO database and then reaching out to people with good standing in the skills that you are looking for. I’ve not tried this myself though it sounds like an interesting approach.

Job Boards

London has a handful of startup centric job boards very much worth taking a look at. I’ve used Hacker Jobs and Unicorn Hunt (it was previously 3-Beards) previously, but they all serve a similar purpose. Since they are somewhat under the radar they get a better signal to noise ratio than larger generalist boards like Indeed/Dice/Monster etc.

LinkedIn

I previously worked at an American company with a bulk deal on ads. They used it to good effect to hire technical staff in Seattle, but I’ve never found LinkedIn to be a useful way to advertise for developers in London.

Twitter/Facebook Adverts

I’ve not done this myself, simply because I’ve never clicked on an ad from either. That said they both allow for targeting specific groups and I’ve heard anecdotally that people have had success through this route.

Honourable mention – Silicon Milk Round

Silicon Milk Round is a recruitment fair run out of the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane aimed specifically at start-ups. It is a phenomenal event and the standard of attendees is very high. With so many other interesting companies present you will need to work hard to differentiate yourself. I’ve found it to be an excellent place to either hire directly, or simply to start a relationship that may lead to a hire further down the line.

A final word

Good recruitment is all about building relationships over time, this means working through multiple channels, consistently and in a way that ultimately attracts the right people and and gently (or otherwise) dissuades the everyone else. Placing adverts alone will not get you very far but can form part of a broader strategy.

A final final word

I didn’t discuss ad content but for the avoidance of doubt. No ninjas, no pirates, no rock stars, no unicorns.

 

 

Jul 292013
 

If I have a criticism of the agile movement it is that not enough time is given over to the role of management, and furthermore not enough care is taken over the distinction between project and line management.

In a study by VersionOne that looked to asses the reasons for failed agile adoptions, almost all could be traced back to reluctance or failure to engage on the part of management and little wonder when the role of leadership is left so ambiguous.

Gil Broza recently wrote a book entitled the Human Side of Agile that aims to address the human aspects of agile implementations, in particular offering practical guidance to how an agile team leader might incorporate these ideas into their role.

Prior to publication, Gil asked that I contribute an anecdote and I was only too happy to oblige – the chapter was on the subject of making the most of your immediate environment. I drew anecdote from my old office where space was in short supply.

It may not always be possible to create the perfect working environment, however it is important to make the most of what is available. My team were looking to map their work flow using a white board and sticky notes. Unfortunately we were situated in the middle of an open plan office without access to walls, nor did we have the necessary space for a for a free standing white board. In the end we bought a roll of white board sheeting and applied it to a nearby structural pillar. Work items flowed from top to bottom and space was tight, but it served our purpose and is still in use years later.

Elsewhere in the book Gil also references How to do Nothing.

Great stuff Gil.

Jul 212013
 

Why do sales guys find it so hard to pay an engineer a compliment?

Imagine this exchange

Jeff: Hi John, how was your weekend?

John: Great, I ran the London marathon and finished in 3 hours dead

Jeff: That’s amazing I can’t believe you managed to run all that way!

Jeff is trying to pay a compliment, but because he has such little idea of what John considers to be important he misses the mark and if anything is more likely to have caused offence.

Now take this into a professional environment. Jeff is a superb engineer, he sweats and bleeds over his code, he does this quietly and in the background, he takes pride in his work and just wants to see people benefit from using his systems. No-one outside of the engineering org really notices his impact because, due to him, everything ‘just works’  with almost zero drama.

One day he receives a request from John in sales who needs him to twiddle knob X, it’s a config change and he has it in production later the same afternoon – really nothing special. That said Jeff has really helped John out  and John is very genuinely grateful. He writes him an email thanking him, he even cc’s his boss. “Jeff I really appreciate all the hard work you put into twiddling knob X, it’s guys like you crushing the knob twiddler that make this company awesome’. Now Jeff should pleased, it’s nice of John to take the time, he recognises this, but it’s a terrible compliment since Jeff took no pride in the change and what’s more it’s clear from John’s email that he has no idea what Jeff does all day – if anything the mail is a de-motivator despite John’s best intentions.

So what should John have done, how do you compliment an engineer? The best possible way is to take the time to understand some of the complexities of their work, and thereby uncover some of what drives them and their passion.

This is of course uncomfortable and frustrating, a bit like trying to write with your weaker hand – the benefits are huge though. Let’s forget for a second about expressing thanks being a nice thing to do  – it also a way to influence and build trust across the organisation.

