The Devver Blog

A Boulder startup improving the way developers work.

Lessons learned from our hiring process

We’re very happy to announce that we’ve had a great developer accept our offer to join our team. We’ll have more details on our newest team member soon.

This was our first attempt at hiring and we certainly learned a lot. While our process has improved since we started, it’s still a work in progress.

The first lesson we learned is that hiring can take a long, long time – in fact, much longer than we expected. I looked back through my emails and we officially started looking for someone more than four months ago. One thing we have heard time and time again was the importance of hiring only the best people – and, just as importantly, people that fit well within your company culture.

As a result, we were extremely picky when it came to candidates. As the process goes on and on, it’s easy to get frustrated and want to lower your bar. Avoid this temptation! If at all possible, go the other route: raise your compensation, improve your pitch, and raise your profile so you can attract candidates that meet or exceed your bar.

When we started, we severely underestimated how long it would take and we overestimated how many applications we’d get. Because of these bad assumptions, we made our first mistake – we chose to slowly “roll out” the announcement that we were hiring. First, we just told friends and mentors. A week or so later, we tweeted and put up a blog post. Later on, we posted on some news sites and newsgroups. And after that, we finally created a job posting at Startuply. Waiting between each step was a waste of time – we should have just broadcast as loudly as we could the first day.

We ended up getting a good number of applications, the vast majority of which were from great programmers. We assumed that going through them would waste a bunch of time. We were wrong. In reality, it was really easy to turn down many applications just from their resume (usually the applicant was good, but didn’t have the skill set we were looking for). Phone calls were a bit more time-consuming, but were never a waste of time. We always enjoyed talking to candidates, always found a way to improve our process, and usually learned something new about the Ruby ecosystem.

One thing that we improved on was learning to say “no” quickly. Even with the manageable number of candidates we talked to, it was important say “no” as soon as we discovered something that wouldn’t fit. Early on, we were a bit hesitant to do so and ended up continuing our process for too long. That wasn’t fair to either ourselves or the candidates. It became easier to shut things down quickly once we had interviewed a few people and started to gain confidence that new applications would show up, even if the queue was currently empty.

We also learned that it’s important to have a fairly short process. Of course, the biggest priority is to have a process that lets you learn enough about a candidate to be confident in your decision. That said, as you improve, you’ll find that you can shorten your process while maintaining your confidence. Shortening the process is better for you (less time spent) and better for your candidates.

The initial version of our process went something like this:

  1. Check resume, blog, Github account
  2. Introductory phone call to learn about candidate and convince them Devver is cool
  3. Second phone call to ask some high-level technical questions
  4. Ask for and call references
  5. Remotely pair on a project for a few hours with the candidate
  6. Fly candidate out to Boulder to meet and discuss technical and business issues

The final version was a bit more compressed:

  1. Check resume, blog, Github account
  2. Phone call to learn about them, introduce ourselves, and cover high-level technical questions
  3. Ask for and call references
  4. (In parallel with #3) Ask candidate to write small Ruby application and review their code
  5. Fly candidate out to do some pair programming and discuss technical and business issues

All in all, it was a good (if sometimes painful) learning experience. We deeply appreciate the time and effort spent by every single applicant (and their patience with us as we learned by trial and error).

If you’ve got your own lessons you’ve learned while hiring, please let us know. We know we’ve still got a lot to learn…

Written by Ben

March 27, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Boulder, Devver

8 Responses

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  1. Congrats on the new hire and thanks for sharing your process. We're currently hiring as well and some of your pointers will really help us. Question regarding the person you selected… did you find them through a resume submission or a referral/connection?

    emily_olso40101

    March 28, 2009 at 6:37 pm

  2. Thanks!

    To answer your question, we found him via a referral. One of our mentors knew him from his previous job and suggested he get in contact with us.

    bhb

    March 29, 2009 at 10:37 am

  3. Congrats guys! As Em mentioned above, it has been tremendously difficult for us to find the right candidate as well. We're really trying to leverage our network to find a developer that is known and trusted by people we know and trust. Looking forward to seeing you guys when you visit SF.

    rob_lafave44971

    March 31, 2009 at 10:12 pm

  4. Congrats, and nice post. Thanks for trying Startuply, too – how were the applicants you got from the site?

    Luke G

    April 7, 2009 at 9:04 am

  5. We received three resumes through Startuply. One candidate, while clearly talented, didn't have the specific experience we were looking for (no Ruby experience). The other two were smart Ruby guys. While we ultimately decided to go with someone we found outside of Startuply, we'd use the service again when we are hiring.

    bhb

    April 7, 2009 at 9:22 am

  6. Thanks, Ben. It seems so far that while people have somewhat inconsistent experiences, especially in terms of candidate volume, the average results seem to be lower volume and higher quality than other job boards (which is what we're going for). I'd love to run a couple questions by you if you have have a few minutes to chat, too.

    Luke G

    April 7, 2009 at 2:20 pm

  7. If it's cool with you, email is easiest for me. Send me any questions at ben at devver dot net.

    bhb

    April 7, 2009 at 3:53 pm

  8. Congrats guys! Can't wait for the A/S/L Check

    adam38631

    April 12, 2009 at 12:03 pm


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