This article explains our bulletproof process for sourcing software engineers and provides concrete examples; this process led us to placing software developers at growing startups as well as enterprise brands such as REMAX, Lever Data, WorkReduce, and Drive Sally.
This article is for leaders at growing companies with job openings for software engineers. This is especially for leaders who may be understandably frustrated by the hiring process when it comes to software engineering talent.
It’s been known since the 1980s that there is a distribution of productivity among computer programmers, and that some are not only “10 x” (ten times) but in fact one hundred times more productive and efficient than the average programmer. 
So it’s clear that good programmers are rare, but the great ones are worth it.
Anyone who reads TechCrunch will know that startups – even those that don’t make it past the Series B stage – are regularly snapped up in “acqui-hire” deals, where the founders are paid a bounty per software engineer in the neighborhood of $5 to $10 million.
So it’s clear that good programmers companies are willing to pay up for top talent.
Companies may be so desperate to find talent that they locate to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, with its enormous rents, passive-aggressive “we’re here to change the world, not to make money” ethos and its startup monoculture, just so they can fish in a talent pool that’s stocked with talent.
But often times, if a leader at a company isn’t technical, they might be afraid that it’s impossible for them to hire a great software engineer. For good reason. The maxim “A players hire A players” is something that resonates with experienced entrepreneurs. And go find a blog article or Quora article addressing the common question – how should? a non-technical person should evaluate potential developers – and see the refrain “God help you” uttered by Silicon Valley luminaries.
So when a company has trouble with its hiring process – and starts making excuses like “all the good software engineers are already working” or “it’s impossible to compete with the massive salary offers and social prestige of Facebook/Apple/Netflix/Google”, it’s in fact entirely understandable.
When I show you the solution, the only reason I am able to convey this to you is because I happen to luck into a very specific background and set of circumstances that enabled me to make this insight. I was born in Palo Alto, into a community of successful entrepreneurs and software developers; I started programming in the ‘90s and was working in Silicon Valley as a professional by the 2000s.
So, here is the simple and straightforward solution: treat the software developer recruitment process like a funnel, and have a great software engineer run the funnel for you.
To understand why this is true, visualize a hiring process that resulted in the hiring of an excellent candidate. Working backwards in the successful hiring process, you have the great candidate. Then you have the interview. Then you have the phone screen. Then you have the resume or initial contact with your firm.
Without making sure that great people see the job listing in the first place, at the top of the funnel, we’re never going to get great candidates out of the end. And without a sufficient volume, we won’t be able to get sufficient throughput due to the drop-off at each stage.
In order to get great candidates to the top of the funnel, you need to ally up with a great software engineer. This software engineer can tell you where all the great candidates hang out (“it takes one to know one”); they can tell them about your job opportunity, and they can sell it in a way that makes it both convincing and credible to a peer.
For example, while a CEO might talk about a culture of transparency and their open office – a snarky engineer might interpret that as a culture of anxiety-inducing mistrust where someone can breathe down your neck, watching you code, while you’re just trying to focus and get the job done. So, tone matters.
One of the major problems that a reader of this article might have is that either they have no amazing software engineers to set the tone and bar for their process or, if they do have the talent, the talent is focused on building features for the product roadmap and therefore doesn’t have the time to commit to running the funnel and process. Both are understandable and both are solvable through Code For Cash’s placement solution.
The Code For Cash proposition is simple: we’ll run your recruiting for you and in exchange, you pay us 20% of each successful hire’s first-year cash salary.
You can continue doing things as usual and perhaps experience death by a thousand paper cuts, or you could delegate to us and pay us once we generate a success.
This process has worked for prestigious firms and entrepreneurs, including WorkReduce, Lever Data, David J. Moore, Johann Schleier-Smith, and Bluedrop Performance Learning.
Here’s how we get the job done.
We find the people who are obviously great.
The first thing we do is go through GitHub and look for people who have had their pull requests accepted into popular open source projects. We then research their contact information and remove anyone from the list who asks not to be contacted by recruiters.
We then look for authors of popular blog posts or paperback books on the relevant topics, and conduct the same research – removing contact info where inappropriate and enriching where appropriate.
We write the screener questions.
The first step in the process is to really review the job description and understand: the psyche and personas of potential high-performing candidates, what the day to day is like in the job, what kind of background that person might have had to led them up to that point, and of course, the fundamentally important “hard skills” that are required. This helps us design questions to help us tease out whether they are the person who is right for the role and confirm that they have the communication skills to share their skills knowledgeably.
Example screener questions include:
We create a landing page fully instrumented with analytics.
Because most job recruiting processes are not run by default as a funnel, sometimes the “product” and “user experience” aspect of job listings gets ignored. The most important thing is to tell a story about the company and a story about the job, and for the story to be credible (to sound like it was at least approved by the software engineers working in the organization). The more detail-rich and authentic the description is, the better. It’s important to pick the technical skills capriciously either.
We treat this landing page like a product and manage it as closely as any product manager would.
We pay the fees.
We find that it often takes at least three hundred qualified eyeballs to get a placement at a company. A qualified eyeball is when a candidate with the requisite technical skills views the job posting. In order to get the job posting in front of qualified eyeballs, some amount of expenditure is required. This occurs in both time to contact candidates as well as fees incurred with posting on the job boards, podcasts and meetups that are relevant to the role. It’s no matter – we pay the fees because we are confident that our methods are effective.
Example job boards or sourcing locales:
- Hacker News
- MIT Alumni Job Board
- UWaterloo Alumni Job Board
- Tech Hiring Subreddits
- Reddit Ads
- Rands Leadership Slack
- Various domain-specific Slack channels
- Angel.co Source Pro
- LinkedIn groups
- LinkedIn ads
- LinkedIn Recruiter
- Various domain-specific IRC channels
- GitHub Jobs
- StackOverflow Careers
- A recruiter presence at local tech meetups
We get the ball rolling in our network.
When Code For Cash was first founded, we were a network of freelance programmers. Because of this, over 2,000 programmers signed up with us and registered their skills. The tech programming community is extremely tight knit, and we seed our viral referral loop by sharing our jobs and galvanizing our immediate audience of programmers by paying them if they originate successful placements.
Our offer is that we will source and place candidates for you in exchange for 20% of first-year salary.
Our guarantee is that we will get the job done. If for any reason a candidate does not deliver value for you and your organization, you will either get a complete refund or a replacement.
There is a human element to this process, and there are a limited number of software engineers with the requisite traits to succeed in sales (recruiting is fundamentally a sales process). So we can’t work with every company or individual who would like to work with us, but we promise to add value in a big way to each person we contact.
Contact us today and with a 15-minute meeting, get the ball rolling and be confident that you’re about to hire extremely talented software engineers.
 DeMarco, Tom, and Timothy Lister. Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams. New York, NY: Dorset House Publ., 2003.