If as an individual, you can build trust and rapport in multiple parts of the org, you much better placed to get things done – especially when you really need a favour to get you out of a jam.

In this example, I’ve used a Sales guys and an Engineer, simply because I see this as the classic case, but it applies equally in reverse. It’s easy (and lazy) for an Engineer to dismiss Sales or Marketing as brainless – when in reality this attitude is simply highlighting ignorance of what it takes to be successful in these fields.

The point of this post? Try and figure out what those folks with the suits and nice hair are actually doing, it will benefit both you and your company. If they are open to it, try and share some of your stuff too.

On the flip side insults work in the same way, you might enjoy Professor Douglas Comer‘s essay  ‘How to Criticise Computer Scientists’

Jul 152013
 

So I want to tell you about a chap called Rob Ashton. I don’t know Rob but he appears to be extremely excellent. Having got a bit narked off with his enterprise consultancy gig, Rob decided to toss it all in. Without a firm plan in plan in mind, Rob decided to make an offer to the world – anyone willing to cover his expenses could have Rob come and work for them for free. Initially I think the plan was to stick to Europe but things seem to have got out of hand and Rob got all over the place. You can read about it here.

Rob was very strict on the whole ‘not receiving payment’ thing, noting:-

I was offered pay for a number of roles while I was doing this, and turned it all down because I felt it would sully what I was trying to do. Also – I felt it would muck up the balance where the people I was working for really wanted me to be happy because it was all they were giving me.

And this me thinking, companies want to hire the best people they can. As a means to achieve this some companies come to the startling conclusion that if you want to hire and retain good people you need to be prepared to pay for them.

But this isn’t enough. Staff can only be as effective as the company allows them to be. If the company culture stifles productivity and those same staff, while more productive that others, are still not able to fully deliver.

What’s worse is that the company doesn’t realise this is happening, no company deliberately aims to clamp down on productivity. Things tick on the way they always have done, the star hires perform well relatively speaking, and staff stick around because taking a pay cut is difficult. So the warning signs are less obvious.

An interesting thought experiment would be to ask yourself

What would happen if you staff worked for free, what would you need to change?

Let’s ignore the practical implications of this statement, all I’m saying is, if you take money off the table what would keep your staff wanting to work at your company? This isn’t about extra perks and a ball pool, I’m including all extrinsic motivators. This is about identifying what it is about your organisation that demotivates, and identifying how the organisation could improve intrinsic motivation.

  • How would your approach to flexible working change?
  • How about performance review and professional development?
  • Most importantly, what would be the implications for your org chart?

The answers will highly dependent on context, but if we make the assumption that in many cases the goals of the staff member and company are aligned, then why wouldn’t a company want to act on the conclusions?

I think we are starting to see the results of this already in the form of a shift towards flatter hierarchies, ad-hoc work groups and acknowledgement that people are more important than process. Some companies lead the way such as Valve and Gore but any company could benefit from asking themselves this question.

Jul 072013
 

Darth Who?The value of Annual Reviews is a contentious subject, just ask Microsoft. In my view, so long as they are kept separate from pay reviews and form just a small part of the overall act of providing continuous feedback, I can see some value in them as a means to discuss long term progression.

A few years ago my company re-wrote our review template – I was concerned that my team might not take a great deal of interest in the new form, and heaven forbid, might not even read it before the reviews came about.

I felt that everyone would get more from the process if they had some idea of what to expect and how to use the template, so I filled in the form detailing the annual review that no doubt occurred between Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vadar in the aftermath of the original Stars Wars.

I share it here simply because I wish there was more HR material in the world based on Darth Vadar and Emperor Palpatine.

For those of you who consider the annual review to be an outdated process, bear in mind that this happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Part 1: Overview of Role and Recent Projects

Vadar writes:

During the past six months I have focusing on the construction of the Death Star with a view to using it as a tool to dominate the Galaxy. The project is extremely complex and I worked closely with key stake holders to ensure that the design and subsequent deployment match business goals and directives.

Separately I have been working closely with the Galactic Fleet to isolate the crush what remains of the Rebel Alliance. This has involved detaining and interrogating key figures as well as embarking on an extensive search across the out reaches of the Empire.

Palpatine writes

I concur with Vader’s comments. It’s also worth noting that Vader has been actively recruiting and restructuring the Galatic fleet leadership team.

