7 simple rules for hiring great developers

The war for programming talent is full bore. Here's how to hire the best coders when competing with the big boys

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Startups that can't match the big salaries offered by the Facebooks and Googles of the world can offer a more intimate experience that's attractive for engineers fresh out of school or new to an area, notes Will Harlan, director of new business for Yeti. The 10-person mobile and Web apps design and development shop holds weekly barbecues for employees and their friends on its rooftop patio.

"It's more about how the person fits in with a group of people, what their interests and passions are," he says. "In the tech world there are a lot of people with the same skills who can do the same things. At the end of the day you want to work with people you can hang out with, have a beer, and shoot the breeze."

Developer hiring rule No. 6: It's the work, stupid

The companies that offer the best payouts in terms of financials and perks are often lacking when it comes to less tangible rewards like job satisfaction. The bigger the company, the smaller your role is likely to be, at least at the start. 

"What motivates the best developer is the work," says Dan Pasette, director of kernel engineering for MongoDB. "People are willing to take a risk and take a bet on a company that's paying a little less than a Google or a Facebook, simply because they want to make a difference and see their code in action."

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"What motivates the best developer is the work. People are willing to take a risk and take a bet on a company that's paying a little less than a Google or a Facebook, simply because they want to make a difference and see their code in action."

--Dan Pasette, director of kernel engineering, MongoDB

Like everyone else, developers want to feel like they're contributing something useful to the world, even if it's simply a better way to store and share work data, says Tom Carpel, a senior software engineer at Box.

"Implementing a button where 14-year-old girls can like the photos other 14-year-old girls just posted is great, but building a system where hospitals and schools can be more efficient is much more appealing," says Carpel. "I am under no illusion that what I do at work saves lives, but I know I'm doing something useful. I'm not sure how excited I would be about enabling 14-year-old girls to like photos."

Developer hiring rule No. 7: Open source tips the balance

For many developers, the deciding factor often comes down to the opportunity to work with an open source company.

"There are a lot of advantages to being an open source company," notes Tim Clem, who oversees product and corporate strategy for GitHub, the open source collaboration platform. "You can leverage a much larger base of people who are building things just for the love of it. It's nice to have that kind of visibility into a product. Once you understand the advantages of using open source technology, it's hard to do anything different."

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"What they're really looking for is whether they can be part of something special -- a real journey into something that's fundamentally changing the market and driving innovation."

--Herb Cunitz, president, Hortonworks

Clem adds that GitHub avoids publicly posting new jobs because it gets overwhelmed with applicants. Instead, it uses personal referrals and devs' own history of code commits to filter potential employees. Code doesn't lie.

"The best job applicants build things for me," Clem says. "They redesign part of GitHub and put it on Hackernews, or they take apart an app like GitHub for Windows and tell me what's wrong with it. It's the reverse of the normal hiring process."

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