James Vincent McMorrow - Higher Love (Steve Winwood Cover)
If geeks are the new rockstars, then former Foursquare head of talent Morgan Missen is with the band.
Talent agencies are not just for models and actresses hoping to make it big in the entertainment business. The newest hotspot for talent is in engineering.
Missen will be opening her own talent agency, called Main, that will focus on serving the software engineering community. Hiring top engineering talent has gone beyond challenging to almost impossible for many ambitious startups. The small talent pool combined with competition from a growing number of startups is causing companies to change their talent acquisition strategies, from offering perks like in-office massages, to outright stealing employees from other top technology companies.
Missen’s talent agency fills a hole in a niche market that has needed a service like this for a long time. Many startups are still founded over a handshake and a beer. The informal culture of technology startups can sometimes leave potential business relationships ambiguous. The startup industry does need an independent agency that can professionally advocate for young or inexperienced developers. Main will work with talent that is navigating the ins and outs of multiple job offers. The agency will help engineers decide who to work for, how to evaluate offers, and how to negotiate benefits.
With an impeccable track record, which includes talent acquisition at International Programming & Systems,Google, Twitter, and Foursquare, Missen already has a rolodex (a digital one of course) that extends to some of the top talent working in digital technology today. Main is expected to launch within the year.
I was back on Bloomberg this week to discusses the recent increase in executives leaving Facebook as the stock slumps.
For engineers at Google and other big tech companies, there’s a reverse sticker-shock when receiving a salary offer from a startup. Startups not only don’t give bonuses (profit-sharing first requires profits, after all) but they don’t have enough capital to match their salary, no matter how badly they want or need them.
When a startup talks to an engineer that makes or has an offer for $200,000+ at Google, the first conversation should be philosophical. No numbers involved.
To the engineer - if you’ve worked and been successful at a big company for awhile, you’ve likely adopted the mentality of their compensation and incentive model. You exceed performance targets, often by competing internally against your peers, in exchange for an incremental pay increase or recognition in the form of an award, new title or team. This is not natural, and is nonexistent at a startup. The majority of your compensation is in the form of stock options, which you, along with your team, must compete externally to make worth as much as possible. You create value and are compensated proportionally. You’re no longer making incremental improvements to something engineers built five or ten years ago. That’s why those engineers got so much equity and are now rich. Important to note though, that those engineers also only made about half your salary.
The best way I’ve been able to explain the difference between big tech company and startup salaries (forgetting equity for a moment) is to look at the big company salaries over time, especially back when they were considered startups. You can do this through anecdotes or assertions, but H1B visa application data is the only legally binding employer reported data that is publicly available. Each year top tech companies apply for one or thousands of visas for new employees, depending on how many they’re hiring. Sometimes these aren’t approved, but the employer is required to disclose both the salary offered to the candidate and the salary range for the position.
Below are historical H1B visa salary ranges for prominent tech companies:
Note that none of these are definitive or comprehensive salary ranges for Software Engineers or any position, but unlike engineer self-reporting or word of mouth, it’s legally binding. Data compiled from multiple sources of publicly available but difficult to find employer reported salaries. Thanks Alex for the Excel chart template.
Did not expect that quitting my job would get me on the homepage of Business Insider! Very happy to announce my vision for Main.
“This week, Missen announced her resignation from Foursquare to try her hand at her own startup.
Missen’s new company, Main, stays true to her recruiting roots. Main, named after the function at the beginning of code, will be a resource for engineers and tech companies.
Missen will be advising engineers and other tech talent about their careers and helping companies like her former employers obtain great people.
“I love, love, love building startups, but I can help so many more people if I am on my own,” says Missen. “Main will be a new way to look at talent in tech.”’
I was back on Bloomberg this week to talk about competition for talent among Silicon Valley tech companies.
Finding, growing, and keeping the best team possible is the challenge that unites our industry, from the earliest startup to the largest public company. Every tech leader will tell you how critical—and how difficult—it is to hire great people. As knowledge workers, we know how much the people we work with, manage, and report to can shape overall fulfillment in our lives. But often we’re not involved enough in determining who these people are, and we don’t know how to fix things that aren’t working or even where to start. Being a candidate in Silicon Valley’s current talent landscape can be intimidating and confusing, and then, because quickly growing companies are also quickly changing companies, navigating a career within it proves just as complicated.
None of these issues are being addressed at a tactical level across the industry, and I’ve thought of little else over the past several years. I’m excited to announce that I’m starting a company called Main and devoting myself completely to this, what I consider my life’s mission.
