Joe stump on How to Hire Top Engineering Talent

In Chapter 14 of 17 in his 2011 Capture Your Flag interview, Internet entrepreneur and SimpleGeo CTO Joe Stump shares how to be competitive recruiting and motivating high end engineering or programming talent. Stump notes Google and Facebook pay roughly market rate while Netflix pays a bit more due to location constraints. He notes the hiring and motivation process is less about getting a passionate buy-in to a company vision and more about getting buy in around solving a particular difficult problem. Stump is the co-founder and CTO at SimpleGeo (, a San Francisco-based mobile location infrastructure services company. Previously Stump was Lead Architect at Digg. He programs in PHP, Python, Django and enjoys scaling websites. He earned a BBA in Computer Information Systems from Eastern Michigan University.


Erik Michielsen:  How do you hire Google quality engineering when you cannot afford to pay Google money?

Joe Stump: I don’t think you can.  And also, Google doesn’t pay that well.  Google pays almost dead on at market rate, if not a little below.  And they can do that because quite frankly they’re Google.  Facebook does the same thing.  Whereas Netflix probably overpays because they’re way out in the middle of nowhere, even though they’re an awesome company.  

So I think really in today’s world there is a real shortage or really high end engineers and there is an abundance of places that would bend over backwards to have them.  So, I think the days of startups paying a senior engineer eighty-thousand dollars when they know he’s worth a hundred and twenty and giving him an extra two-tenths of a point are gone. I think I remember at Digg I had like two-tenths of a point in the company and in order for me to make a million dollars they would have had to sold for like five hundred million dollars, right?  So, I think that the notion that you can underpay and compensate with equity are – they’re gone.  There are engineers out there that are willing to take a smaller chunk of salary for more equity.  

So my approach now is I asking them what they’re making, where they would like to be and - usually they’re right around market and usually they would like to be a little bit above market, so what I do if I had an engineer come to me and his market rate was 120K a year and he was currently making 120K a year but wanted to be making 130, I would go back to him and say, “Here are three options.  You can make 120K a year and get a quarter of a point.  You can make 130K a year and get fifteen-hundredths of a point, or I can drop you down to 100 – 110 and we can get you up to four-tenths of a point.”  And then I just let him choose.  

Erik Michielsen:  What about using purpose as a motivational tool?

Joe Stump: Most of the engineers that I work with and that I know… they care about the product, but they don’t have the same level of passion for the product that I think the founders do.  What they do have a passion for though are the technical problems caused by the product.  And the way that I motivate engineers, or at least attempt to motivate engineers, what I like to call herding cats, is much more focused on the technical problems.  

For instance, if I need to extract some polygon data, they’re going to be much more interested in the fact that they get to play with Hadoop and like other crazy technologies in order to produce that data set, than they are the actual product.  I wouldn’t say that – there are exceptions that that rule but I think more and more engineers are motivated by the tough technical problems and less so by being passionate about any given product.