CNN recently wrote an article on NYC startups and I laughed when Nosh Petigara from 10gen (MongoDb) said, “we don’t have trouble hiring engineers.”
When you are a 10gen, Hunch, bit.ly — i.e. when you have a strong technical lead (your anchor) already and an interesting technical problem, good computer scientists want to work for you.
Unfortunately, quite a few New York startups have neither. They might have excellent business potential, and they all need tech (every business these days is becoming a tech business), but that is different from *interesting* tech.
So to a good programmer this looks not just like a job, but a high-risk and potentially not-fun job. Why take that job when google/facebook/twitter are in a talent war and paying top dollar? Or, why take the risk of working for someone else’s startup when you, the programmer, can just start your own? And doesn’t it feel a little scary signing up to work for these business people who don’t really know how products are built?
The rampant demand combined with the general bravery towards doing one’s own startup right now makes it very hard for businesses to hire top caliber talent. Hopefully you can find someone who feels a personal connection to the problem you are trying to solve. Otherwise, it means that VC-backed companies who might not have an interesting tech problem have to step up with what they do have: compensation. Technical talent has become incredibly expensive, and that puts pressure on the whole startup ecosystem.
Finding your anchor is the hardest task. This person might not be your first CS/engineer hire, but they are the star. When a candidate is finished interviewing with your anchor, they think, “I need to work with this brilliant person.” In other words, they are flypaper for programmer talent.
If you don’t have a co-founder who is a tech star, do not try to interview for this person entirely by yourself. It takes an anchor to truly vet another anchor. Once you have someone with strong potential in the funnel, you need to buy, beg, borrow or steal some time from someone else’s anchor to quality check your prospect.