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How Do You Find Programming Superstars?

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 6 years ago | from the can't-beat-a-human-signal-to-noise-filter dept.

Businesses 763

Joe Ganley writes "You are a programming superstar, and you are looking for work. I recognize this happens relatively rarely, which is part of my problem. But stipulating that it happens, how do I, as a company looking to hire such people, connect with them? Put another way, how do you the programming superstar go about looking for a company that seems like one you'd like to work for? The company I work for is a great place to work; we only hire really great people, we work on hard, interesting problems, and we treat our employees well. We aren't worried about retention or even about how to entice people to work here once we've found them. The problem is simply finding them. The signal-to-noise ratio of the big places like Monster and Dice is terrible. We've had much better luck with (for example) the Joel on Software job boards, but that still doesn't generate enough volume." What methods have other people used to find the truly elite?

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Uh (5, Funny)

iONiUM (530420) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579690)

I'm right here.

Appeal (4, Funny)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579766)

to their obvious sense of humility, and only ask for mere "stars".

That, or go trawling through the strip-clubs near Boston.

Re:Appeal (5, Insightful)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580130)

Great programmers work for who they want, on what they want. They take getting their personal needs met for granted, but they have grand ideas about things they want to see realized and not enough money of their own to do it.

So you advertise on the basis of the interesting work that you're doing, and aim for the ears of someone who has been itching to build such things rather than talking about the creature comfort and monetary perks.

Great people want strong leadership that will help them achieve beyond what they can do alone.

Re:Uh (1)

MLopat (848735) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579786)

So true. You are truly amazing.

Simple answer... (5, Funny)

Dusty00 (1106595) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579722)

Be Google.

Re:Simple answer... (5, Interesting)

flannelboy (344272) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580020)

I have to say that I've had some people hired away from me to go to Google, and they have been hiring the people who can quote chapter and verse of some coding standards doc. But they haven't been my superstars. They have been "A" players. But not "superstars". I'll qualify that in one second.

The superstar is more than just somewhat hard to come by.

First, they are only going to be 1 out of every 100 programmers you work with. And that is only if you are lucky, and if you are good at hiring. If you hit job boards, you aren't good at hiring. (with apologies to the job board advertisement that is almost definitely above this post :)

Second, they can almost never identify themselves. Lots of people THINK they are the superstar. But then they get very little actually accomplished. These are the people I've lost to Google. But the superstar does much more than just know the tech details. They actually get stuff done. And their code really really works. And it is highly reusable. And they change others around them. The always make sure the best tools are in place, and they get others to use those tools, not just themselves. In this sense, they are also quite good leaders, although most do not want to manage large teams (and you'd be wise not to have them do so).

I've probably worked with 1000-2000 programmers in my lifetime, and I think I would give only about 10 of them the "superstar" status.

The superstars produce 2x to 10x what a very good programmers can produce in the same amount of time.

As far as finding and hiring them, the biggest problem is that they are very rarely on the market. So job boards are a bad place to start.

Just about all (maybe even 100%, actually) of the superprogrammers I've hired have come from friend referrals.

Go to your current employees, and give them very big checks if they can attract other programmers to your firm. Make sure this is worth their while (ie: $10,000 or more for bringing in someone). This will almost always be your best bet to find these guys.

Re:Simple answer... (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580140)

FWIW, I'm having the same problem you are. The Chicago-based company I work at right now has done a bang-up job of separating the wheat from the chaff. The people who work here are extremely smart, and our interviewees always have positive things to say about us to their recruiters.

Unfortunately, I don't think we have any magical formula for finding the right programmers. As Joel says in his articles, all the best developers are already working. All you can do is wait patiently and try to lure them in when they decide to switch jobs.

Speaking of which, if you are a kick-ass programmer in the Chicago area, we have plenty of openings! My email address is right above. ;-)

Change the others around them: Bingo! (5, Insightful)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580160)

And they change others around them.
In my experience as a rank-and-file programmer, I'll vouch for this one.

I've met very few superstars and this more than anything else set them apart as someone I would want on my payroll.

You want people who can lead by example, without even trying.

One opinion (5, Insightful)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579736)

The first thing to do is remove arbitrary barriers. IE, "must" have X years of experience, X degree, held X previous positions, must move to our area. That's the sum of major mistakes most operations make. The best programmers in the world don't typically get that way by being just another college / job drone (though some do... just don't slam the door based on mundane requirements - you want the problem solved, not a title you can be proud of.)

Secondly, market the job — make sure people can find out about it. That's perhaps obvious, but I know a lot of companies that try to stick to the back alleys of old boy's clubs, and it's no wonder they can't find anyone. Put an ad, a BIG one, somewhere programmers go a lot. Like slashdot. :-)

Third, salary, salary, salary, and benefits (particularly insurance and family coverage). Move 'em if you have to. We've even bought houses outright for our programming team members. You can't expect to hire a superstar by treating them like a drone.

The problem is almost always that really good programmers don't have to go looking, and if they do, they can - and will - turn their noses up at being treated like a commodity. Yet that's just what most companies do. Plus they throw up arbitrary and unrelated barriers to entry. Unfathomable, really.

Re:One opinion (4, Interesting)

Intron (870560) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579880)

True. One of the smarter people that I know never finished his degree. He got bored and left school to start a successful company. However, its unlikely that his resume would ever go through an HR dept filter. The CTO or Principle Engineer would call him personally and make an offer.

Re:One opinion (1)

jadedoto (1242580) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580006)

Bill Gates, you say?

Re:One opinion (1)

onkelonkel (560274) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580086)

If you have a number of Principle Engineers, is the one in charge the principal Principle Engineer?


Re:One opinion (4, Insightful)

penix1 (722987) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579972)

Overall a good post...I would add one more thing though...

Attitude, attitude, attitude!

I won't take a job where the person interviewing treats me as if they are doing me a favor in offering the job. They are after me, not the other way around. Even if I need the job, I'll never portray it like that. It is they who need me even then. Call it arrogance if you will but I'm not into indentured servitude.

Re:One opinion (1)

sigmabody (1099541) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580274)

Marketing is important; I found my current job through Monster randomly, it just happened to be there when I found myself out of work. I'd say that's the exception to the rule, though... most of my current company's engineering hires have been through personal references, contacts, and recruiting through contacts. Sorta like the LinkedIn thing.

As far as hiring people you find, it's all about benefits, environment, and matching what you have to offer with what the engineers want. Salary is not necessarily the most important consideration for people who are really good at what they do, although a high salary never hurts. Always remember that "free" (for you the company) benefits can go a long way too; eg: a company policy not to spy on their engineers, private offices, the right work environment, flexible hours / location, input on development methodologies, free drinks, etc.

OSS guys? (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579746)

Find a developer of an admirable Free Software project who, for whatever reason, isn't currently employed as a professional software developer and make him the right offer. Just go after people who make the code you respect the most.

Simple filter. (1, Interesting)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579748)

Ask them who Knuth is.

Re:Simple filter. (3, Interesting) (1108067) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580090)

Ask them who Knuth is.

  1. Just ask them who CowboyNeal is. If you get a blank stare, go on to the next candidate.

  2. Next, ask them for their slashdot uid, and look at some of their posts, and their friends/foes. You'll get a good idea as to what others in the community think of them. No friends? Guess they had nothing to say. No foes? Shies from controversy or doesn't have strong opinions. No journal entries? Possible indicator that they're not much into sharing experiences, knowledge, etc.

  3. Engage them in open discussion in a thread or 3. Easy enough to do - just look at their profile page and track their latest comments.

Lets face it, the biggest problem with development (and what causes the most failures) is not the "superstar" quality of the ocders, but their ability to work as a team, which basically means "management" by the program lead. If the lead isn't able to socialize outside the coding group (and open up the barriers between the coders and the rest of the business), you're either going to fail, have lots of delays, or a really poor product.

We give a lot of lip service to communications, but communications is more than just emails and meetings. Most real communications are one-on-one, with a bit of socializing thrown in. People are more likely to be open and honest about problem areas, and to offer their opinions and solutions, outside of the "formal development process".

Step one (4, Insightful)

Verteiron (224042) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579750)

Stop calling expert programmers "superstars".

Re:Step one (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22579910)

>Stop calling expert programmers "superstars".

Yes, we prefer to be called "gods", thanks.

Well, except for me. You can call me Joe, because that's my name :)

Re:Step one (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22579962)

We had a guy that came in and told us at my past company I was a superstar blah, blah, blah.

He is terrible.

Re:Step one (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22580092)

I think that there is a difference between "expert programmer" and "superstar." Being a superstar takes more than being good at programming, much like being a "rockstar" takes more than being a good musician.

There are many great programmers. There is only one Linus, "Rasterman," Mad Dog, et cetera.

You know who the are because not only did they write great code, they had good ideas and could express them well. Some, like Carsten Haitzle, started out as artists, not programmers. It's that type - the Jordan Hubbards (FreeBSD lead who was hired away by Apple) that are the "superstars," and I suspect that attracting them to your company takes some serious dough and cool projects.

Taking someone who thrives doing their own thing and has succeeded in creating a cult of personality and putting them into a job that J Random DeVry grad can do is an act of soul-crushing evil and makes the world a better place because it robs us all of greatness.

Re:Step one (1)

Verteiron (224042) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580182)

And do you really think that any of the programmers you just named (or others of their caliber) would be attracted to an advertisement or company that refers to them as "superstars"? Honestly, now.

Re:Step one (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22580258)

Stop calling expert programmers "superstars".

I assume he meant that he wanted to hire a Hollywood superstar, and try to teach him/her to program. That's quite the challenge!

Personally, I'd rather try to teach a Labrador Retriever to program; the odds of success are about the same, it's got a much stronger work ethic, and it will fetch your slippers on a cold afternoon.

General hint (1)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579756)

Add your preferred email address to a comment below this one so you can be contacted?

Re:General hint (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22580002)

Considering his username has a site-specific spam filtered email at a site presumably based on either his last name, or his posting name, I'd suggest that the fact that you failed to notice this eliminates you from the congnitive capabilities that he's looking for.

quality vs quantity (4, Insightful)

vanyel (28049) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579772)

You can't have both quality and quantity. Searching for the best of the best is bound to return a small number of people.

Re:quality vs quantity (4, Funny)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579834)

You, sir - I take it - have never experienced the PopTart in it's exemplary and multitudinous glory!

Re:quality vs quantity (1)

vanyel (28049) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579986)

There are exceptions to every rule! Though even here, I've found the Brown Sugar Cinnamon variety to occasionally be in short supply...

Re:quality vs quantity (1)

Hillgiant (916436) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580162)

But to experience the PopTart is to decrease its quantity. The quality of any remaining PopTart(s) is unaffected. The quality of the PopTart that has been experienced... well, lets not talk about that.

Re:quality vs quantity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22580188)

So...what you are saying is that you can have your programmers two out of three ways.

1. Good
2. Easy to Find/Hire
3. Cheap

Pick two.

(Yeah, yeah, I know I changed it from what it really is. Meh. Is it time to go home yet?)

It takes a good software guy to know one (4, Interesting)

swimmar132 (302744) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579780)

Unfortunately, software development is one of those things where you can only judge talent if you have talent.

Assuming you already have a couple good guys on staff (but how do you know they are good? :-), do you use any open source projects? Interview those guys. Open source is a great way to get to know someone -- you can review their code and documentation, and you also know that programming is something they love. People who are involved in open source typically love programming (otherwise, why do it?).

Re:It takes a good software guy to know one (-1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580198)

Coding isn't a talent, it's an engineering challenge.

To say 'talent' implies some mystic ability;which isn't true.

Software puts number into memory. the more efficient the better.
The only place for talent is in creating readable docs for people who weren't as skilled as you.

"do you use any open source projects? Interview those guys."
What kind of crap is that? it's meaningless. I can find 100's of OS programs written by amature who don't have enough skill to code a greeting to the world.

I know the guy who created the memory controllers for the Cray, I know a bunch of other people who designed firmware for satellite systems, I see people at work fit an amazing set of work into a very small set of memory(relative to the data, natch). All these people like their work, are at the top of the skill and enjoy not coding when they are at home. They prefer playing music, or mountain climbing, time playing with their kids.

"ou can review their code and documentation, "
but how long? did they create it from scratch? do you even know of they did it? There are many OS projects that I can download the tree and claim I'm 'l337h4x3r42'

"People who are involved in open source typically love programming (otherwise, why do it?)."
To convince people you are some 'Superstar'? For the job opportunities? Because you ahve pigeon holed yourself into some sort of ideal of what is expected of you? because you can't socialize? A myrid of reasons.

Note: All the world class programmer I have worked with, all of them(but one) had good social skills. The one I did work with briefly was a number genius, but he had actually mental issues that made it difficult for him to socialize. As opposed to more people who just haven't bothered to learn. now that I am remembering, none where obese and only one had a beard.

The only way to find 'Superstars'(gah) is through going to user groups, and talk to people and who they have worked with. Pretty soon you will start hearing the same name or names pop up. Then look them up.

Then there is a whole set of really good people that work someplace because of the regular work time.
I suspect that buy 'Superstar' what they really mean is 'Willing to through your life away in exchange with being called superstar'

OS makes you know more of a superstar then OO.

Re:It takes a good software guy to know one (1)

Angostura (703910) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580262)

Sorry, are you saying that there is no such thing as 'talented engineers'?

Poor old Brunel.

Re:It takes a good software guy to know one (1)

swimmar132 (302744) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580284)

Jesus, that's not worth the time to respond.

It's easy (1)

kcwhitta (232438) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579790)

Just go through the Google address book. ;-)

Linkedin (5, Funny)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579792)

(Clears throat, adopts heroic stage pose) "People... people who know people..."

(Dodges ballistic vegetable matter)

Make them yourself (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22579806)

My company puts all out programmers together with spare body parts laying around the office. How else do you get programmers?

Not a programmer here but... (4, Insightful)

COMON$ (806135) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579820)

As a desirable sys admin I went with a headhunter. She filters out businesses and matches them to employees. I tend to be a people centered admin so I like smaller businesses, so she calls me when a really nice job comes up and sells me on it. A larger corporate job may go to someone else as sitting in a server room all day isn't my cup o tea.

My suggestion would be to use a headhunter, sure they are expensive but you get matched up with quality people that match your business philosophy. Also to you job seekers out there I would suggest finding and hitting up Head Hunters. I have had extrordinary success with em on both sides of the table.

Re:Not a programmer here but... (1)

josteos (455905) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580056)

I know some headhunters whom I trust and would certainly listen to about every opportunity.

