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You’ve heard the stories of the tight labor market, and read about some of the unusual gimmicks (and even cash bounties) companies have rolled out to attract top engineers and developers. Heck, it’s so tough to find good engineers these days that President Barack Obama even cited the labor crunch in science and technology during his State of the Union Address last week.

With that in mind, I cruised over to Seattle’s Get a Real Job Fair Monday night for a dose of reality on what it’s really like on the front lines of the talent wars. With glasses of wine clanking (the event was held at Wine World), about a dozen startup companies pitched their wares to a room full of geeks.

Some of the entrepreneurs touted the ability to work on cutting-edge technical problems, while others talked about culture and fun work environments. Many noted the rewards of working at a startup, including Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman whose opening talk very much hit on that theme. (We’ll have more on his remarks in a follow-up post).

I spent a good portion of the evening interviewing many of the presenters, asking them the same two questions: “What’s the biggest challenge you face right now in hiring?” and “What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to recruit technical talent?”

Symform co-founder Bassam Tabarra

No one really had any bizarre, over-the-top recruiting stories to share, so here are the answers to my first question on the challenges they face in recruiting:

“We are an infrastructure company, and we are working on storage and distributed algorithms. Finding folks that can get excited about this problem outside of the Amazons and the Microsofts and the others. It is recruiting out of a very small talent pool. That’s the biggest challenge. You have to find the right profile. You have to find someone who is excited about revolutionizing online storage … but also at the same time someone who is willing to join a startup and have the entrepreneurial spirit to take a bet on the company. That combination is hard to find.” —Bassam Tabarra, co-founder and CTO at Symform.

“The most difficult thing is obviously just finding qualified candidates. We have five open positions right now that we are just looking to hire immediately, and we can’t hire them quick enough. That’s the biggest challenge…. Good talent is in high demand.” —Damon Cortesi, co-founder and CTO at Simply Measured.

Kate Leroux

“Our greatest challenge is actually for a position we are not advertising tonight, which is a CEO position. It is difficult to hire your own boss and we are taking it really slow, and we really need to make sure it is a good fit. That is quite a challenge…. Developers are hard (to find), but we are in a good community for them, so we just need to keep talking to people.”” —Kate Leroux, operations manager at Urbanspoon.

“It is just that we have a very high bar for what we are hiring for. We also have some real specific skill sets, especially in analytics and big data and understanding the scale of what real-time bidding is.” —David Snelling, vice president of technology at AdReady.

Leo Shklovskii of EnergySavvy

“It is a really tough market out there, and there are a ton of companies that are looking for people. Everything from startups to big companies, everyone wants to find engineers, and wants to find developers. So, it is a challenge for us, as it is for everyone. It takes a certain amount of craziness to come work for a startup, right? You can go to Microsoft, you can go to Google. But it is a very different experience coming to a place that is as small as EnergySavvy, so the people who are interested in that are going to be interested in startups that are similar-sized.” —Leo Shklovskii, co-founder and CTO of EnergySavvy.

“The challenge for talent really revolves around all of the gimmicks that everyone else is playing, so we are trying to be this down-to-Earth, fun place to work. We are really about family. We want to find people that fit the culture, who are willing to have fun and willing to work hard and are smart and interested in what we are doing. I think a lot of people get swayed away by gimmicks and options, and thinking: ‘Oh, it is going to be great to work here’ and not understanding the full scope of the environment they are looking at. We are hiring in job categories that are coveted, regardless of where you are in the U.S., let alone Seattle. And there’s not a lot of people there.” —Jesse Proudman, founder of Blue Box Group.

David Naffziger of BrandVerity

“The biggest challenge for us is finding … senior developers who are willing to make the leap and contribute to a startup. Finding the person who is willing to take that risk is hard…. The Googles and Zyngas and Facebooks of the world are doing a good job of making compelling pitches to senior developers. You can offer compensation equivalent, but you can’t really offer the benefits and the unknown potential that comes with that. ” —Dave Naffziger, founder and CEO of BrandVerity.

“The hardest thing is finding people who are a home run, who are really, really smart, really great communicators and people who are a good culture fit and have the right values. Those are the three things I always look for. And, it is so often that we get one or two of the three, and it is really hard to get three of the three. And we just aren’t willing to compromise on that.”–Sasha Aickin, CTO of Redfin.

[Editor’s note: GeekWire served as a media partner of the Get a Real Job Fair, and Blue Box Group is a GeekWire partner].

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