Part 2: Performance Overview

Objective #1 – Deliver a fully functional Death Star

Vadar writes:

How well did I perform against this objective?

I delivered a fully operational Death Star, which passed all user acceptance tests. It is true that the delivery was delayed and I put this down to the project management techniques employed in the early stages. Towards the end of the project I took a much more hands on role implementing a more iterative and incremental approach to delivery. In doing it was possible to gain rapid feedback and ensure that value to the customer was maximized. Furthermore I made some tough decisions over poor performing members of the management team, introducing them to my ‘claw of death’.

Next Actions

I consider this objective complete, though note that following the destruction of the Death Star, we may need to build a new one.

Palpatine writes:

I agree that a functional Death Star was delivered. I am pleased that I was able to set a vision and direction and that the manifestation of that vision became a reality. I am also very pleased with the aesthetics, it almost looked like a real Moon.

While I was disappointed by the late delivery of the project I am much more concerned how such an obvious vulnerability found its way through the design reviews. I would have expected that this would have been picked up pretty much form the off. I am also deeply concerned by how it became possible for the Rebel Alliance to steal plans for the Death Star such that they were able to exploit the weakness. Furthermore the destruction of the Death Star has damaged our reputation as a Galactic force – how a single manned fighter was able to implode an entire space station is the stuff of science fiction.

Objective #2 – Crush the Rebel Alliance once and for all

Vadar writes

How well did I perform against this objective?

It’s fair to say that the Rebel Alliance cannot be described a ‘crushed’. I am happy with my overall approach, the Empire is very much in control of the Galaxy and the Rebel Alliance have not been able to secure an outpost, meaning that they are forced to move from temporary base to temporary base to evade a the might of the Galactic fleet. I feel strongly that it is only a matter of time before I have them trapped. That said I failed to account for key figures within the alliance, as well over looking a key vulnerability in the Death Star itself.

Next steps

I will embark upon a Galaxy wide search for the relocated rebel base, and continue with the aforementioned crushing

Palpatine writes

I agree that your general approach was thorough and methodical. I would have like to see more outright annihilation of innocent people but overall I am pleased with your execution.

Where I am less pleased is that you failed to adapt your plan to take into account key events, specifically the rebel attack on the Death Star and Luke Sky Walker’s ability to evade attack. It is unclear to me why you were not able to land a direct hit even when pursuing him along a narrow trench and supported by two of the finest pilots in the galactic fleet.

Part 3: Overall Rating

Vadar writes:

3 out of 5 – Effective contributor

Palpatine writes

2 out of 5 – Low Contributor, I feel that your overall performance was not up to the standard that I would expect from a Lord of the Sith.

Part 4: Feedback on Galactic Empire Inc

Vadar writes:

What I enjoy most about working here? I really like the almost unbounded opportunities to inflict misery and despair on pretty much anyone I like.

One thing I would change about Galactic Empires Inc. I think we need to review the weapons issued to our Storm Troopers, they seem faulty and rarely inflict any damage at all.

One thing I would like to see remain at Galactic Empires Inc. I think that our uniforms are pretty much the best in the industry. This is especially true for the Storm Troopers

Part 5: Future Development/Business Goals

Vadar writes

What I do well: Inspire terror in others.

What I want to improve: Despite being a master of the dark side of the force, I am still unable to consistently smite Knights of the Jedi.

How I would like my career to develop over time:Long term I’d like to move into a Supreme Leader of the Universe role

Palpatine responds

I agree with Vader’s comments, in particular I am keen to help him to improve his smiting skills. While I do not see Vader’s wish to move into Supreme Leader of the Universeship as unrealistic, such roles do not come up often.

Part 6 – Objectives

Objective #1: Create a new death star

Next Actions: Review the design docs to remove unlikely failure modes   Time frame for achievement:  This coming October

Objective #2: Crush the rebel alliance

Next Actions:  Discover the location of the rebel base Time frame for achievement: Next April

Palpatine summarises objectives:

Long term, Vader is looking to rule the entire universe, I see building the most devastating weapon ever created and crushing the only viable opposition as key stepping stones towards this goal.

Part 7: Record of discussion arising from the review discussion

Palpatine summarises

During the meeting we discussed my rating of Vader’s performance. While disappointed he understands that the loss of the Death Star played a big part in my overall decision.


Remember kids, appraisals should be:
  • Separate from pay reviews
  • A small part of a wider mechanism to provide staff with continuous
  • A two way street

I thought that 7 Digital had some good things to say on the subject