Attracting Hot Engineering Talent: Bigger Isn't Always Better

While the heavy hitters of the tech world often have their first choice in engineers, a new and formidable competitor is emerging: the startup.

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By Nicholas Clark

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It's an engineer's world in Silicon Valley and thousands of companies are clamoring for the best and brightest in the field. The heavy hitters --Google, Facebook, Apple -- have long commanded the lion's share of top engineering talent, but a new and formidable competitor is emerging, proving that bigger isn't always better.

It's true: A mid-size startup can't compete with the brand recognition (and the executive chefs) of the Valley giants. And while these companies may have global reach, one engineer can still feel very, very small, often making mid-size startups an appealing career move.

In two separate articles in the Wall Street Journal last month, writers questioned the advantage of working at a smaller company versus a larger corporation. In both instances, the authors cited two key deciding factors that makes a mid-size company the way to go: the ability "to make decisions that drive the company's direction and to have a direct impact on its success." Not only have we found this observation to be true at DoubleDutch, but we have discovered that in giving engineers the freedom to define what that success is, they have been able to advance their careers at an accelerated pace.

Related: Paying for Tech Help With Future Royalties

While a set hierarchy often binds a larger company, mid-size companies have the luxury of being more nimble and less beholden to a traditional structure. This flatter model enables collaboration across departments as well as ranks of seniority. By including engineers of all experiences in high-level discussions, conventional thinking is challenged and fresh ideas are discovered. (In a larger company these views would most likely be voiced only within the confines of their own team.)

Having a smaller team not only allows employees to directly influence company decisions, it also fosters a culture and camaraderie between employees that is often lost at larger companies.

In a recent interview with Forbes, Emily He, CMO of Saba, a talent-management software provider, discussed the importance of "tri-branding" to attract hot talent. "A powerful brand needs to be built upon exceptional product experience, employee experience and customer experience," said He, adding "only when you build a culture of transparency, participation, and accountability can you engage people across the organization to build a brand that feels just as authentic inside the organization as it does outside to your prospects and customer community."

The employee experience - or in other words "culture" - can be the deciding factor for engineers considering multiple offers. As we see more tech companies with top talent and exceptional products making headlines for sexual misconduct, undercutting business tactics and questionable HR practices, the importance of having a strong company culture of respect and collaboration becomes increasingly apparent.

Beyond the basics of having a zero tolerance policy for this kind of behavior - or as we like to call a "no assholes allowed" policy - cultivating a distinct culture is often what sets your company apart from the rest. In fact, a study by Monster revealed that college students would accept an average of 7 percent less starting pay to work for companies with cultures they value and appreciate.

Related: How to Hire the Absolute Best Talent for Tech Jobs

Building and maintaining a company culture and collaborative work environment is half the battle. Making sure prospective hires know about the culture is what will win the recruiting war. It's not rocket science: speaking oppurtunities, recruiting fairs, happy hours, hackathons, proactive Linkedin outreach and incentivizing internal referrals are all crucial toward getting noticed by the right prospects. I actually have discovered that college recruiting fairs are a great place to scout out talent. Startups often overlook these opportunities, but I've found engineering students to be a fantastic pool of raw talent gunning to make a difference and excited about the prospect of effecting change at a company that gives them a voice.

Once recruits are through the door, company culture should be evident at every touch point. Every interviewer the candidate meets should embody the traits your company is seeking; you want to impress upon them that by fostering a collaborative and respectful environment employees are able to do the best work of their careers. We will often invite candidates to have lunch with the engineering team or take part in group activities to give them a better feel for what a day in the life of an engineer at DoubleDutch is like.

Competing with hot names for hot talent isn't easy and no matter how great your product and perks are, snagging top-tier engineers can be a tough sell. But while there's no denying the value of Google on your resume, the ability to directly influence a company's future in a collaborative and transparent environment is often an even greater added value. Silicon Valley is indeed an engineer's world, but the big players in it may not be so "big" after all.

Related: Need a Software Engineer? Here's How Much You Can Expect to Pay. (Infographic)

Nicholas Clark

CTO at DoubleDutch

Nicholas Clark is the CTO at DoubleDutch, the leading provider of mobile event apps. Prior to DoubleDutch, Clark was a senior development engineer at Microsoft, working on Internet Explorer for five years, and Bing Mobile for a year. While at Microsoft, Clark  founded and operated MobileSrc, a mobile development shop. MobileSrc pioneered a new form of location-based gaming for which a patent has been granted. Clark attended Cornell University and received a bachelor of science degree in electrical and computer engineering with a focus in computer architecture and digital signal processing.

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