Skip to main content

C'est la Z

What companies look for in a tech hire

My friend Ria tweeted this earlier today:

I'm not hiring for a tech company but I thought I'd share some thoughts anyway.

A bunch of years ago, I was at a big meeting at the NYCDOE. It was related to the creation of AFSE. The meeting was attended by a bunch of NY Tech company heavyweights, DOE people, and me. At this point in the project, the DOE was pushing the school as one that would produce "Google ready" software engineers from high school. They were also insisting on no academic screen so many students would be coming in multiple years below grade level.

I contended that you could have a great school without a screen but it was horribly unrealistic to expect to produce "Google ready" engineers from an incoming class that's starting far below grade level and it's wrong t say you will. Either don't have a screen and don't make such ridiculous claims or if you really intend to deliver, have some manner of screen.

So, during the meeting, the DOE wanted to sell the idea that academic performance wasn't important to the tech community and this is where this post meets Ria's tweet.

One of the DOE reps asked the company "What do you look for in a potential hire? Things like creativity, right?"

The tech company took the bait. They responded as the DOE planned:

  • creativity
  • teamwork
  • hard working
  • reliable

and so on. A long list of soft skills and truth be told, I agreed that these things were and are important.

The DOE people thought that there point was made but I had other plans. I asked a follow up question:

"Where do you look for these kids?"

At which point the tech people responded:

  • Stanford
  • MIT
  • CMU


These companies recruited exclusively at institutions that already did extreme academic prescreening. The soft skills are important but they take on even more importance when you've already narrowed your search down to "kids who made it in and through MIT." None of the applicants they considered topped out barely passing 10th grade math.

Some of the tech people at the meeting got the point. Some didn't.

If you're only going to recruit from the "usual suspects" you're never going to expand the pool, never going to achieve a diverse talent pool, and never really provide opportunities to a huge number of terrific young people who don't have the ivy league pedigree.

I had a related conversation with a friend of mine recently where I tried to further drive home the point. He was talking about how important it was for a young student who wanted to break into tech to have side projects - how that an extensive portfolio would always catch his eye. I told him that this eliminates many terrific low income students.

It's easy to ask a well to do kid to spend free time on either a portfolio, activity or project (and I'll note that a non-tech project or activity can be as or more impressive and important than a tech one) but a low income kid probably has to work and their job is likely not going to further their tech careers. Require the side project, eliminate the poor kid.

All of this is to say that it's really hard to say that even when a hiring agent looks for something, there's a lot more going on behind the scenes. It's something I've become very aware of at Hunter and something I've been trying to push the NY Tech community to understand.

comments powered by Disqus