Is Money Everything? Behind the Scenes of Tech Hiring


Have you tried to hire a software developer recently? The current job market is bananas! It’s crazy in Boston. New York City is booming with tech startups. In Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, the cost of living is exploding as salaries in the tech sector grow. It’s getting more expensive every year to hire good talent, which reminded me of an argument I had once with a former boss that went a little something like this:

Executive: People work for us because of one thing: money.

Me: People get a job because they need money. They work for us because they want to.

So, how do you get someone to want to work for you? Sure, some companies are offering six-figure starting salaries, catered meals, game rooms, and personal trainers on site. I’m not suggesting that employees don’t think about their paycheck or appreciate the perks, but those are often hygiene factors. There is a lot more to hiring and retaining talent than free massages. It all depends on the person you’re trying to engage and motivate.

The following four areas are key when it comes to making your company stand out in the competitive tech hiring market:

  • Culture – There is no right or wrong culture, but it can be an important differentiator in the hiring process. Candidates are going to evaluate your culture just as much as future responsibilities, so it’s in your best interest to talk about culture openly. Before DataXu, I worked for a few years at a suit-and-tie software company that kept strict 9-to-5 hours. Punctuality and presentation were a big part of their culture, and a lot of developers bristled at what seemed to them to be an arbitrary dress code. This company had an incredibly social culture that headed to the bar on Friday nights, made a huge spectacle out of Halloween, and generally had a lot of fun. When people pushed back on what they perceived as “stuffy structure,” I would respond with stories about all the good social aspects of the culture. Like I said, there is no right or wrong culture. You just need to be honest about your company’s culture, and accurately describe what will make it appealing to candidates.
  • Sense of purpose – Few people want to be a cog in a machine. They want to know that they’ll be doing something that matters. Steve Jobs famously asked John Sculley of Pepsi Co., “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?” Not every company can change the world, but sometimes all it takes to create a sense of purpose is understanding how your everyday work ties into the bigger picture. Help candidates understand how their role relates to the overall strategy and direction of the company. I promise, they will be substantially more engaged if you do so.
  • Challenge – People want to be challenged. One of my best friends was an independent software contractor who’d been working on a sweet gig with the same client for three years. At the time, he worked 20 hours a week, golfed five or six times a month, and had plenty of money to travel whenever he wanted. He was a very smart guy. Shortly after I joined DataXu, I tried to recruit him to join our team. I offered to buy him lunch and introduce him to some of our developers; he politely declined. I tried plying him with stories about how cool our culture was; he was not interested. I “accidentally” forgot something in the office and dragged him with me to pick it up so that I could show off our game rooms, kitchens, and fancy coffee machines. He wasn’t impressed. Finally, one night over a beer, I asked him, “Does your work challenge you?” He didn’t have a good answer. Three days later he e-mailed me and took me up on that lunch. When he met the people on our team, saw the caliber of our developers and learned about some of the challenging problems they were solving, he asked if we had any openings.
  • Growth and opportunity – The job or role you have open today is not the end of the line for your candidate. I’ve talked with hiring managers who only want someone to come in and solve the problem that they’re having today. When you ask where this role will go in the future or how it grows with the company, they look at you with a blank face. A job is just one chapter of a lifelong career. When you bring candidates in, make sure you understand and explain the different directions they will be able to take their careers in your organization.

Money and perks are still important factors, of course. Everyone needs a paycheck and everyone wants to get paid well for what they do. However, when you’re competing for top talent in a tough market, remember that money and perks are not the only ways in which you can differentiate your company, your team, and yourself as a manager.

Kevin Fennelly is Senior Manager of Application Engineering at Boston-based DataXu. Follow @DataXu

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