Working at Google, Twitter and foursquare has offered me unparalleled experiences and opportunities to build expertise in my field; though unfortunately now I realize that to truly scale my passion, I must give up being a salaried, vesting employee of a startup I love.
In programming languages like C++ and Java, main(), or the main method, is the entry point for the code, where a program starts execution. Main is where I am at with this endeavor, and where most of the teams and people I’m helping are at in theirs. To begin, I’ll be working closely with entrepreneurs, investors, and most importantly, intrapreneurs—the experts within (or joining) teams without whom leaders cannot accomplish their goals.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in seeking out mentors to help me with this big decision, it’s that everyone I admire has brilliant ideas and strong thoughts on what’s working and what isn’t for what I refer to as Talent. If we haven’t spoken yet, I’d love to hear them.
I sat down with Semil Shah at TechCrunch to talk about my experiences and the state of tech talent in Silicon Valley.
I’m speaking at the War for Talent Conference today. Kym McNichols at PandoDaily made How to Win the War for Talent in Silicon Valley, an article and video for the event which interviews some of the speakers on pain points and strategies in hiring for their organization.
I’m on a panel called Scaling a Company, where I’ll be alongside the CEOs of Twilio and Pipewise and the Heads of Recruiting at LinkedIn and Box. It will be livestreamed on the website (at 10:30 am after Ron Conway’s keynote) if you want to watch.
update: photo above
Excerpts from the book In the Company of Giants: Candid Conversations with the Visionaries of the Digital World, 1997, published in BusinessWeek in 1998.
What talent do you think you consistently brought to Apple and bring to NeXT and Pixar?
I think that I’ve consistently figured out who really smart people were to hang around with. No major work that I have been involved with has been work that can be done by a single person or two people, or even three or four people. Some people can do one thing magnificently, like Michelangelo, and others make things like semiconductors or build 747 airplanes — that type of work requires legions of people. In order to do things well, that can’t be done by one person, you must find extraordinary people.
The key observation is that, in most things in life, the dynamic range between average quality and the best quality is, at most, two-to-one. For example, if you were in New York and compared the best taxi to an average taxi, you might get there 20 percent faster. In terms of computers, the best PC is perhaps 30 percent better than the average PC. There is not that much difference in magnitude. Rarely you find a difference of two-to-one. Pick anything.
But, in the field that I was interested in — originally, hardware design — I noticed that the dynamic range between what an average person could accomplish and what the best person could accomplish was 50 or 100 to 1. Given that, you’re well advised to go after the cream of the cream. That’s what we’ve done. You can then build a team that pursues the A+ players. A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players. That’s what I’ve tried to do.
So you think your talent is in recruiting?
It’s not just recruiting. After recruiting, it’s building an environment that makes people feel they are surrounded by equally talented people and their work is bigger than they are. The feeling that the work will have tremendous influence and is part of a strong, clear vision — all those things. Recruiting usually requires more than you alone can do, so I’ve found that collaborative recruiting and having a culture that recruits the A players is the best way. Any interviewee will speak with at least a dozen people in several areas of this company, not just those in the area that he would work in. That way a lot of your A employees get broad exposure to the company, and — by having a company culture that supports them if they feel strongly enough — the current employees can veto a candidate.
That seems very time-consuming.
Yes, it is. We’ve interviewed people where nine out of ten employees thought the candidate was terrific, one employee really had a problem with the candidate, and therefore we didn’t hire him. The process is very hard, very time-consuming, and can lead to real problems if not managed right. But it’s a very good way, all in all.
Yet, in a typical startup, a manager may not always have the time to spend recruiting other people.
I disagree totally. I think it’s the most important job. Assume you’re by yourself in a startup and you want a partner. You’d take a lot of time finding the partner, right? He would be half of your company. Why should you take any less time finding a third of your company or a fourth of your company or a fifth of your company? When you’re in a startup, the first ten people will determine whether the company succeeds or not. Each is 10 percent of the company. So why wouldn’t you take as much time as necessary to find all the A players? If three were not so great, why would you want a company where 30 percent of your people are not so great? A small company depends on great people much more than a big company does.
A Primer on Hiring Technical People
“If you’re having trouble deciding, there’s a very simple solution. NO HIRE. Just don’t hire people that you aren’t sure about. This is a little nerve wracking the first few times—what if we never find someone good? That’s OK. If your resume and phone-screening process is working, you’ll probably have about 20% hires in the live interview. And when you find the smart, gets-things-done candidate, you’ll know it. If you’re not thrilled with someone, move on.”