But then you have the other 97%. Like the one who asked me to submit a Word copy of my updated resume in application for a one week position managing Juniper Networks stuff.

My qualifications for this prestigious position ? I'm a programmer, and I did juniper (the tree) DNA extractions for a MS project in college.

Re:Not a programmer here but... (1)

COMON$ (806135) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580150)

Ick, the hunters I go through are reasearched by me. If they arent up to par or exceeding it I dont bother. I lucked out with my first two. However I have seen headhunter factories where they just try to push out people as fast as possible as they get paid per client.

Re:Not a programmer here but... (1)

Otter (3800) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580116)

I have had extrordinary success with em on both sides of the table.

In my experience, finding a headhunter who is even vaguely honest is more difficult than finding good programmers. How are you choosing them?

Re:Not a programmer here but... (3, Informative)

glop (181086) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580168)

I would second that for real head hunters.

Most of the head hunters that jump on you when you post your resume on Monster are pretty bad though. They do simple keyword matching, ask silly questions ("how many years C?") and seem to rely on their speed and the amount of people they reach to find a few matches that will bring big bucks.

I ran across a sharp head hunter and he really took time to:
  - get me interested in the job
  - make the conditions of recruitment easier (he made me skip the phone interview with the company)
  - helped me prepare for the interview by telling me what kind of book I should use to revise
  - found the matches between the job and me, despites the mismatches

So I am pretty impressed with good head hunters.

Re:Not a programmer here but... (1)

nonsequitor (893813) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580200)

Just remember that Head Hunters have all the ethics of a used car salesman and traffic Humans. They'll place a loser with you if they think they can get away with it. I've used them several times to find jobs but if you're looking for permanent employees and have time to try before you buy, tell some recruiters you're looking to bring someone on Contract to Hire.

This way if they pass the initial screening you can see the programmer in their natural environment before deciding if they're a good fit for your team. Which head hunters you use would be specific to the type of programmer you want to hire. You wouldn't take a bicycle to a foreign automobile mechanic, so don't try to hire embedded programmers from head hunters who deal with mostly with web application developers.

Ask Slashdot (1)

jomegat (706411) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579824)

I usually just submit an "Ask Slashdot" article asking how to attract superstar programmers.

Congratulations! (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22579838)

You have found me. How much is my salary?

Quite simple actually (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579840)

Contact the slashdot admins and bribe them enough to find the real identity of 140Mandak262Jamuna who is definitely a programming super nova.

The problem with a programming super nova (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580226)

They spread their mess everywhere and if their IQ is massive enough, they eventually implode sucking in everything around them and not even the light at the end of the project tunnel can get out.

Get lucky, or hire young (4, Insightful)

bbrack (842686) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579844)

Honestly - imo, you are incredibly fortunate to hire excellent experienced people based off interviews (our hit rate is about 25% good, 50% passable, 25% poor)

the 2 best strategies for having a high hit rate with your new hires:

1. hire young - bring people in as interns/coops and use their term as a 6 month interview - this can give you a great insight into their potential

2. poach - has anyone else in your organization worked somewhere else? find out if there are any excellent people from previous jobs looking for work

Re:Get lucky, or hire young (1)

zkiwi34 (974563) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580240)

So, only the young can learn? That's at best insulting to anyone who is over your presumably arbitrary age limit. Poach? What goes around comes around. Are you really that foolish that you think that the young (read disposable) and mercenaries are going to be good for what you do?

Re:Get lucky, or hire young (1)

Qwerpafw (315600) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580276)

Poaching is really the only way to guarantee quality. The best way to do it is to find some company that just got purchased or merged recently, and look at the projects that were really well done, but are either getting axed due to redundancy or are just being caught up in bullshit.

Programmers, good programmers, like to get things done. They don't like to see their stuff get thrown away, deal with bureaucratic nonsense, or live with the nighmares of daily "integration efficiency" meetings (substitute buzzwords as necessary). When companies get bought out, people almost always leave. If it's a small enough company, then the really good developers might have contracts to continue with the new place, or might receive enough stock/cash to just retire -- but with the big companies, the businesses that have solid products, teams of experienced developers, and the nonsense and management structures associated with size, well, that's the ripe target for poaching.

You can, of course, get people who are happy where they are, in stable jobs at good companies. But you'll pay top dollar, and a significant premium above that for the effort of ripping them away from all that. Finding the unhappy developers can be the best way to get talent - they want to do good programming, but the bullshit is standing in the way. Promise them a job without bullshit, maybe some creative control... and they're yours.

Hiring old has its benefits (2, Insightful)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580288)

1) burnout - you may get a few good years out of them, or you may get a career.

2) you miss out on the benefits only age and experience can bring to the table.

Everything else including relevant experience and education being equal, A 40 year old whose second career is programming is much more valuable than a 25 year old.

Likewise, a person whose first career was programming and who made it to 40 and who is still productive is not likely to burn out quickly.

Some of the best guys I've worked with had a lot of gray - or missing - hair to show for it.

I'm right here! (1)

sdguero (1112795) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579846)

But don't contact me if you are outside San Diego!

