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Engineers with too many perks and too much pay are Silicon Valley's well-fed farm animals. Having it too good makes them less resourceful.


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Great article by the CEO of Redfin. I love this part:

Almost every day, our head of products gave me the best advice a young person can get: “Just go figure it out.” If I’d told him terrorists had taken over the men’s bathroom, he’d have said the same thing. I took on the challenges he gave me for many reasons, but the inescapable one was that I needed a raise.

Our CEO at the time liked to swing by my desk and say “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. God help you if you’re that link.” Whenever I wanted to show him one of my projects, he liked to stop me at the threshold of his office to ask, “Wait… Is it sweet?” And then, because it often wasn’t quite sweet enough, I usually turned around right there.

My first year at that startup was the most harrowing of my life. But it also made me resourceful and tough, which is probably the most underrated quality of an entrepreneur.

Today, not shipping pays pretty well, but it was not always that way.

Five years after Peter Thiel said the simplest predictor of a startup’s success is whether a founding CEO pays herself less than $100,000 – $125,000 per year, the typical founder of a company that hasn’t yet released its first product earns, according to private salary surveys, nearly $200,000 per year.

Silicon Valley coddles its young too much.

The perks offered by profitable, public technology companies such as Google are well-known; what’s new in the past few years is the emergence of the private, venture-funded company that offers yoga classes, on-site haircuts, a chiropractor, massages, laundry and dry-cleaning, as well as “an executive chef who prepares local, organic meals, available for dining at the office or to go.”

I’ve been asked about the same perks at Redfin. We want the absolute best talent, so of course our pay is competitive; we cater lunches, and our offices are pretty nice. But the problem I have with perks isn’t just the money; it’s the symbolism. After all, when evaluating a Redfin job applicant one of the big questions I’m trying to answer is “when did she do something hard?”

It could be something you put yourself through for fun like running a marathon or far more serious like fighting in a war. It could be the grinding repetition of preparing for a piano recital or the grit required to dig ditches or paint houses for a living. It could be raising a child all by yourself.

Great conclusion:

Startups, like professional football, are best done by the most desperate people on the planet. Products don’t just walk out the door on their own. Sooner or later, to ship something amazing, you have to dig deep and bring out your beast. A horse running wild is a rare sight, but it takes your breath away every time.

Perks and pay aside, the fundamental point is that engineers in Silicon Valley know that if their startup fails, they can find another great job the next day.

This is good for engineers but does mean that their incentives and their company's are harder to align.

It makes them not care if their company succeeds or not. Which is really quite sad.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Chicken_and_the_Pig

It means you want to find people who do care, and care deeply, even when they don't have to.

It's really hard to interview for that. People can fake sincerity when they want the job.

Is there any way to really know before they're actually working at the company?

You get them to discuss a project from their past that demonstrated passion, motivation and persistence.

Once you hire them, you need to encourage pride of ownership. As often as possible, incorporate their ideas into the product and assign them projects that showcase their greatest strengths.

Good answer.

The Redfin guy who wrote this article says it's important in an interview to have a candidate explain something hard he or she has done.

And then listen to her or his explanation of how they got through it.

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