How to hire great engineers when you don’t have any technical expertise
Recruiting a winning engineering team can be intimidating, especially for first-time and non-technical founders.
I’ve served at multiple startups and established tech companies worldwide, and have hired more than 100 engineers. Recruiting great engineers involves four main challenges:
Finding good engineers is a lengthy subject in itself, and there is plenty of information on how to structure offers, so let’s focus on how to engage and assess great candidates.
I have identified a few startup-specific tactics that you can apply immediately even if you do not have a technical background.
You need to earn the attention of good candidates. Let’s skip the basics like getting an introduction through your network or running engaging LinkedIn and StackOverflow ads.
Wrap up all interviews within two weeks at most. This is one of the few advantages you have over recruiters and established companies.
You are targeting the top 25% of engineers, which puts you in direct competition with the best recruiters in the industry. Because engineers are approached by recruiters all the time, they have become wary of them. This gives you an immediate advantage as a founder or startup manager.
Think of your opening message as a pitch and make it interesting for them: Talk about the magnitude of the problem you are solving and the impact they could have; tell them about the cutting edge tech you are using, and how they will have the freedom to shape the company’s future. Don’t overdo it, but don’t make it sound like they would be exchanging one cubicle for another, either.
Most people you’re reaching out to are probably not looking for a job, so do not approach them with a dry copy-and-pasted invitation to apply. Look at their profiles, which communities they belong to, their interests, skills, backgrounds, who they follow, their GitHub profiles, etc.
Personalize your pitch accordingly and tell them why they are an excellent fit for your company — and vice-versa.
Poor hiring choices can set a project back by months — even permanently — and generate tons of technical debt. Experienced engineering managers are probably familiar with tech hiring, but non-technical founders and technical founders with no management experience should learn two ground rules first:
- Move fast: Contact candidates no more than 48 hours after interviews, promptly answer questions and finish all interviews within two weeks at most. This is one of the few advantages you have over recruiters and established companies.
- Be interesting: They are assessing you just as much as you are assessing them. Build upon your initial pitch as you get to know them better, and keep selling.
You also want to answer two fundamental questions: