LinkedIn launches a programming puzzle to lure developers amidst Silicon Valley talent wars

Its aim is to grab the attention of prospective engineers and developers with a simple provocation: Solve this puzzle and you could score a chance to work at LinkedIn.
Written by Natalie Gagliordi, Contributor

Talent recruitment in Silicon Valley is notoriously tough. Between the so-called talent wars and poaching battles, tech companies are constantly vying for the attention of the industry's most highly skilled employees.

For Valley giants with deep coffers, bait tactics can range from lucrative compensation packages and stock options to mind-blowing office perks.

And more recently, puzzles.


As it turns out, finding and enlisting top-notch technical talent is a challenge even for social media recruiting platform LinkedIn.

So today the company is launching a website built around a Sudoku-like puzzle called a regex.

Its aim is to lure prospective engineers and developers with a simple provocation: Solve this puzzle and you could score a chance to work at LinkedIn.

"I realized if you wanted to get the attention of developers, you throw them a challenge," said Neil Pomerleau, a senior software engineer at LinkedIn. He's the guy who set the whole puzzle project in motion within the company.

Pomerleau says he came up with the idea of designing a regex challenge for recruitment purposes after solving one of MIT's programming puzzles.

"I spent an entire morning trying to solve it," he said. Realizing its power of temptation, Pomerleau figured a similar puzzle could work to attract would-be developers and engineers to LinkedIn.

Without official backing from the social network, Pomerleau designed the puzzle on his own and published it on a mircosite he built.

It immediately gained traction. In the first week the site attracted around 5,000 visitors and roughly 600 people solved the puzzle. From there it was shared on sites like Reddit and Hacker News, then Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and beyond.

"A lot of different people solved the puzzle," Pomerleau said. "Some were just starting out, some were industry vets from the Valley, one person even had a PhD in natural language processing. It resonated with the overall engineering community across the board."

Eventually Pomerleau shared his project with LinkedIn, and quickly found himself backed by the company in every department -- recruiting, security, legal, design, accessibility, microsites, and more.

"The competition for technical and developer talent is fierce," said Tito Magobet, director of talent acquisition for LinkedIn. "So we are always looking for innovative ways to engage with the types of engineers that we are looking for."

Magobet's team is responsible for hiring all the talent that supports LinkedIn products, developers and engineers, so he was quick to take notice of the traction Pomerleau's puzzle had gained in just a short period of time.

He said he's excited about the ability to use the puzzle as a new way to engage with the engineering community and introduce them to the LinkedIn culture and brand.

"This provides a very interesting means of getting the word out and packaging our story in a very different way," he said. "I think that the problem and the puzzle tap into the creative side that many engineers have, and the types of people we have seen gravitate to it mirror the types of talent that we look for."

Of course, not everyone who solves the puzzle will find themselves face-to-face with a LinkedIn recruiter, and not everyone who gets an interview is guaranteed a job.

Still, the effort is indicative of how far outside the box companies will go to stay on the winning end of Silicon Valley's talent tug-of-war.

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