Using LinkedIn to Help Others Find Jobs

I like LinkedIn, I really do. If you can get past the recruiters randomly spamming you (and yes, I know they are LinkedIn’s primary source of revenue), the professional network is quite powerful.

As Gary Vaynerchuk and Liz Ryan say, you don’t have any excuses for not finding the right person to reach out to with your sales pitch or job interest.

But recently I was contacted by a former colleague who noticed that I had “liked” one of my other contacts’ job posting. He asked a few questions, applied and interviewed, and got the job. I love matching people up with jobs, but this was easy.

My plan is to search LinkedIn periodically and “like” all job listings posted by former colleagues or other trusted sources, and hope this experience happens again.


Joining The Food Corridor

After I left 8z, I contracted for about a year and a half. It was great fun, moving between projects, meeting a lot of new developers, and learned a lot of new things. I worked on evaluating software products and processes, supporting machine learning systems, large workflow engines, and, most recently, backend systems to stop distracted driving (they’re hiring, btw).

But I saw an email from Angellist early this year about a company looking to build a marketplace for kitchen space. (Aside: if you are interested in the labor market for startup professions, Angellist emails are great–they not only give you the company name and job description, but also typically include equity and salary–very useful information.) I replied, the conversation started, and I did some research on the company. They were pre-revenue, but the founder had been grinding it out for months and had an extensive background in the industry. Was clear they weren’t a fly by night, “we just had an idea for an app and need someone to build it” operation.

After discussions, interviews and reference checks, it became clear that this was a fantastic opportunity to join an early stage startup as a technical co-founder. So, I’m thrilled to announce that I have joined The Food Corridor as CTO/Co-Founder.

Why does this opportunity excite me so?

  • By increasing visibility and availability of shared kitchen space, it can grow the local food system, especially value add producers, across the country
  • There’s a real need for some innovative software and process solutions that we can solve
  • The founding team has the diverse set of skills needed to run a great company
  • I am looking forward to learning about the business side of a software company
  • It’s right at the intersection of two of my passions–food and technology

If you are interested in following along with the TFC journey, there’s a monthly newsletter that will be focused on shared kitchen topics.

As far as the blog, I expect to be heads down and building product, but will occasionally pop up and post.

Here’s to new adventures!


How to engage with recruiters

recruiter photo

Photo by JimsFlicker

If you are a software engineer or developer right now, you are in demand.  There’s a dearth of software developers, and so you are probably getting calls from recruiters.  This is location dependent–my understanding is that the SF market is white hot, and the market for software developers in Yuma CO is softer.

When I first was approached by a recruiter, I was flattered.  Here was a stranger trying to find me a job.  Quickly I realized that recruiters were not working for me (they get paid to place a candidate, so they are working for the company) and that most recruiters didn’t have a technical background at all.  This made me feel less charitable toward recruiters, and I have found that common amongst developers, especially now that they have so many job options.

Older and wiser, now I have a more balanced approach.  Here’s my tips for dealing with tech recruiters:

  • Communicate what I want.  This means knowing what I want in a new job or contract, which can include availability (both hours and start date), minimum rate, location, work condition (remote), technology, sector.  Tell the recruiter all this up front.  I often state: “hey, at this point in time, I’m rather picky, and I don’t want to waste your time.  Here is what would interest me: …”.  This lets them self select out quickly, before the “get to know you” phone call.  I should probably put this on my Hire Me page, now that I think about it.  Just need to make sure I keep this up to date.
  • Realize I am in in their database forever.  I gave my resume to someone in 2004 who I lived with who worked at a recruiting firm.  I still get calls from that same firm.
  • Make sure I am treated like a professional, and don’t put up with non professional acts.  Do they respond when I ask them to, answer my questions, and treat me with respect.  I actually had to hang up on a recruiter recently who, after I had told her I was busy and couldn’t talk right then, in an email and earlier on the call, continued to ask “just a few questions” about my skill set.  It wasn’t fun, but she was not being respectful of my time.
  • The other side of the coin is that I need to treat them with equal respect. That means being honest with them about needs and skills and responding to emails in a timely, respectful fashion.  It also means if I hear of someone with a needed skillset, doing an intro (wearing my informal recruiter hat).
  • Make the exchange of information a two way street.  Whenever I get contacted by a recruiter, they always want “5-10 minutes to talk to see how I can help you in your career”.  When I get them on the phone, I make sure to ask them questions about the market, other skills they’ve seen in demand, what specific technologies they’ve seen needs for, what kind of companies are hiring.
  • Thank them for supporting various meetups, if they do.  The local Java Users’ Group has pizza and soda provided every month by a recruiting firm.  This actually makes me more likely to respond to recruiters from that firm, because, while it’s not caviar, it’s nice to have dinner paid for.
  • Realize the difference between being sought for who I am (that’s being headhunted, and is reserved for senior folks and niches) and being sought for my skills.  I’ve never been in the position of having a stranger seeking me for who I am (I imagine internet famous folks like Matt Raible probably have), but I have had former co-workers do so.  Incidentally, the former is by far a better way to join an organization.
  • I keep my linked in profile up to date.  This makes it very easy to send recruiters a resume, should they ask for one.
  • I realize the tables may turn.  Right now, and for the near future, development is in great demand.  But I’ve been through one ‘software recession’ and I expect there will be more.  Beyond the basic dignity I ascribe to every human being, recruiters can get me a job.  So, except in the cases where recruiters aren’t respectful, I treat them with respect.
  • I don’t take random recruiter calls or requests on LinkedIn.  LinkedIn emails are different–if a recruiter has paid for a premium account, it’s easy enough to respond with a quick ‘not interested’ if the position isn’t for me.  But if a recruiter is trying to connect on LinkedIn without having met me at all, they are not serious.  If a recruiter is serious about getting in touch with me, I can be found in about a thousand different ways online.  I think recruiters who send LinkedIn requests are lazy and not worth responding to.
  • As above, I respond to recruiter emails, even if is just ‘no thanks’.  Again, basic human dignity.
  • Finally, I’m trying to cultivate a few good recruiters.  Whether these are referrals from a friend, or recruiters that I’ve met at an event, there are a few that stand out.  One recruiter (Dave from Technical Integrity) actually introduced me to a few of his friends so I could ask some exploratory questions about a different sector.  You better believe that I’ll recommend him and think of him when I have friends who are looking for work.  That company focuses on startups and full time employees, so I haven’t had the experience of working for them, but when my needs change, I will certainly see if they are looking.  The idea is to have the relationship last longer than a single contract.

Reviewing my list, I boil it down to:

  • recruiters are human beings, treat them like it
  • they don’t work for you
  • set your expectations and boundaries
  • software development is hot now, but won’t be forever

Any tips you have on engaging with recruiters?


Be an Informal Recruiter

link photo

Photo by elcovs

As I kick start my consulting business, I’m talking to many people–everyone in my network, anyone that I am referred to, and random people from Hacker News.  Employment is far less fungible than other purchases (even housing), so it behooves anyone selling labor to cast a wide net.

These introductions and conversations have not just given me the chance to talk about my skills and knowledge, but also to learn about other needs of the company.  Even if they don’t have need for a senior developer who can talk business and learn new languages, they may have a need for someone else in my network.

I’ve been about to do a few such intros since early August.  It actually is quite fun to do this, and it is good for karma.  It’s also a great way to stand out from the pack–if I an helpful to the organization before I take a job/contract with it, imagine how helpful I will be when I am engaged day to day.

During initial contact with the interesting organization, I talk about my skills and how that might fill the organization’s needs–after all, they are interested in meeting and learning about me.  But I also note any other needs, either via postings on their websites, needs they imply or mention in the conversation, or by simply asking them: “do you have any other needs at this time?  I like to help and would be happy to ping my network”.  I take notes.

Once I know some needs, I consider who in my network might help fulfill them.  Then I reach out to the members of my network and see if they can help. Typically, I send an email with the details of the need, and ask if they know anyone who might be a fit for the company.  Network members don’t have to be looking to make a move.  They will probably know of folks who can be a good fit.  For example, a marketing will typically know far more marketers than I will.  Therefore, if an organization I am interested in helping needs a marketing assistant, reaching out to marketers in my network and asking if they know anyone looking will be helpful. This interaction is useful to my network contacts–it lets them reach out to their network, opens a conversation with me, informs them of labor market conditions with minimal work on their part, and could end up in a new job if the fit is right.

This technique also lets me have a soft touch point with the prospect in a week or so.  I say something like “I reached out to my network about the position X you posted, and haven’t heard back from anyone, just wanted to let you know.”

