John Marcus has been doing tech recruiting longer than many web companies have been around — 15 years, all in Silicon Valley and San Francisco — and still says the most interesting and challenging searches are similar to detective work.
Software engineers, he told me, are hard to find.
“They like to hide,” he says. “Marketing people, sales people, product people network. Engineers are often too shy to give out contact information, either to themselves or to anyone else.
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Marcus and I are having a hearty conversation at a German brewpub in a cluster of skyscrapers in San Francisco’s Financial District about one of the biggest myths in the tech industry – that good engineers are nearly impossible to find. It’s not the most appropriate meeting place – I don’t drink and Marcus doesn’t mix alcohol with business. But while I’m nursing a half-rancid alcohol-free beer, Marcus explains things I want to know about startup culture and why hiring at tech startups is so inefficient.
“It’s the fear of the unknown,” he says. “Everyone is afraid of hiring the wrong person, and if they believed they knew how to ask the right questions, everyone wouldn’t complain so much about recruiting.”
But instead of asking the right questions and hiring a qualified candidate, he said, startup founders choose a candidate based on a personal opinion or an impressive company name on a resume, often outside of the first description they write, and often regret. Decision in the long run.
Marcus pauses frequently, interrupting a thorough explanation of the work he truly loves to express doubt about how potential clients might interpret his words. He’s been doing this since the height of the (early 1990s) dotcom boom. All kinds of companies have come and gone, won and lost. He has interviewed Ivy Leaguers and dropouts; As a result, he helped shape countless “A teams” and all kinds of teams, then watched those teams succeed or fail. If anyone in this town knows where he stands or what a pedigree or a candidate is worth, it’s him.
And the truth of the past decade is that our insecurities are getting the better of us. “Overall, the biggest problem is fear,” he says. “Companies raise their standards too high to deal with their fears and reject people who are good at their jobs.
“Everybody wants the next Steve Wozniak to walk through the door, but really, they have to ask to see if they can do the job. … They want their entire staff to be engineering geniuses, and you don’t need your entire staff to be engineering geniuses. You need the brightest people who know what they’re doing and then can do the job.” Don’t deny it people.
So the Great Engineer Hunger of 2012 – what is it, a total myth?
“Oh, as the tech industry expands, there’s definitely a shortage of people,” Marcus said. “The economy is expanding here, and they need more engineers. You need lots and lots of people to code all these things.
But again and again, he pointed out, there are qualified engineers, and they’re being shut out of companies because of the cultural stigma of what sociologists call “the other.”
Marcus is from New Jersey. He says his East Coast heritage gives him an edge that’s uncomfortable for some West Coast types, and after telling me frankly, he’s worried his preaching won’t go down well with potential clients.
I find his candor refreshing. The startup community can be a very “pretty-nice” place to live. But painful truths are always more profitable to hear in the long run than insincere words.
The first computer that John Marcus got his hands on was a mainframe. In high school, he said, “We learned how to code BASIC on a punched computer. There was a huge ATA&T operation in Berkeley Heights; They taught C programming.
After school, Marcus went into sales. Then the Internet happened, and everything began to change. In the year In the late 1990s, Marcus was living in San Francisco, comfortably connected to the tech world. He didn’t move here for the technology (“I wanted to live in a city where I didn’t need a car and it didn’t snow,” he tells me, “and this is the only city in America that can pull that off”), but he stayed for it. After two years of life in San Francisco, he began working with startups.
“I like the proliferation of technology that I see,” he said. “I met a lot of people during the dotcom boom, and I started recruiting finance and accounting people in the tech industry. … Everybody wanted a supervisor who was the director of finance. It seems like every other dotcom company needs someone to manage their finances.
Marcus went into the deep end of recruiting and had no formal training there. He briefly considered working at a recruitment agency, but realized that he would be responsible for booking all of his clients and finding candidates. “I can do it myself without spending half my money,” he decided.
For starters, by learning how to find and hire tech people, Marcus found a job that required a lot of movement and involvement. Each search was like a hunting trip.
“I’ve always loved detective work,” he said in an interview. “I think creatively, and I’m not afraid to pick up the phone and network. I have never used Monster to get a resume. I used to read what was in the news and call companies – and I still do when I see companies that are getting funding. Sure, every fan will hate me for this, but most recruiters don’t.
The great secret and core principle of recruiting, according to Marcus, is at once simple and impossible: find the best candidate. An unknown “better candidate” can come from anywhere. She can linger at the bottom of the Craigslist feed; He may be at a networking event. A person can reply to an ad. The only predictable part is that you can’t predict where the best candidate will come from at this point.