Google summer of code (1)

OpenSourced (323149) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579852)

Visit it. Not all of them will be hired by Google.

Scourge the Internet forums. Solicit anybody that seems interesting.

Post to Slashdot... uhm, sorry.

Easy... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22579862)

Ask on slashdot where everyone's a superstar hacking genius. Just look at how clean and super-starry my code is:

#include <stdio.h>
void hello_world(){
  printf(_("Hello World!\n"));
int main(int argc, char **argv){
  return 0;
I'm a frigging genius...

This may help... (3, Informative)

Randolpho (628485) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579864)

Jeff Atwood had an interesting article [] on the subject a couple weeks ago. It generated a metric buttload of comments, so you might consider mining for ideas there.

Have a Blog (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22579878)

Have a good development-oriented company blog and be engaged in the community.

Biting the Hand (1)

RobertB-DC (622190) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579884)

The problem is simply finding them. The signal-to-noise ratio of the big places like Monster and Dice is terrible.

I groan whenever I see someone ranting about how Slashdot has "sold out", though the whining has gone down in the years since they went semi-corporate. Still, there's the occasional whimper, especially if an article in some way might be helpful to Slashdot's parents or advertisers.

So, will this rather backhanded mention of, whose ads I see constantly on Slashdot, silence those critics?

Didn't think so. Carry on.

In 3 Ways... (4, Interesting)

FreeKill (1020271) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579888)

I would say in 3 ways. One, stop calling them superstars. To a programmer, the world superstar implies massive overtime with little compensation (aka we want someone who loves programming so much that they won't worry about the fact that we under pay them and over work them). Two, do some research on job requirements. Don't list idiotic buzz words as requirements when the package is something a programmer could pick up in less that a day working with it. The best way to get people to completely glaze over your job posting is to list so many technologies that they are bound to be missing one or two. Third, treat them and pay them what they are worth. If you want a superstar programmer, be willing to pony up. I read something a few days ago here on Slashdot that said Facebook and Google were competing for new grads and offering salaries in excess of 110K to new grads. If that's the treatment those companies give them, what do you think someone with experience and "superstar" status probably thinks they deserve? If you can't give them the money, make up for it with benefits and ability to progress or become a partner in the company...Bottom line, be realistic, and they will take you seriously. A programmer can detect a job that will probably be bad from a mile away just by reading the description.

Judge them by their contributions to the field (3, Insightful)

Peter Cooper (660482) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579902)

If a developer is truly a "super star" there will be a trace of that on their public record. They'll have built code that they've sold, built a business, built up a successful blog, contributed to or started an open source project, written a book, any of those sorts of things. If you're hiring from Monster or Dice, you will rarely find anyone with a single one of these qualities.. so that's how to start. Find developers who've written books in the field(s) you cover.. find popular open source projects and look at who's contributing.. it's not hard, and so few employers actually bother to take this route. I don't know why though, since this is how you find the best people and, most importantly, the best contributors and communicators.

So.. books, projects, blogs, open source.. investigate all those in your field.

Consultants (1)

shuut (827307) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579912)

Try to hire consultants to do your job and steal them from their employer when you like them?

Why? (5, Insightful)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579914)

Seriously, why do you need a programming superstar, why not settle for a programmer with substantial experience in the area you need?

For example, universities do not look for supergenius professors (if not only for label "Nobel prize winner"), they are mostly looking for a person who will be able to get grants

Supergeniuses are good in the environment that does not require any results any soon. That's the way they work.

Normally people are looking for good workers with a good experience able to fit in the environment.

I am actually glad that in my line of work there is no obsession with top level performers, like it happens in showbiz. As a result a lot of people are paid quite well.

grow your own thru training! (5, Insightful)

justdrew (706141) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579918)

believe me , nothing your business is doing is so god-damned special that it takes a "superstar" to accomplish. Just find some people with some programing background and give them the opportunity to learn and grow. Anyway, the person asking of this question, if _they_ were a "superstar" HR person/manager, would already know the answer. Since the company can get by with plain old average HR/management I think it can live with average normal programmers as well.

We use the old boys network (4, Interesting)

wonkavader (605434) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579920)

While you can market to wazoo, and you should, following the advice of others, here, you'll always only be half right, because talented people first and foremost recruit other talented people and solicit other talented people for work.

So go to the experts at your current job, the people you REALLY respect, and ask them if they know someone. If they say no, then they're probably LYING, and you just don't have enough to draw their friends. Try to find out why, and fix that. Then those same people you asked will begin suggesting people.

If you don't have experts at your company, cast your web out to all the experts you know, and offer to pay people what they're worth. You may have to pay enough to relocate someone. That can get expensive. Say you'll do it.

This is in conjunction with the advertising of the job, not in lieu of it.

grep (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22579926)

When I want to find bugs in my code, I grep for bugs:

$ find src | xarg grep bugs | less

I guess you can try grepping for 'superstars'

$ find resumes | xargs grep superstars | less

Happy hunting.

