Six destructive myths about hiring software engineers

Finding great engineers is possible, but you may need to question some of your assumptions

When I joined Course Hero in March, our CEO, Andrew Grauer, explained that my top priority was hiring, followed closely by hiring. We agreed that finding one good software engineer every two months was a realistic goal (for a startup of under 50 people), and one per month would be fantastic.

Four months later, we’ve already hired five engineers, and are actively looking for more. How have we been so successful?

The fact is, we’re not doing anything super-secret or revolutionary, which is why I think it’s fine to share some tips on how others can succeed as well. There are actually lots of good engineers out there, ready to join up and help you grow, if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and do what it takes to find them.

Partially inspired by this widely-read post on the “Mirrortocracy” of Silicon Valley, I think one way to break this down is by attacking some of the destructive conventional wisdom that exists today.

Ok, here we go!

Myth #1: You need to find more candidates

Almost everyone has the same idea about how to solve hiring: Find more candidates. Here’s my response:

Finding more highly-qualified candidates is actually the hardest possible way to solve your hiring problem.

Of course it’s possible, but you should look for some easier and more cost-effective alternatives as well. Read on.

Myth #2: Dealing with visas is too hard

If you’re afraid of the visa sponsorship process because it’s too hard or expensive, then, frankly, your hiring efforts have very little chance of success. Look, hiring is hard, and it’s a lot of work.

Hire an immigration attorney. The fees associated with sponsoring a green card or H-1B application are steep, but still less than the average contingent recruiter bonus. It’s a lot of work to sponsor someone for a visa, but you can learn the process or hire someone to help.

Myth #3: Strong algorithm knowledge trumps everything

I recently polled our engineering team about what was most important to them in a prospective candidate. The list was long and interesting. Here’s a summary:

  • They have something to teach me, such as new skills, techniques, or conventions.
  • They love programming and technology.
  • Pleasant to be around—they take feedback well, collaborate with others, know when to ask for help, are open to learning new things and ways to work, and have multiple interests.
  • Pride in their work—they have an attention to detail, aim to make a great product, and emphasize code readability and reuse.
  • Thinking entrepreneurially—they think about how to improve all aspects of our product and company, and are proactive about problem solving.

Notice anything missing? How about “they can implement merge sort”?

Clearly, there’s a minimum set of technical skills we require, in order to trust someone to add to our codebase safely and without creating mountains of future problems, but perhaps we’re overweighting the important of those skills, in the grand scheme of things? Which is related to…

Myth #4: You need to find people with experience

Some experience, yes, but probably not as much as you think.

If you find yourself rejecting candidates primarily because they need more experience, consider making an investment in providing that experience yourself. Instead of looking to find people who can be productive from day one, figure out how to invest more in training. Develop an onboarding program, institute pair programming, put some slack into the product timeline—there are many options.

Myth #5: Recruiters are slimy and should be avoided

Like any field, technical recruiting is full of a variety of people. They’re not all the same.

If you’re working with a bad recruiter—one who is wasting your time or doesn’t have your best interests at heart—you haven’t put enough effort into finding a good one.

Myth #6: You need to find someone local

Here’s where our five most recent hires were found: Texas, Pittsburgh, Ontario, Utah, and Southern California.

There are lots of people, living elsewhere, looking for the right time or opportunity to see what life in the Bay Area is all about. Find them and help make that happen.

Like visa sponsorship, relocating someone isn’t cheap, but it’s still less than a recruiting bonus, or lots of other things you might try.

Hopefully this helps you rethink some of your approach to recruiting and hiring software engineers in the Bay Area.

If any of these ideas sound too difficult or expensive, then you might as well give up right now, as you have no chance. I would never suggest that there’s an easy solution, but simply that some do exist. It’s a grind, and you’re playing to maximize your chances of success.

Good luck!