“Sometimes it takes months to find the right person for the job,” says Marcus. And while he hints that he has a few secret resources up his sleeve, he tells me that signing up for a standing board subscription isn’t easy.
As the world moved onto the web, she left it. The dotcom bust, Marcus told me, pretty much destroyed the recruiting business he had built.
“He killed him,” he said suddenly. “I worked with startups, and they were all out of business.” But like many other survivors of the fall, Marcus was in.
“I save when I prepare money. This is all a blur; You do what you have to do. I realized that most of my friends are not real friends.”
Then in the year In 2002, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, known as the Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act or the Corporate and Audit Accountability and Responsibility Act, mandated new accounting procedures for publicly traded companies. Suddenly, every accountant in town had a job, and startups couldn’t compete.
Marcus focused his practice on sales and marketing personnel. In the downturn, sales and marketing means more than ever for leaner companies that need to make money – real money from real customers – or at least prove they can afford to do so.
In the year In 2005, Marcus refocused, this time on the most enigmatic of all startup job descriptions: the engineer. For an employer, and especially in today’s competitive hiring environment, hiring engineers is something of a Hemingway-esque struggle. The old man and the sea: Very few very large fish and a whole bunch of sharks surround you to spend the day out of your boat.
“Recruiting is really psychological,” he says. “The people who run the companies are good at product, good at coding, good at organizing business, but recruiting is a lot of psychology. It’s balancing fears.”
Marcus understands those fears better than most, because he’s also been in a hiring manager’s shoes.
“I tried to start a business once, a social music business, and I didn’t code,” he says. “It made me see the other side of the story. The people I talked to, I didn’t believe them. Someone said he wanted 70 percent of the company. It was interesting to see it from the other side of the fence. You never really know until you get there.
So Marcus now has to take the same fear and insecurity from a founder and balance it with opportunity and reality. One founder, he says, refuses to consider candidates who don’t have degrees from Ivy League schools.
“He rejected all who came to him. We should have told him: ‘You are going too far. Shakespeare and Galileo didn’t go to Ivy League schools,’ Marcus said.
Another story he told revolved around a founder who was obsessed with the idea of high moral character in his candidates. “[He] Even back to high school, he asks them about their personal lives. A candidate once called me after their interview crying because of this. … She told me she was kidnapped in high school and his question brought back all those memories. I talked her out of suing the company.”
The founder wanted reassurance that his company was doing well, that it wasn’t going to be let down by the employee. But no matter what questions you ask or how far back you dig, Marcus says there’s no proof of that.
“There’s always risk, and if it’s your company, ultimately you have to make decisions. Maybe they don’t trust themselves.
Our conversation turns to “culture,” one of the sacred dogmas of most novices I meet these days. As I observe, culture is often used as an excuse for overwork, table drinking, inappropriate fraternization, and other offensive and unhealthy office behaviors. I suspect out loud that culture can be used as a convenient excuse for certain hiring practices.
“So many startups treat their business like fruit,” says Marcus, “of course, someone has spent a lot of money, and the founders have spent a lot of time, and they are there to make money on the product. “
And when your only goal is to make money, you stop worrying about things like age, race, or gender. Technology becomes a meritocracy. In theory, at least. With Marcus’s own extensive experience, even when approached with highly qualified candidates, founders still look for familiarity, perhaps out of fear or intimidation. “They want to find someone who fits them,” he said.
“It’s very complicated. The VCs are throwing money at people in their early and mid-20s who like to hire people, so for diversity to work, you have to have people in other groups create their own businesses. Easier said than done.”
Countless groups and corporations and funds and individuals are currently working to correct one of Silicon Valley’s biggest problems — especially when it comes to sex. Not a day goes by that we don’t hear about some new initiative to find and help more women entrepreneurs or engineers or investors. But institutional discrimination persists.
“I’m sure it’s going to happen in the world,” Marcus resigns himself to playing his part in the play, but it’s clear he’s not satisfied with the plot. “It doesn’t always happen, but with some people.” “A lot of people are afraid,” he said, especially after discussing the topic of couples, especially when it comes to the obvious issue of aging. [filing a lawsuit or discussing the issue] Because Silicon Valley is small.
I ask him, who loses in the long run – the wrongly overlooked candidate or the company that still can’t find a good engineer?
“They both do.”
John Marcus is currently looking for a long-term contract client or in-house recruiting position.
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