Product and Engineering, Startup Life

How to Recruit from Google

I have tremendous respect for Google when it comes to software engineering. In the last 15 years, Google has taught the world how to build distributed systems at scale, how to use commodity hardware and open source software like Linux for mission critical applications, how to write search algorithms that are uncannily smart, and the list goes on and on. A lot of these innovations have been replicated at other web companies. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and others use infrastructure software modeled after approaches created by Google.

And now these innovations are making their way into the enterprise. At my first startup, Nutanix, we took inspiration from Google File System (GFS) to create storage software that runs on the same machines that run applications. As a result, we completely eliminated the need for expensive network storage. This breakthrough made Nutanix the fastest growing enterprise tech company of the last decade.

Today at ThoughtSpot, we're inspired by the “human scale” UX that Google’s search engine provides to billions of people worldwide. As we all know, search at scale is a very hard problem; it was natural for us to look for talent from Google to make this a reality.

Of course, this is easier said than done. It’s hard work recruiting Google engineers. Over the years, I’ve discovered a few secrets that helped me recruit over 50% of our engineering team from Google. Here they are:

1. Understand motivations.

Figure out what the engineer is getting out of Google. This requires understanding his or her...

  • Drive: Most Google engineers want to change the world. They believe in Google’s mission to “not be evil.” They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. If you’re trying to attract them, you have to be fundamentally driven by the same passion - making an impact. Google engineers wouldn’t want to work with someone trying to make a quick buck.
  • Compensation: You have to know that these people are paid really well. An engineer with a few years of experience may be making over $200K at Google. And a top-rated Googler can easily make $700K to $1M a year, maybe more. You won’t be able to hire them just by saying you’ll give them stock. Money alone is not going to lure them away.

2. Master the research organization structure and projects.

Before sales meetings, people study each other’s profiles on LinkedIn. But before you meet with an engineer from Google, you should catch yourself up on the candidate’s research and professional background. What are these engineers working on? What papers are they reading? You should be reading those papers, too. Learn to speak their language and discuss passions or tough technical problems that they are actively pursuing at work.

3. Go to them.

Google’s campus in Mountain View is amazing. It’s basically an extension of college, combined with a country club and fancy food court. People don’t have to leave. What does that mean? You have to go to them.

There are a lot of meet up places nearby to choose from. I decided to make the Pear Avenue Starbucks near Google my home away from home. I got comfortable with it. I probably had 200+ meetings in the first two years at that Starbucks (it helps that it’s on my way to work).

I suggest you find your own spot (there’s also an Italian restaurant for those of you non-Starbucks people). If you want to take someone from Google, you’re going to have to be there for a while, so you might as well pick a place you like.

4. Zero in on the talents you want.

Google is huge. So is the diversity of talents. If you’re trying to build a consumer app, you won’t hire the Google engineers working on the search engine. There are lots of people at Google doing different things well; you have to make sure you’re hiring the right people for your company.

Once you’ve found the right teams to target, you then need to narrow down the pool even more. You want someone who is hungry and ready for the leap to the startup world. Here are a few things to look for:

  • Someone who has been at Google for a long time and is tired of the bureaucracy that may be slowing down his or her project. Someone who is ready to get things done and move fast.
  • Someone craving more responsibility and ownership. Some of the teams at Google have become very big, which dilutes the amount of ownership any one individual can feel. At a startup, one person can have a much bigger impact.
  • Someone who wants to work with people who are not in it for the money. If they hear from an entrepreneur who is really interested in money, most Googlers won’t bat an eye. They’re the type to evaluate a company based on questions like, “can this idea make a dent in the universe”? The code they write at Google impacts billions of people; they want to understand how your technology makes someone’s life better.

5. Connect the dots.

Most people from Google are pretty happy. Wouldn’t you be, if you had access to gourmet food all day long? The result is that most people from Google aren’t out there browsing Indeed.com or dice.com where they might stumble across your company and job postings.

Of course, having a few Google engineers on your team creates momentum to help you hire more of them. But how do you build that foundation network?

A natural starting place is LinkedIn, but many engineers don’t have a lot on their LinkedIn profiles; they might not even have a profile because they don’t really need to advertise themselves. To work around this, find someone you like who does have a profile, and then look at “People similar to _______”  on the sidebar. Meet who you can in person, and network from there. One of my toughest hires took 3 introductions to find! But once you have secured a few, you’ll gain momentum and be able to recruit others.

6. Buckle in.

It’s not going to be easy to get these engineers. Knowing the right places to look, tactics and language to use will be key on selling the move to a startup, but you’ll need to be patient.

To convince one of our Principal Engineers to join, it required setting up meetings with investors, an early engineer from my first startup, Nutanix, and board members before he agreed to take the leap.

7. Most importantly, do the right thing for the candidate.

If you don’t truly believe that you can move the needle for the engineer you are trying to recruit, please don’t. Make an effort to understand his or her goals and ensure that your company has more than a fair chance of meeting those goals, whatever they might be.

CEOs wear many hats. On a given day, I’m balancing meetings with my team, reviewing product ideas and selling our product to prospects. But there is no responsibility more important nor challenging than recruiting, which is why it has been my priority since Day 0. Having the right people on board is how great products and companies are built.

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