Start an open source project (5, Interesting) (463190) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579934)

...and be prepared to hire telecommuters, even in other countries. All of our software guys at Slim Devices (now Logitech) found us through our open source projects, and to this day every one of the telecommutes. The stratum of talent you gain access to when you are reaching the people who are so excited about the technology that they'll work on it on their own time.... unbelievable - forget about, this is the way to do it!

It goes both ways (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22580184)

Or hire them when you see their own open-source projects, on the off chance that Google hasn't already.

Because "programming superstars" means either:
  a. people who you think (through some means) will be a superstar at writing programs in the future, or:
  b. people who you've seen write superstar programs already

Option a is rather hard. Option b is really easy: find a cool open-source program, and hire the author.

It doesn't have to be an open-source program, of course, but it's a lot easier to find out a lot more information that way, and people working on awesome closed-source programs tend to already be employed by cool companies.

Simple: Advertise very large salaries (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22579938)

Advertise your jobs with 3 to 4x the salary you pay non-superstars. What? You won't pay that much? Well, you don't need us then!

Trade shows... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22579946)

Good companies send their geeks to tradeshows, it helps keep them up to date on what the competition is doing, and stimulate new ideas.

It's a good place to show what you're doing (having a booth), and only geeks that are interested in your company are bound to look around and ask questions.

A small sign in a out of the way place with "we're hiring" would be enough for the geek that was interested in your company.

It's how my current company found me :)

Hire slowly and carefully (1)

wsanders (114993) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579960)

Most dumbasses I've worked with have been hired with the attitude "well, he doesn't know shit about anything but we'll bring him on and see how he works out".

You can't *want* or *need* to hire good people. One must not desire the thing which one wants most, Grasshopper.

BTW anyone who calls themselves a superstar is usually a dumbass hiding under a layer of bad attitude.

Only work one way (1) (745855) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579982)

I only work for companies that are referred to me by other companies I trust.

Working for people you don't know is a pain in the ass.

Word of mouth (1)

Rix (54095) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579994)

Ask your current employees to mine their contacts. Don't be cheap about it, you should be offering a 4 figure finders fee to them.

How Do You Find Programming Superstars? (4, Funny)

CaptainPatent (1087643) | more than 6 years ago | (#22579996)

What methods have other people used to find the truly elite?

Wouldn't that be sort?

Make sure their shoes don't match their belts (5, Funny)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580014)

Just this morning Slashdot has this big article about how IT professionals aspiring to break into management should wear matched shoes and belts, wear ties and full sleeve shirts and no torn/frayed/stained clothing. Read that piece and eliminate all those who follow those tips. Obviously they are aspiring professionals gunning for your job.

Real programming superstars, usually love coding so much they take precautions so that they are not accidentally promoted to have management responsibilities like tracking vacation requests and authorizing the expense accounts. So they make sure their belts don't match their shoes, their pants, if and when they wear it, are never ironed. If they are forced to wear ties, they pair it with half sleeved shirts. They are the the programming superstars. But be prepared for huge number of false positives.

For 51 Percent of your company, (1)

deweycheetham (1124655) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580034)

I will put out the best code your have ever seen. (But realistically this would never happen, so good luck there bub.)

In Short:
Capitalism is not about rewarding labor, but rewarding capital. Therefore, I really don't have a vested interested in having you pimp out my labor.

People and Recruiters (1)

GreyScales (800402) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580046)

I have to agree with 2 things said here - people referrals and head hunters. Being in the field for almost 30 years as a developer myself, I've found every one of my jobs this way. When I was a hiring manager, it's how I hired people. Secondly, have you considered not who you want, but what you want them to do? One area that is often over looked is finding talent to complete projects. If you have good people now, folks that can define the projects that need completing, then you can shop the project. In the computer field, we say "use the right tool for the task". If you apply that to the tasks you need completed, find the right person for the task and they will give you a good result. If you go the task route... The people can literally be anywhere - including telecommuters. BUT, *beware* seriously low bids for work. It usually results in crummy code. You don't mention where your company is... Maybe someone here is close and looking... Just a thought. G

Don't always rely on the internet. (2, Funny)

lantastik (877247) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580062)

Word of mouth is an incredible tool. If someone is well known in the industry and truly a superstar, people will know who they are. If you want someone like that, you need to realize you'll have to pay for them. I haven't personally "looked for a job" in a long time. I have found a niche for myself, so people look for me.

At my last two places of employment (previous was contract and I am now full time), I was found by someone who knew my reputation. By contrast, I had a recruiter call me who had gotten my name from another recruiter friend of his. He called me and told me how they were in desperate need of a senior person who would set standards, mentor teams, etc. I had a great time laughing at him when he told me that they were offering a solid 40K less than what I was making at the time.

