Why it’s still so hard to find an amazing tech job in 2018

I jumped back into the job market last year thinking I’d have my choice of crazy-great opportunities. Holy crap was I wrong.

I’ve hired hundreds of people in my career, mostly into technology roles from summer intern to CTO, and I’ve done every part of the recruiting process from finding the candidates to setting their starting salary. So this falls on me as much as it falls on anyone else, but it took being on the other side to see the error of my ways.

Nine months ago, I made the decision to step back from the day-to-day operations of the startup I helped found back in 2010. My role there had been a mix of technology, data science, AI, product development, and operations, and I had settled into a Chief Product Officer role as the company went through three rounds of public funding and an exit to a private equity firm in 2015. It was one of the biggest investor wins for our region over the last ten years.

During that seven year run, I also founded another organization that brought together entrepreneurs from all over the region and published stats and stories about those startups. I sold that company to an incubator in 2013 but hung around for another three years.

So I knew everybody, I mean everybody, plus I knew what they were doing and I had a relative notion of how successful they were going to be.

But as I was starting out on this new path, I thought to myself — I don’t want to limit my options to just my own network, so why don’t I take a jump into the job market and see what comes up. You never know. My LinkedIn and GitHub are always up to date because investors, so it wasn’t that hard to flip a few switches and announce my availability to the world. The rest should be cake.

Or so I thought.

What followed was six months of uselessly long applications, broken links, and form letters. I was always more frustrated than disappointed or desperate. At every turn, I found myself grumbling through clenched teeth — “Man, none of this crap works.”

I’m hoping that folks like me who sit on the hiring side of the hiring desk read this and take heed. And now that I’m back full time with an amazing job, which, admittedly, I did not land via the job market, I’m going to do hiring things very differently.

Here’s why:

We’re still doing it the same way online, we’re just making bigger slush piles.

I’m not so naive to believe that when we thought the Internet would change everything that it would be all sunshine and unicorn farts. But it’s been about 20 years now with the Internet as the core of our job search, and LinkedIn still looks like a paper resume.

The nature of the way we work is changing far faster than the way we gate those we choose to work with. With so much technology at our disposal, we’re still counting on what we read off a piece of paper to help us make that initial decision.

And that’s not even the real problem. It doesn’t matter if you submit a GitHub account or a double-spaced hand-typed resume on parchment. It doesn’t matter if you’re responding to open positions on a website or a job search engine or some hybrid like AngelList. It doesn’t matter how much machine learning they’re using to slush out 90% of the resumes they get because technology helped them get so many in the first place.

The real problem is the funnel itself. The best talent doesn’t fall to the bottom, because it never did. We’ve basically tried to fix this by using technology to replicate exactly what we used to do with newspaper classified ads, snail mail, rotary phones, and leather portfolios. We search for candidates the same way, they apply the same way, we evaluate them the same way, we hire them the same way.

We need a way to find and evaluate talent that doesn’t start and result in combing through a huge pile of digital paper.

We’re incentivizing in the wrong places

If you asked me to pick the single-most ill-advised trend in tech hiring, it’s the referral bonus. Hands down. The reason why referral bonuses work is because they lower the error rate on potential hiring disasters. If employee A knows candidate B, there’s a pretty good chance that candidate B isn’t a sociopath. What referral programs don’t do is bring in the best talent.

On top of this, they cause a false gold rush, both within our local competition and among our current employees. As referral bonuses get more competitive, more employees spend more time trying to wrangle their friends to come work with them, regardless of the strength of the relationship or the quality of the candidate.

This can very quickly result in bending or breaking the spirit of the program, with employees actively seeking out “friends” to bring on board and even splitting the bonuses with them if those bonuses are large enough.

But the real problem is that referrals artificially inflate the value of the known quantity. Soon we’re just hiring people we know, regardless of how talented they are, because being a known quantity is more valuable than what that known quantity brings to the organization. That not only creates an echo chamber, it also kills diversity.

We need a system that incentivizes the best talent to take a chance on an organization that they may not have otherwise.

Degrees and certifications can’t keep up, yet we still value them as indicators of potential over diversity of mindset

Speaking of diversity, we’re still putting way too much emphasis on degrees and certifications that can’t keep up with the technologies they purport to certify.

I’ve never understood the concept of certification. Some third-party telling me that someone who has given them a bunch of money and time can do what I need them to do is just… doesn’t that seem like a crime? Is that what racketeering is? Because I’m not as up as I should be on my criminal justice.

What degrees and certifications do is ensure that everyone who holds them learned the same stuff the same way. It creates a template that says “this is what a technologist is supposed to know, say, think, and do.”

We need a system that makes a first cut based on something other than a third-party stamp of approval.

We’re still stuck in the 40-hours, butts-in-seats rut

Understand that if we’re looking for talent that can commute, be in by 9:00, and clock a 40-hour week in a cubicle, we’re going to get crushed. Not coincidentally, this is the root of the entire problem and, admittedly, it’s the hardest one to fix. No one has a solution here, not Apple, not Google, not that new startup that’s offering pet leave or an earn-what-you-need salary program.

I’m kidding about that last one. I think.

We need a better system for what we call a job. No, we need a better system of systems, especially in the tech world. If we’re trying to change the way everyone else works by streamlining and automating and artificially intelligensing it, we at least owe it to those same people to take the lead on how work gets done and how people approach it.

Maybe instead of throwing technology at how to get a job, we should be throwing technology into what we call a job.