Idan Cohen on How to Attract and Retain Software Engineering Talent

In Chapter 8 of 13 in his 2013 Capture Your Flag interview, technology entrepreneur Idan Cohen answers "What Has Your Experience Taught You About How to Attract and Retain Engineering Talent?" Cohen shares what he has learned about attracting and retaining top software engineering talent for product development teams. He finds three things help do this. The first is having a family-based culture where people love to work. The second is to provide a product vision and make sure developers feel connected to that vision. The third is to make sure the employee stays engaged in the work even when it may not necessarily be cutting edge.

Idan Cohen is a technology entrepreneur and product management leader at Samsung Electronics. He co-founded Boxee, which was acquired by Samsung in early 2013. 


Erik Michielsen: What has your experience taught you about how to attract and retain engineering talent?

Idan Cohen: So there's kind of three main things. One is culture. The other is the product and their connection to the product and the vision. And the third is just technically keeping them, you know, engaged and interested and intrigued. And I think we were always able to do that. Everything we worked on was always somewhat cutting edge and trying to do things very differently and working on new things. So that was great.

The product was something that they were connected with, and obviously the culture was-- where it broke was when one of those was missing. You know, I've seen people that were just working on something that was a little boring, and especially if they are pretty ambitious people, they start looking aside. I've seen when we recruited people, you know, they were not connected to the vision. In a start up, the most important thing when you connect someone-- everyone needs to be cheerleaders. Everyone needs to feel that they are building something for themselves first.

And I think that's what makes it, for instance, much harder when you are building like a B-to-B product, because at the end of the day, people are working on something that they are personally not going to use. And when you are working on something that you are going to use at home-- and you know, everyone at Boxee uses Boxee daily when they go home, and their families use it. That's an amazing effect on the way that they perform, the way they view the company, the way they like what they're doing. In terms of attracting talent, that's not easy because I think there's always the newer, sexier thing.

So it was easier at the beginning, and then as you're working sometimes on new things, and suddenly you can kind of lure people because there's something that they would find interesting, but at some point, you're-- like, through the process, you have these plateaus sometimes that are just a little harder to go and find exactly those extremely talented people that you want because suddenly, there is something else that's shiny.

And then I think it comes to personal connections that you can make with them, and again, that connects to culture. And I've seen that many times where I met with people, especially when I kind of tried to poach someone who was already working somewhere else, and I meet with them.

So a lot of times-- I've seen it happen again and again. So we go and sit down for coffee, and you know, and we bring it up, and he's not ready, and he's thinking of something else, and he actually thought of moving away. And you give it time. And you meet again in two months, and suddenly you see that as he learns you and who you are, and what the company is and comes for a visit, it kind of starts brewing in his stomach, and eventually, that-- he jumps ship and comes along and joins you. And I think that-- I've seen that work really successfully for us. So I do that a lot, just pinpointing someone and creating that relationship, especially if it's someone that I don't know, and then bring him over.