If I don’t have a specific person who could help fill this role (either themselves or via their contacts), there are other ways to add value.  I’ve passed on recruiting tips (or interested tech articles), helpful employment sites, or general labor market advice such as “based on what I’ve seen, you might to have a hard time finding someone expert in tech X for pay Y”, or “in my experience, rates for tech X are $Y/hour”.  All of these add value to the interaction at very little cost to me.

Connecting people with openings is great for hiring managers on the other side of the hiring/contracting process.  If I am casting a wide net looking for contracts, I have recent data as well as a network and perspective worth sharing.  Since this is low cost to me and has benefits for me, the organization I am interacting with and members of my network, it is worth the extra effort to be mindful of needs and to send that intro email.


Build your capital

I was working on a post about how important it is to have a side project, but then read this post by patio11: “Don’t End the Week with Nothing”, which could be more accurately titled “Don’t End the Week with Nothing except your Paycheck”. Not that there is anything wrong with just having a paycheck, but Patrick’s point is that when you work on something you own, rather than something you are paid for, you can (in the right circumstances, with hard work and luck) get accumulating returns.

He did such a good job explaining how to move your career forward as a software developer (a superset of the topic I was covering with my “have a side project” post), that I wanted to call your attention to it. The whole article is worth reading, but here’s my favorite part:

Telling people you can do great work is easy: any idiot can do it, and many idiots do. Having people tell people you do great work is an improvement. It suffers because measuring individual productivity on a team effort is famously difficult, and people often have no particular reason to trust the representations of the people doing the endorsements.

This is one of the reasons I blog, it’s why I have spoken at several user’s groups, it is why I wrote a book, and it is why I have a side project.


A respectful hiring process

I have been on both sides of the hiring equation.  I’ve been the one dressing up slightly nicer than usual, google mapping directions to a strange place, and nervously arriving ten minutes early. I’ve also been the one doing phone screens, trying to fit interviewing into a packed schedule, providing resumes to other team members for review, and making the call on which of two candidates would serve my organization better. (Thankfully, I haven’t had to fire anyone yet.)

Hiring is not easy, for either party. That’s why I think a respectful hiring process is so important. What are key components of such a process?

From the employers perspective:

  • Be honest. Be as clear as you can about the job and the expectations around the job. Comp is hard to be totally clear about because there’s always a dance around this, but levels of comp can be pretty clearly stated in the job req (entry/junior/mid/senior)–which means you have to do the research for appropriate comp levels to fit your budget.
  • Have compassion. Remember what it is like to be on the other side of that call or table.
  • Keep track of all your applicants in a database (even just a issue tracker). This will allow you to make sure you don’t lose track of anyone (or their documents) and know where everyone is in the process. As a plus, I’ve also mined this database when other openings come up.
  • Set deadlines for yourself, and tell applicants about them. Far too often, once the process starts, communication comes it fits and starts. Setting deadlines forces you to communicate at expected times (even if the communication is just ‘we have to move the previously stated deadlines’, it is still welcome).
  • When an applicant isn’t a good fit (for whatever reason), or the position goes away, tell the applicant as soon as possible.

From the applicant’s perspective:

  • Only apply for jobs that you fit the requirements for, or at least most of them. Applications that clearly meet only one or none of the requirements are a waste of everyone’s time.
  • Be honest.
  • In an interview, when you don’t know, say you don’t know, but also say how you’d try to figure it out.
  • Realize that this isn’t just an interview, it’s a chance to make a connection. I’ve connected people who didn’t quite fit my requirements with other employers, and asked people I’ve interviewed with for technical advice. Treat the interview process as one stroke in a broader picture, rather than a test to be passed.

I’m sure I missed something–any other suggestions to make the hiring process more humane?


Hiring Tips

I’ve only hired a few times, but I just wanted to jot some notes about what worked for me in this process.

  • Use a bug tracker or issue tracker to keep track of resumes, emails and interactions
  • Respond to every person – there were some outsourcing firms that I didn’t respond to, but every other person got a response from me
  • Use Craigslist.
  • Use an email alias on your Craigslist post
  • Use other mailing lists (rmiug-jobs, cu cs jobs, even local neighborhood lists)
  • Ask your networks for candidates, but don’t expect too much of them
  • Pre-screen with a set of email questions if possible.  Don’t ask candidates to do too much, but asking them to do some work will allow some to self select out
  • When doing an interview, set the candidate up to succeed, by telling them what you are planning to ask them to do
  • Set deadlines for yourself, and share them with the candidates
  • Follow up with every candidate when you make a decision – I don’t think that it is fair to do otherwise
  • If you can point job seekers at another position, do so.  I recently did this with a QA position – in my search, I discovered another firm that was looking to hire, so I pointed all the candidates that didn’t work for us to that firms job posting
  • The web is full of sample job interview questions – use them!

