An Elite Engineer Who Followed His Manager to a New Company
This is a great story and it drives home the principle that one of the greatest professional relationships developed in the IT industry is the one between a Engineering Managers and the software engineers who work for them.
We recently worked with an elite engineer here in Austin. He was at a large company and some organizational disruptions had occurred to where he was offered a position in another department or take a severance package. He chose the severance package. What’s interesting is that his supervisor was also affected a few months before. His engineering manager was given an opportunity to stay on with the company but he realized that there simply weren’t going to be any new and exciting projects in the pipeline. Therefore, he started a job search and landed at a major financial institution here in Austin. I have met this manager before and he’s an incredible person. Brilliant, personable and he has built a career of “taking care of his engineers” by always making sure they work on exciting projects and also ensuring that they grow “the right way” as software developers. Let’s call this manager Nirav. In this new job change, Nirav did tell me that he was going to try to recruit some of his former developers over with him but he also wanted me to speak with his team and see if I could help them. It was a very kind gesture on his behalf and I knew immediately that these were high powered software developers.
In that context, I was introduced to his lead engineer, a 2008 graduate with a Computer Science degree and was actively looking for new opportunities. Let’s call him Michael. We presented some companies to him and he agreed to speak with 2 of our clients. From looking at his resume, you could see just how strong he was but it wasn’t until we got into the interview process with our two clients that you just sat back in awe of his abilities.
Both positions were Principal level but between the two, one was quite impressive. One of our clients had a role open for Chief Cloud Architect. The position would have 40 direct reports and this person would be the technical lead for all of their new Cloud products. It reported to the VP of Engineering in the company and this person would be the Point of Contact for all things Cloud. This firm was a Fortune 1000 firm and was also publicly traded. As great as our candidate was, I honestly didn’t think we had much of a shot because the role was in a major corporation and had a number of professional levels he had not yet reached in his career. However, the role was still a hands on technical position so we went ahead and gave it a shot. Michael breezed through the interview process with this firm and after each and every interview, my client came back with immediate feedback, something to the effect of,
Hey Mark, another big thumbs up on Michael. Can you see when he can be available for next steps?
As high level as this position was, the interview process moved very quickly. Michael did a phone interview, an onsite here in Austin and then a final onsite at the company HQ in San Francisco. All of this took two weeks and by then, my client was ready to make an offer. Our client was basically “crazy” about Michael and they wanted to do anything they could to get him. I applauded their efforts but I knew exactly what we were going up against.
I have said it for years. The strongest recruiting tool in the world is an engineering manager who reaches out to software engineers who used to work for him/her. It really is. The bond that exists between the two is really special and it was no different with Michael and Nirav. In fact, on our very first call, Michael said the following words to me,
Hey Mark, yes, I’d be happy to look at any companies you have but to be clear, I am talking with Nirav at his new company and the opportunity to work with him again would be very appealing. I am doubtful that there is anything in Austin that can compare with the chance to work with him again.
And I never disagreed once with Michael about this. In fact, I echoed his words quite often and I told Michael that I honestly felt interviewing with my two clients was basically just “kicking tires” around town. I just didn’t see it. In fact, as we got closer to the offer stage for this Cloud Architect role, I said these very words to my client,
I can’t thank you enough for continuing to move forward with Michael on this role but my gut is telling me that I don’t think we have much of a chance here. Nirav is just a really special engineering leader and he has put a very attractive opportunity in front of him…
Okay, Let’s Talk About Money
Yes, Michael was an elite engineer and his compensation confirmed that. For a 2008 graduate, he was making a base salary of 160k. Folks, that is high for here in Austin. He was so humble and modest that, after digesting the figure, you realized that he got to this salary level without ever even asking for it. He just coded away and crushed out amazing software. He was offered a position in a new department in his company but, politely, he chose to resign instead and consider outside opportunities.
We got to the offer stage with both of my clients. Briefly, let’s discuss the other offer. It was with a startup and they told me that even though 160k was outside their limits, they offered Michael a lateral and some stock. They arranged 3 separate phone calls with Michael to speak with their CEO, CTO and VP of Product. They gave him the full court press and offered him a chance to be the team lead on their most popular product. Michael was actually very flattered by the offer and told me he was seriously considering them. However, a couple of days later, he declined the offer because Nirav’s offer came in and it was off the charts. Here it is:
Base salary — 200,000
Bonus — Guaranteed 20%
Total comp — 240,000
Title — Senior Software Engineer
I was so happy for Michael and in his voice on the phone, you could just feel how shocked he was at his good fortune to receive something like this. It was interesting because you could also feel his sense of pride. He also felt like he had earned this moment in his career and I confirmed that with him. I was basically ready to go back to my other client and tell them that things were over and if anything, we would start looking for some other candidates. They weren’t ready to give up yet and what they put on the table was quite impressive. I spoke with their internal recruiter and I shared with him Michael’s offer from Nirav. These were his exact words,
Okay, thanks…Yes that’s impressive but we are still going to make an offer and I think we can put something competitive on the table. To begin, I’d like to arrange a phone call with our CTO, simply to finalize our process as well as lay out the position for Michael and let him know what we have in store for him. Can you get some times for Michael and **** to speak?
