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Dave Schappell, Curtis Feeny and Greg Gottesman at the Barokas PR luncheon in downtown Seattle

Call it the Silicon Valley invasion. Facebook, Google, HP, Zynga and Salesforce.com — driven by an insatiable need for talented software engineers — have all established fast-growing engineering centers in the Seattle area in recent years to mine the riches of the Northwest tech community.

But what’s the real reason they are all coming here? Venture capitalist Greg Gottesman and Seattle entrepreneur Dave Schappell, speaking on a panel in Seattle this week hosted by Barokas Public Relations and GeekWire, summarized it in one word: Microsoft.

“They think Microsoft is weak, and they feel that they can steal technical talent,” said Madrona Venture Group’s Gottesman.

But the real fireworks came a few moments later when TeachStreet’s Schappell, not known for being a shrinking violet by any means, offered his take. And it doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the region’s largest tech company.

“September 15th is coming. That’s the big exodus from Microsoft every year. Bonuses are set. Cash is coming,” said Schappell. “And startups and Facebook, Google, Amazon — we are all ready to recruit out of that resigning class. And that’s why (the Silicon Valley companies) are here.”

I also sat on the panel, and so I took the opportunity to ask Schappell whether having the Facebooks and Googles and Zyngas of the world in town made it harder for startups to recruit. (I’ve actually been hearing some wild stories of startups losing top-notch recruits to the big dogs).

Schappell, a former Amazon.com employee, said there’s absolutely no way that startups can compete on salary with the tech juggernauts.

“They are totally insane. They are throwing out $150,000 to $200,000 salaries and $500,000 (restricted stock units) that will vest over three or four years. The only people you are going to attract at a startup are people who want to build something great.

If you want to go work on one element of a shopping cart check-out pipeline, go work for Amazon. If you want your brain to go numb, go work for Microsoft. The way we recruit is not by recruiting the same people, for better or for worse…. I am telling you that’s true, though. Startups do not compete, and we can’t compete hiring those same people.”

Later in the discussion, the topic once again turned to recruiting when an audience member asked whether the new engineering centers in Seattle really attracted the creative people that the region needs.

Voyager's Curtis Feeny and Madrona's Greg Gottesman

Schappell took issue with the premise, noting that software engineers are some of the “smartest and most creative people” around. “It is a different type of creativity, but their work is deep thinking, deep creative work,” he said.

Gottesman agreed, saying that “engineers are the builders of this new economy.”

“If you get a great engineer, they are the most creative people on the planet,” said Gottesman. The key, he said, is making sure that the visionary engineers are properly matched with the visionary business leaders. When that happens, he said great things occur.

Voyager Capital’s Curtis Feeny, who also sat on the panel, said that there are plenty of examples of technology companies crashing and burning because they didn’t assemble the right engineering team. In fact, MySpace eventually lost the social networking war because it couldn’t recruit the smartest engineers.

“It is a well-established startup mantra in the Valley: The world-class engineering teams often win more than anybody else,” said Feeny.

The good thing going for Seattle is that there are plenty of those folks walking around. They might just not being wearing the blue badges of Microsoft anymore.

Photos via Mira Poling at Mirastories.

John Cook is co-founder of GeekWire. Follow on Twitter: @geekwirenews and Facebook.

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