I Rest My Case, This is War

6/16 UPDATE:  Here’s a really informative graphic as to what’s happening in the U.S. related to skilled workforce requirements.  The most compelling points?  1) By 2015, 60% of the new jobs will require skills possessed by only 20% of the population, and 2) In 1991, by contrast, less than half of the jobs in the U.S. required skilled workers.

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One of my recent posts discussed the war for engineering/developer talent, particularly in the Bay Area.  It’s getting worse and I just don’t see how it is sustainable.  Here are some recent additional data points related to the overwhelming demand for engineering talent:

  • A recent Techcrunch article discussed some analysis by TopProspect, an emerging online recruiting destination, that shows analytically who is winning among the top technology companies – Facebook, Google, Twitter, Zynga and others.
  • Check out this blog post by Gordon Hempton on “What It’s Like to Be Recruited“.  It details Gordon’s experience of posting his resume and subsequently receiving 266 emails and 96 voice mails from companies and recruiters, most of whom ignored his very specific job request for mobile development and instead were recruiting him for a broad range of development positions and platforms.

What is clear from this and other analysis is that we are in a zero sum game right now.  Meaning, there are simply not enough quality engineers entering the market to come close to the demand, there’s a nearly fixed pool of talent trying to supply both incredible existing company growth and the startup ecosystem.  The result is an all out war, including underhanded PR stunts, espionage and poaching that results in some companies winning (Facebook, Zynga, LinkedIn and Groupon) and others losing (Google, Microsoft, EBay and Yahoo) in talent acquisition.

I’ll refrain from calling this a talent bubble, as I hate the term bubble for what’s happening in tech right now – it brings back too many bad memories from 1999/2000 when this term was coined and was far more appropriate.  Because I went through the original bubble, I know what is happening now is vastly different.  We are investing in real companies now.  Sure, valuations are high, but newly funded businesses for the most part have real products and customer traction which was not the case a decade ago.

However, much of the talent population, engineers in particular, are too young to have been through the 1999 bubble, so I worry about soaring egos, mercenary behavior and lack of perspective which defined attitudes in 1999.  Engineers were hiring their own agents back then.  Put yourself in their shoes.  Young guns getting constant calls from recruiters, offers to leave their current positions for 25+% compensation and perk increases, which they can repeat from employer to employer.  Tempting, right?

I gotta believe that the demand/supply equation will balance itself, it always does.  But how long will it take?  To the engineers I say good for you, take advantage of the opportunity while it exists, but be careful.  Things have a way of coming back to center.  Put value in building great product, team loyalty and product ownership in addition to your career path and compensation.  See your work through.

Fortunately, this is exactly what I’m seeing at least in the engineers I’ve had the pleasure of working with.  Motivations seem much broader today than they were 10 years ago and attitudes and perspectives towards what is happening in the talent marketplace seem much more balanced, which is refreshing.

Why is this?  I think its because the role of the engineer has changed from pure coding and taking orders from business folks to now having a deeper role in product development and far more empowerment around solving technical problems.  With the proliferation of technology platforms and languages, there are many ways to solve complex technical challenges and the engineers are leading these efforts, they are closest to the product and thus enjoy increasing levels of autonomy in their work.

It’s a great time to be an engineer!  And a frustrating time being a company trying to find the best ones.

Engineer = Rock Star

It’s good to be a developer in this job market.  Really good.  And not just in Silicon Valley, although SV really is the center of the universe for mobile and web technology.

At TrueCar, we’ve been really aggressive with hiring for both our LA and SF offices, including offering relocation packages from anywhere in the U.S., even for junior engineers.  We’re selling our story hard.  Here’s what we’ve been up against over the past year:

  • Google recently gave every employee across-the-board 10% raises – up from already strong compensation.
  • Large Silicon Valley companies like Google and Facebook are actually acquiring small startups, in some cases only a few months old, to gain access to the development team.
  • Poaching talent from competitors has become a fine art, escalating signing bonuses to extreme amounts for top talent.  As incredulous as a $500K retention bonus sounds, the economics of that decision for a company like Google makes perfect sense based on the shareholder value that lead engineer will create.  Oh, and 15% of Facebook’s employees have previously worked for Google.
  • In Boulder, a consortium of companies are pooling money to fly in engineers from around the country to attend Boulder Startup Week beginning in a few weeks on May 18.

Compounding the challenge is the fact that its probably the best time in tech history to be an entrepreneur and start your own company.  There’s efficient access to capital and mentoring through firms like AngelList, YCombinator and TechStars and valuations are soaring, encouraging top technical talent to do their own thing, which is exactly what is happening, effectively removing top engineering talent from the labor pool.  How crazy is it that top engineers leave Google, start their own company, get acquired within a year and end up back at Google as an employee?

It’s a downright war for talent right now.

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