I got some times and we arranged the call. My client’t CTO told Michael, point blank, that he would be their Cloud leader. He would not only have a team under him but an entire division. This role would grow into a department that would be under his leadership. And he would be reporting to the VP of Engineering. This company had over 1000 employees and their most ambitious and critical new endeavor would be under his leadership.
The call went well and after sleeping on it, Michael told me that he would now consider an offer from them. This was huge because just 2 days before, Michael had told me that he was making plans to formally accept Nirav’s offer and it was just a matter of signing the paperwork. He had talked it over with his wife and emotionally, he was shutting the doors on everything else. But with my client coming in very strong in the final hour, a new twist had been thrown into the story. And with that, Michael was ready to entertain this offer.
It was at this moment where I really appreciated some words from my client’s internal recruiter. He basically broke me out of the fog I was in over Nirav as well. Please realize that along with Michael, I too, was in awe of Nirav. I have met him before and I have walked through offers with him before. He can lead huge teams of software engineers but at the same time, still write amazing software. He is still 100% hands on as a developer and that balance of technical and interpersonal skills is just so special and rare in engineering leaders. So yes, I was a huge cheerleader for Nirav as well.
All this said, my client’s internal recruiter broke me out of this fog. He sent me an email on the day they made their offer to Michael and his bluntness was exactly what I needed. Here is what he had to say,
So, it’s nice that Michael and you think so highly of Nirav. And yes, I guess it’s great that these two get to work together and having never met the guy, I have almost come to know him as well. And he’s obviously this great, great guy. Fine…But you know what? We think we have a better opportunity for Michael and I need you to see our opportunity through our lenses, not Nirav’s okay? Let me break this down for you,
- Title — Our title is Chief Cloud Architect. His other offer is Sr. Software Engineer.
- Team Lead Responsibilities — With us, anywhere from 20–40 engineers he will be leading. With Nirav, no team right now and building out a small team over the next 2–3 years.
- Compensation — His other offer is base of 200k and 20% bonus. We are prepared to offer 220k, 20% bonus and 1000 shares of stock. Vesting 25% each year.
- Intangible — His other offer gives him the chance to work with Nirav again but with us, HE WILL BE OUR NIRAV. DOES THAT MAKE SENSE TO YOU???
I was blown away and for the first time in this entire engagement, I realized that perhaps Michael’s best option wasn’t to go with Nirav. I had to tell Michael this. How about the money my client was prepared to offer? 220k base, another 40k in bonuses and then exercising stock options added another 10k. 270–275k? Leading an entire department, reporting to the VP of Engineering and growing into yourself in the mold of your former mentor, arguably one of the top engineering leaders in Austin? Was Michael making the wrong decision in turning this down?
I called Michael up and he was fully aware of everything. He told me that he was agonizing over this decision and he thanked me profusely for helping him get to this offer. I didn’t know what else to say so I finished off the call with this,
Michael, I respect you greatly and whatever decision you make will be the right one. I do want to say one last thing that perhaps you haven’t thought of. Your relationship with Nirav will never diminish and he’ll always be there for you. He’ll always be there. If you were to turn down his offer, it would still be there for you 6 months from now, 1 year from now, 5 years from now. Nirav will always be there. On the other hand, my client’s offer? It won’t be. If you decline this opportunity now, it will be gone forever. Yes, maybe you get this kind of opportunity again in your future but we don’t know when that will be. With this offer of Chief Cloud Architect, this role is here today but will be gone tomorrow. And again, Nirav will always be there.
Michael called me up the next day in the morning and told me he was going to accept Nirav’s offer. I thanked him again for working with me and when I hung up the phone, I was completely deflated. For a split second, I thought Michael was making the wrong decision. But again, throughout my entire career, the strongest recruiter I have ever experienced in the industry is a successful engineering manager who can pull former engineers who worked for him/her and bring them on to a new company. The transparency, the trust, the collaboration together is something that is priceless. My client and I might disagree with Michael’s final decision but in the end, in his own eyes, he made the right one.
This was truly an amazing recruiting experience and my team and I will just grateful to be part of it.