Tech Company Culture
“We just implemented this quarterly process called Morph. So Morph stands for Mission, Objectives, Results, People, and the H is for “How,” as in, “How did you do by the end of the quarter?”
Mission is just a one-sentence description of what’s your mission at the company? What do you have ownership of? And that really gets people to think about, O.K., what is my overall mission here?
Objectives are the top three, maximum five, things that you want to achieve this quarter. Results are about the metrics you’re going to use to measure those objectives. How do we know if we’ve achieved them? People refers to, what changes do we need to make in the organization to achieve this? Do we need to hire people? Do we need to create new teams? Do we need to change the way that a team is defined? And then at the end of the quarter we just ask, “How’d you do?”
“The entire company eventually joined in and came up with a list of 10 principles, including “Grow our business in a way that makes us proud” and “Innovate through experimentation.” That may sound like the worst kind of corporate offsite banality, but Costolo says it helped. “If you don’t know where you’re going, it seems like any road will take you there,” he says.”
“Today, it’s easier than ever to start a company, but building a company will always be as hard as it’s ever been. Wherever you are in your journey, understand that you will always make mistakes. But as long as you learn from them, improve, and stay focused to your mission; great things will almost always happen.”
Self Development (Inspiring commencement speeches are such a guilty pleasure).
“Do not work. Find that pursuit that will energize you, consume you, become an obsession. Each day, you must rise with a restless enthusiasm. If you don’t, you are working.”
“I was working at a financial firm in New York City with a bunch of very smart people, and I had a brilliant boss that I much admired. I went to my boss and told him I wanted to start a company selling books on the Internet. He took me on a long walk in Central Park, listened carefully to me, and finally said, ‘That sounds like a really good idea, but it would be an even better idea for someone who didn’t already have a good job.’” Ha.
“if you don’t try to do what you love — whether it is painting or biology or finance; if you don’t pursue what you think will be most meaningful, you will regret it. Life is long. There is always time for Plan B. But don’t begin with it.
I think of this as my parking space theory of career choice, and I have been sharing it with students for decades. Don’t park 20 blocks from your destination because you think you’ll never find a space. Go where you want to be and then circle back to where you have to be.”
I spoke at Inc. Magazine’s event for tech entrepreneurs and business owners called Faster Better Smarter: How Great Small Companies Use Technology to Drive Growth. They made a great highlights video.
Peggy is reviewing an endless stack of copywriter candidate portfolios and discovers one with a cover reading “Judge not, lest ye also be judged.” This candidate is a star. Stan, the art director, agrees he’s brilliant but dismisses him, tossing the portfolio on the floor. Peggy picks it up with interest.
Stan: This is why girls don’t play sports. You’ve been working on Heinz for four months, and you’re just going to let him grab the ball and carry it across the goal line?
Peggy: I’m bringing him in for Mohawk.
Stan: I hope you like him, he’s going to be your boss someday.
Peggy: I like working with talented people. It inspires me.
Stan: I’m not talking about me. I’m talking about another writer. Are you suddenly not competitive?
Peggy: I’m going to bring him in.
Stan: Stick to mediocre, you’ll sleep better.
[Cut to fat Betty in the bath]
- Mad Men Season 5, Episode 3 “Tea Leaves”
Mad Men is one of the only shows I watch, and Peggy is the only reason I watch it. She’s one of the best and, for me, most identifiable characters on the small screen now. The other is Tina Fey as Liz Lemon on 30 Rock.
Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Partner Roger Sterling walks into Peggy’s office to persuade her to do a major assignment last minute—and cover up that he’d fallen behind on it. She’s unmoved, so he tries to offer a small bribe.
Peggy: Hold on a second. You want me to work up an entire corporate image campaign for 10 bucks?
Roger: I can make you do it for nothing. I’m the boss.
Peggy: You’re right. The work is $10. The lie is extra.
Roger: Incredible. What do you make a week, sweetheart?
Peggy: Oh, you don’t know. That’s helpful…
Roger: You know, I could fire you.
Peggy: Great. There are some portfolios in Joan’s office. You could find someone tonight.
Roger: Why are you doing this to me?
Peggy: Because you’re being very demanding for someone who has no other choice. Dazzle me.
Roger: Fine. How much do you want?
Peggy: How much you got?
Roger: [flips through wallet] Four hundred dollars.
Peggy: Give me all of it.
Roger: Jesus. [hands it to her] This better be good.
Peggy: You want me to take your watch?
- Mad Men Season 5, Episode 5