Trends in HR: How Silicon Valley companies compete in hiring top talent

Competition for top engineers is intense and it's not about high salaries or stock options...
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor
Commonwealth Club
Above from left: Doug MacMillan -Bloomberg, Melissa Daimler - Twitter, Rowan Trollope -Cisco, Todd Carlisle - Google.


The Commonwealth Club's Inforum hosted an interesting event Tuesday evening in San Francisco, focused on the strategies local tech companies use to attract  top talent. 

Representatives from Twitter, Cisco Systems, and Twitter spoke about their recruitment tactics and the perks and other incentives they use to get, and retain, the talent they need.

(Above from left) Doug MacMillan, reporter for Bloomberg BusinessWeek moderated: Melissa Daimler, Head of Organizational Effectiveness and Learning, at Twitter; Rowan Trollope, Senior VP and GM of Collaboration Technology Group, at Cisco Systems; and Todd Carlisle, Director of Staffing at Google.

Here are my notes [with my comments in brackets]:

- There was a lot of chatter about "Gen Y" those born after 1981 and how to meet their special needs. They are labelled as entitled and requiring lots of coddling. [This is BS, the Gen Ys I know work hard at crappy jobs, they are serious, and less interested in partying than all other generations. Young engineers being paid $150k, with perks of free food, beer, and house cleaning, will feel entitled but it has nothing to do with being Gen Y.]

- Cisco said it will hire more than 2,000 Gen Y staff this year [it's the college graduating class]. Differences are that Gen X are tech savvy but Gen Y are tech dependent. [It wasn't clear if that's good or bad.]

- Work from home? Twitter said people are welcome to work anywhere in the building or outside as long as they get their work done. 50% of staff are less than a year old at Twitter, and average age is 30.

- Cisco said working from home is productive as long as collaboration is done via video — not audio because if it is just audio you can go make breakfast, or zone out, if it's video you can't walk away. [Being seen to be at work is important, if you are at home. Self-interest: Cisco guy is selling high def video collaboration systems.]

- Google said it analyzed the data and remote teams worked as productively as teams in the office. [Which explains why Google wants people in the office, not at home.]

- Google gets 2 million applications for jobs every year and a human looks at each resume. Only 5 to 7 thousand are hired. Grade point average in school is not a good indicator of performance, can you think on your feet, can you fit into our culture, are the important factors. Eleven interviewers used to vet applicants, Google's Big Data discovered four interviewers was the optimum number. 

- Cisco said coaching was more important than salary, if people feel they are growing it is important, it's the number one predictor of satisfaction, not salary.  Google said Youtube is the answer, that its staff want to get things now. [Misunderstanding of what coaching means, it's not learning.]

- Google has a Googler-to-Googler program where staff use Hangouts to teach each other yoga, or Javascript, or mentor each other. The 20/80 work rule is still offered but it's more about what you want to do and we figure out which job to put you in. And as long as you get your work done you can spend 20 per cent of time on something else.

- Google said perks such as busses to work, free food and beer, don't play a role in attracting top talent. Twitter and Cisco disagreed saying these things are expected.

- Cisco said local salary levels are very expensive and it is becoming a problem. However, the work done by software engineers is scalable so employers should be able to monetize their work.

- Stock options are passé Google said engineers want good salaries. Restricted stock grants are the same as cash and preferred by staff. [Same as at Microsoft, and other large companies.]

- Not much credit given to University graduates. Cisco said testing is wrong, students aren't allowed to solve problems by using the Internet or calling on others -- which is the way they want their staff to know how to work. 

- An audience member asked about women. Twitter said they were focused on the "Lean In" issue, and there is a "superwomen" group that offers mutual support for women at Twitter. Cisco said CEO John Chambers issued a mandate that all senior execs read Sheryl Sandberg's book, about 1,000 were distributed, and he said how can we do better? 

- An audience member asked what was being done to hire veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan? Google said it had been discussing what jobs it could offer just that day, and took President Obama's call for 1 million jobs for veterans seriously. Twitter and Cisco declined to answer.

- They spoke about supporting staff to volunteer at local charities. But you have to get your work done first. [What happened to corporate social responsibility? Supposedly Gen Y finds this important.]

- Cisco has a Millennial Boot Camp to teach Gen X managers about Gen Y staff. 

- Google used to give big stock grants to recognize staff achievements. It discovered that it was the public recognition that its staff liked and being able to bring their parents to the ceremony. It hosted its first "Bring your parents to work day" this year — more than 5,000 parents turned up.

- They were asked what could make a big difference. Twitter said getting staff to take one week off per quarter to grow as individuals. Cisco said there will be 1 billion new people in next ten years. For as little as $50 per month, it will be possible to turn every wall, in every home, into a high definition video display, enabling anyone to interact with work anywhere. [Why are Silicon Valley companies insisting they need new laws to be able to import foreign engineers? They have overseas development centers and lots of collaborative technologies.]

- Google said what if where you worked extended your life? If you got the best medical care along with the best job. You would't want to leave. [This explains Google's hire of Ray Kurzweil, late last year. He is an evangelist for an idea called The Singularity, which would allow people to extend their lives indefinitely.]

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