 


Help A Reporter Out

This site, Help A Reporter Out/HARO, is a great resource for anyone with expertise in any field who wants to be better known. (It’s also a resource for journalists, but I don’t have any experience with that side of the site.)

To participate as a source, you sign up and then are sent three emails every work day. Every email consists of 35-50 reporter queries, grouped by area (‘Travel’, ‘Tech’, ‘Education’, etc). Included in each query is the deadline, name of the reporter (if provided), anonymized reporter email address, and media outlet. There’s also some advertising, but I tend to skip past that (although I did click once on an ad that led me to learn about Google Apps Scripting).

Once you get the email, you scan the queries and see if you can and want to respond to any. I recently responded to one, but before that I’d passed off a number of requests for information to other people. Such handoffs are a great way to help other people out, and it’s kinda fun–who doesn’t want to talk to a reporter? (Psst, if you’re looking for a job, sending over a reporter query related to a company’s business is a great way to build rapport with people there.)

As I said above, a few days ago I’d finally found a query I felt I could help with, and responded with an email answering the reporter’s questions. The reporter responded, and I ended up have a 10 minute phone call about the story. So even when you actually participate, it’s pretty low impact.

I will say the hardest part of participating in HARO for me is scanning the emails–scanning 150 queries a day wears me down. I’ve stopped scanning them all, but still check from time to time.

I just think this is the coolest example of something that the internet allows, but couldn’t happen (at scale) any other way. The costs, both in money and time, of sending out and responding to reporter’s queries would be just too high.


Why the reverse brain drain?

Via a retweet from Brad Feld, I saw this article.

This is confusing to me.  There is no hard data, but I’d like to explore why are people leaving the US to start companies back in the homeland.

Is it because of:

  1. visa issues
  2. the cost to build a company
  3. the economic opportunity in their home country

If it is the first one, I’m in favor of reform, though I think there are a number of ways to encourage founders to stay, and tying their visa to VC funding, like the startup visa does, doesn’t seem like an optimal strategy.

If it is the second, then we need a cost benefits analysis.  Making it easier to start companies is not an unalloyed good.  For example, I wouldn’t want it to be easier to start a company that made cancer causing products.  It’s harder to start a company in the US because we as a society have made choices that impose costs on companies.  Ask the Chinese how it is to have ineffective regulation.  On the other hand, as outlined in comments here, lowering risk for entrepeneurs (lack of health insurance!) could really lower costs for starting a company.

If it is the last, then, good luck to them.  Who can argue with the fact that Indian engineers are cheaper or that “there are no mature companies, like Google and Microsoft” in these countries?


Musings on php development as a career path

I was at a TedXBoulder preparty last night.  Ran into some really interesting folks–the usual tech folks, but also Charles, a high flying audio engineer (we’re talking Wembley stadium), Emily, a money manager bizdev lady ($30 million, minimum, please) and Donna, an engineer on leave from a big aerospace firm who is interested in entrepreneurialism.  Really looking forward to the talks on Saturday (tickets apparently still available).  I also ran into an old friend, roommate and colleague.

We chatted about a wide variety of topics, but one stuck out in my mind.  His brother is getting back into software development, and is starting out doing a lot of php.  Fair enough–it’s a great language, I’ve done a fair bit of it, and one can write good, maintainable, fase code with it.  But last night, we agreed that if you don’t want to be competing against, how do I say this politely, the lowest common denominator, it is wise to develop your software dev skills elsewhere, into one of three paths.  I thought it’d make a good blog post.  As I see it, the three options are

  • a compiled language–C#, Java, c, erlang: these tend to be used by large companies
  • a sexy dynamic language–Ruby, javascript (especially server side), groovy, python, clojure, lisp: my feeling is that these are more used by startups
  • particular packages in php–magento, drupal: these are often more configuration than coding, but can be customized to produce astonishingly powerful applications

The end goal, to be clear, is not to avoid php, but just to avoid competing against developers who are likely to undercut you.  For example, I knew of someone, in the US, who was doing contract php work for $18/hr a few years ago.  I just don’t think that’s someone with whom you want to be competing for business (I certainly don’t!).  Following one of the above career development paths will help you avoid that.  I personally have followed the first and third paths, with some dabbling in the second.



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