A recommendation (1)

clckwrk (1220420) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580066)

Don't. If you're looking for people that you're going to be calling superstars. You're going to get just that, ego and all. Although they may be the best programmers on the face of the earth, generally they won't live up to the reputation they've built for themselves. They won't do it any other way than their way, for better or worse. While I'm not trying to advice you against hiring competent experienced programmers, in my experience "superstar" tends to bring out the worst. Best of luck.

I sympathize entirely (1)

pturley (412183) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580072)

There is far more need for real talent than there is talent to fill it. I think the problem is intrinsically hard (you don't need me to tell you that), and I think it always will be.

Which is to say, I don't think there's any way to improve the situation. I think you will have to continue to be clubbed over the head with a poor S/N ratio, like a soul in hell that can't ever escape the burning.

Networking + good benefits, pay, etc. (1)

RetardsForRonPaul (1175873) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580096)

My last employer was a startup, and most of the early engineers were at the top of their field, by necessity. Many of our best had worked with the founders or other execs before, or were referred through one of the same.

But they managed to get them by offering excellent pay (the company was in a state with no income tax, which made that even more enticing) and excellent benefits (1 month vacation time to start, plenty of options, matching 401k contriubutions).

"Enough volume" is 1 per open position (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580104)

Assuming you find the right one.

In all seriousness, you might try

*college placement offices at top-notch schools
*"are you really smart" filtering questions like Google did a few years back
*ads in publications geared toward smart people, like honor-society and professional-society publications or MENSA publications. Be careful though, high IQ!=quality employee.
*Requiring people to submit either a portfolio of non-proprietary work, letters of recognition or equivalent from proprietary employers [properly redacted, of course], etc. in addition to a resume or grade transcript.
*For students, look for awards and recognitions earned while in college

Be prepared to pay a premium. Be creative. Say the typical salary for the job is $70K/year. Offer 90K/year BUT hold back the last 20K of the 1st 12 month's salary until after certain project milestones are reached. If he quits before the next milestone, you keep what he hasn't collected. After 12 months roll the "bonus" into his salary. Even more creative if the person is big on social-welfare/charity: Pay him $70/year but offer him a chance to earn up to $20K/year more for his favorite charity by meeting certain performance goals.

1337 programmers. (1)

siDDis (961791) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580108)

I belive most great *young* superstar programmers can be found within several open source projects.

I also think that a lot of superstar programmers like to keep the number of working people within a project minimum, that means less than five persons, preferably 3 to 2 persons. A good salary and as little administration as possible, again preferably NO ADMINISTRATION.
I also think that the superstar programmers like to work in an environment with people who share the same interests, that means no wife/kids chatting at the office but rather things like new programming features, algoritms, data structures, memory allocation and so on.
And finally let them choose the tool for the job, no matter how weird/expensive it sounds.

First, stop looking for "Superstars" (1)

uberotto (714173) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580132)

That's a subjective term that means different things to different people. Be honest, tell the people what you want. Do you want someone who can produce good code, fast or great code slow. Do you want someone who is a strong team leader or a strong team member. What does the job require, how many hours a week are you expecting from your workers, what is a reasonable salary range. Is this a short term contract or is this a long term position.

Signal-to-noise (1)

Jurily (900488) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580136)

The signal-to-noise ratio of the big places like Monster and Dice is terrible. We've had much better luck with (for example) the Joel on Software job boards, but that still doesn't generate enough volume.
So, do you want volume or quality?

They are all Google... (1)

strangeattraction (1058568) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580142)

How do I know...Just ask someone who works there:)

Career fairs, info sessions, sponsorship (1)

etoleb (997330) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580154)

Participate in college career fairs and make yourself visible. At a place like MIT these are taken fairly seriously, but make sure to bring free swag (students like free swag). Some companies hold info sessions with free food. Others sponsor student events and competitions, it's a great way to gain appreciation from the students and get seen on posters around campus. Software engineers at these "top schools" rarely need to look very far to find a company that appeals to them, so it's important that you get them to know who you are and what you do.

Rarity requires a different approach (4, Insightful)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580156)

You cannot HR the superstar. They are so rare, that you just cannot open a superstar position and expect it to be filled up. Instead, what people usually do is when they accidentally stumble upon one, they create a superstar position for him.

LaTeX (1)

Dogun (7502) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580172)

Look for resumes made with LaTeX.

Re:LaTeX (1)

Shados (741919) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580282)

Thats going to get you "Joe Generic CS Major who thinks he's a hotshot", not a programmer superstar.

Headhunters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22580176)

Finding a good headhunter is almost as hard as finding a good employee. Bright side is they can call contacts who aren't actively seeking alternative employment.
But a few headhunters have provided more benefit than an entire HR department.

I think... (1)

KoshClassic (325934) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580186)

From the article summary, that you have some people already like the ones you are looking for. I think its the people you already have who will be your best resources when it comes to finding more people like themselves. Birds of a feather flock together - people will tend to have friends like themselves - either past colleagues, college buddies etc. Incent your people with referral bonuses and they will bring the programming superstars to you. I work for a very successful but low profile company that does not advertise itself and while they do advertise their jobs to some extent, it is still true that a very high percentage of people they hire, especially in IT, find the company because other employees referred them. The company offers a generous referral bonus, makes it known that they really appreciate referrals (even when they end up not hiring the person) and *pays attention* to candidates who are referred by reviewing their application and contacting the candidate much more quickly than they do with applications received through other sources. And as a past job candidate, I can tell you that I'd always look first at a company where someone is referring me if it makes me feel like I have a better chance at getting the job and really being wanted there.

