August 28, 2010

The Hiring Smiley Curve

I recently commented on how hi-tech companies seem to advertise for "rock star" developers. This appears to me to be a little shortsighted. Maybe Google have enough money to do it, but the average company looking for a singer wouldn't be able to go out and hire Mick Jagger or Van Morrison (yes, I know, I am showing my age - it will become obvious this isn't an accident). So why do they think they can afford the software equivalent?

As I mature (that sounds so much less pejorative than "grow older", doesn't it?) I have realized that my decision to eschew the corporate world and plough my own furrow wasn't entirely disastrous. I have been self-employed, or an employee of a company which I owned, for over twenty years now. The last large company I worked for was Sun Microsystems, and I left in 1988 after realizing that I was a misfit for the corporate environment. Since then I can honestly say I have never worked for a more charming or delightful person. Nowadays my boss never hesitates to take my interests into account.

Just occasionally, I have toyed with the idea of third-party employment, most recently with Google (twice). The first time I explained before going for interview that I was not prepared to relocate to the West coast . At the time I was moving back from the UK to the USA, and had just bought a house in Virginia, so I was a little surprised to learn three weeks after my interview that "we aren't prepared to make a remote hire, but would consider you for Mountain View". Large company mentality: ignore what the potential recruit wants, and try to hire them anyway. No sale. About a month ago they called me to ask if I would consider employment in the DC area, but it turned out they were only hiring for Java projects. I used to write Java but I'm all right now, so the recruiter and I agreed to part company amicably after ten minutes on the 'phone.

None of this amounts to a hill of beans but I was encouraged about a year ago, when I was talking to someone in New York City about experience levels and consulting opportunities, to learn about the "smiley curve" theory of work rewards. In brief, this theory says that you hire young raw recruits because they are full of energy and don't cost much. As people become more experienced they expect more money but their productivity doesn't go up commensurately, so they are less desirable but you need them because there aren't enough young turks to do all the work. Then, as you mature, your desirability goes up again because (direct quote, as far as I can remember) "you have seen everything and you know everything".

If true, this is quite encouraging. There must be lots of companies looking for someone as experienced as me. The only question now is whether they can afford me!

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