Greenhouse VP of Engineering Decodes Tech Talk in Programming 101

April 21, 2015 at 12:30 PM by Kathleen de Lara


Hiring tech talent is tough enough.

Striking gold means locking down skilled, available people for your engineering roles – a rare, treasured occurence for many hiring teams. To add to the mix, recruiters and engineers have notoriously mingled the same way oil and water does not. Miscommunication. Kitsch outreach. Less than ideal timing. It's a recipe for recruiting disaster. 

One quick fix? Learn how to speak tech talent's language and you'll be a few steps ahead of most recruiters blindly leading the charge.

If you won't take our word, lend an ear to Mike Boufford. As the days count down til we kick off Programming 101 with Greenhouse's VP of Engineering, Mike spills the beans on what ticks off engineers the most – and how to get them on your side. Read on.

Many recruiters think they need to have a technical background – either previously recruiting tech or working in tech – to evaluate tech candidates. How do you respond to this urban legend? What are some tips you have for recruiters wary about dipping their toes in tech hiring for the first time?

I think it's extremely helpful to know a thing or two about tech when recruiting engineers – but it is by no means a prerequisite. Slip-ups like confusing Java and Javascript can often be a real turn off to candidates. Basic technical literacy will help you to build trust when discussing why your company has what candidates want from a team, culture, and work perspective. That's not to say recruiters need to be programmers.

Register for How to Hire an Engineering Team here!

Recruiters aren't usually responsible for the actual "tech out" of a candidate. The main pieces that technical recruiters should focus on learning are the ecosystem of technologies and the unique motivations of engineering candidates. Armed with this knowledge, recruiters can add a ton of value. It doesn't take a decade of programming experience to recruit engineers, but the more recruiters understand the basics, the more in sync they will be with their candidates.

As the first employee of Greenhouse who's now the company's VP of Engineering, you've built the engineering team from the ground up. Could you share some challenges you faced when you first started hiring for the company? How'd you deal with them?

Not having a public-facing website for the first year and a half was pretty tricky. We had already brought on major name-brand customers, but if you went to you were hit with a blank screen. Apparently having a website is pretty important when trying to create the perception that you're a real company. Who would've guessed? ;-)

For the first few hires I had tried lots of cold outreach and job ads, but ultimately, I spent a lot of time working my first-degree network to find the first few engineers. After that, it was a lot of hard work. We had to figure out how to create a reliable interview process, start building a tech brand in NYC, and create a culture and set of practices that made people want to join our team. By far the most important part of our hiring evolution was to become a place that engineers were genuinely excited to work. We're now three years in, have a tech team of 23 engineers and ZERO have left.

What are some books, blogs, or tools you'd recommend to hiring teams who want to improve the way they recruit tech talent?

Most of the content I would recommend is not directly related to recruiting, but rather, provides the fundamental tools to be great at recruiting and team leadership.

What's wrong with tech hiring today? Where's the disconnect between tech talent and recruiters?

I think there is a missing piece around understanding what motivates great tech candidates to change jobs. Hint: It's rarely money or prestige. The number one reason I hear from the people that I want to hire is some version of "I don't feel like I'm learning enough in my current role." When I hear this statement, I know I'm talking to the right type of candidate. They're eager to improve, they want to be challenged, and they want to work hard. They are often the best engineer where they work today, and they want to be surrounded by engineers that they can learn from. We have that in spades, and that's why great candidates turn into great hires at Greenhouse. When speaking with candidates, we need to be careful to understand their motivations before we start the sell. If a recruiter is focused on free lunch Mondays instead of what the candidate really cares about, it can make candidates feel misaligned or misunderstood by the company.

Who should check out Programming 101 and why? "Tech literacy" – what's the big idea?!

Anyone who needs to hire engineers who isn't already a programmer should've already saved their seat! We're going to cover a lot in an action-packed hour: Attendees will learn about the technological ecosystem, the subtle distinctions behind technical job titles, common candidate motivations and how to sell against them, and just about every basic programming concept. Sounds pretty awesome, right?

Programming 101 for Recruiters is on Thursday, April 23 at 10 am PT/1 pm ET. Spaces are going quick – save a spot here!

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