Make sure you have a diverse staff. (3, Insightful)

DaedalusLogic (449896) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580206)

What I find to be important is to have a diverse staff. You can no more have a coding staff full of "superstars" than have a football team full of quarterbacks and wide-receivers. What I find a lot of people mean when they're asking for "superstars" is, "someone who produces a lot of code". Which sometimes is needed, a person that come hell or high water gets the problem solved. But I've also found that a lot of those people leave a path of uncommented and undocumented destruction in their path. In which case you need other talent that can polish their code or influence them to come back later and pickup the pieces. Those people are usually a little more academic, they might be as slow as Christmas and if you counted solely on them to get the product out the door... It would never get done.

As far as where you find higher quality people, I've had the best luck being involved in user groups, professional societies and getting leads from friends.

They have Bad /. karma ratings (1)

shareme (897587) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580210)

They have bad /. Karma ratings

You don't find me ... (4, Interesting)

johnlcallaway (165670) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580222)

I find you....


I haven't had to 'look' for a job (i.e. interview with more than one company) since the early 90s. I have a network, and if I want to change jobs, I ask the people I respect the most (and who I think have respect for me) if there is anything out there. (Changed job 5 times due to corporate changes such as mergers, acquisitions and startup failures.) Usually my income went up, but I took a cut in pay for the last one because the company appears to be that much fun to work for.

People who are truly superstars are probably working at a job they like and you won't be able to budge them *unless* you have an open pocketbook or something 'Google-like' that would appeal to someone who can get a job anywhere. Or something has changed (or their patience has just run out) and in a month or two will have another one through people they already know.

My suggestion is if you want a superstar, start networking with the people YOU know and respect the most. Maybe your network and a prospective employee's network will connect somewhere. That's how I got this one. A guy I know knew about this job and let me know about it because he thought it was something I would be interested in and knew that my company was going through an acquisition and thought I might be looking.

All Depends (1)

ratboy666 (104074) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580234)

What IS a "programming superstar"?

Windows applications? Unix applications? System level? Oracle? SAP?

Social Networking sites are one element of your answer. You need to be "LinkedIn" to the circles of your developers.

Give them the time of day! (1)

EEBaum (520514) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580244)

I was job hunting a couple years ago for a programming position. I graduated head of my class in C.S. (named the Outstanding Graduate at my university), and did a round of resume-bombing. I'm not one to overbearingly market myself on things, preferring to be very straightforward about what I'm looking for.

Most of the places I sent my resume to didn't even have the common courtesy to respond with "no, we don't want you", let alone "yes, come in for an interview."

Lots of good programmers aren't good at marketing themselves. If companies would give people the time of day and take a few minutes to talk to the person (especially in person), rather than discounting someone because of some mystical applicant-filtering list, they might be pleasantly surprised at who showed up.

Every in-person interview I've had (3 thus far), I've been offered the position. Granted, it could be that I got the interview because they were more interested in me than other places, but still...

Puzzles! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22580248)

Post puzzles like Google does, they tend to get phenomenal programmers by posting whiteboard puzzles at recruiting fairs (any and all recruiting fairs). They found a FANTASTIC programmer at Purdue once by doing this, and the guy didn't even go to the university, he just went to a local high school, heard Google was there, stopped by, solved ALL the puzzles they posted, and was hired then and there. Last I heard he was poised to start working there as soon as he graduated from high school.

Re: How Do You Find Programming Superstars? (1, Funny)

ozbird (127571) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580266)

By smell?

"Listen! Do you smell something?" - Ghostbusters

Programming contest (1)

gvc (167165) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580280)

Check out the winners (or even contenders) in the ACM programming contest [] Or sponsor a [] event.

But if you want to hire these superstars, be prepared to compete with the likes of Google, who do both of the above. They have hired better than 1/2 of the programming contest superstars that I have met.

Let me anticipate a strawman response: the tasks posed in programming contests do not represent the sort of tasks that grunt industrial programmers are called on to do. They do select winners.

I'm over here! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22580292)

For i = 1 to PotentialSuperstars
        If i = PotentialSuperstar
        End If
Next i


Step 1 - Don't code in visual basic...

Another Employer Trying to Save Money... (1)

littlewink (996298) | more than 6 years ago | (#22580302)

by not paying what a developer is worth.

If you want good developers, be ready to offer money for them, because everyone else wants them too.

P.S. I'm kinda tired of reading about how, of the IT firms whose employees post here, 90% want to hire the top 5% of developers. How about an article about the truth: how to hire so-so developers and _still_ get some work done? Now that's an accomplishment!

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