How To Hire

December 22nd, 2007

As the owner of a fast-growing software business, my thoughts are turning increasingly to the question of whether I should hire help, and if so, how can I locate the right help. So many factors come into play. Personality. Ability. Style. And most important of all, passion for the products I’d be asking this person to work on.

Fortunately, the Mac software business mimics every other aspect of life, in the sense that unless you’re already the best at something, there’s always value in listening to others with more experience. In this instance, Wil Shipley comes through with what is quite possibly the best “Help Wanted” ad I’ve ever read.

If you wanna work for me, laddy 
There's a price you pay 
I'm a stickler for design 
You gotta write code the right way 
If you want an ADA
I can make your wish come true
You gotta make a big impression 
I gotta like what you do 

I couldn’t have put it any better myself. Instant classic.

9 Responses to “How To Hire”

  1. Kevin Ballard Says:

    Coincidentally, I’ve been looking for contracting work to tide me over until the summer when I go back to interning. Perhaps we could work something out? ;)

  2. Andy Lee Says:

    If I were in your position, I would review this:

    He links to Joel Spolsky and Rands in Repose — I’d review their writings on the subject too.

    Joel’s general guide to what to look for is easy to remember: (1) smart; (2) gets things done. I think he may have added “(3) plays well with others” at some point.

  3. Fake Rixstep Says:

    Here’s why I won’t be applying, Mr Red Sweater:

  4. Aaron Harnly Says:

    Pretty good, though I suspect the “laddy” bit just might run afoul of the occasional Civil Rights Act…

  5. Michael Kirkham Says:

    In my experience, the hardest part of hiring the first employee for your established business is letting go of the idea that you should/need to do everything yourself or that things need to get done just exactly how you would do them–likely a big reason many of us decide to start our own software businesses.

    My advice: if you have more on your plate than you can handle and you can afford to hire help, that’s all you need to know about whether you should. Put any doubts or what-ifs you might have out of your mind and just go for it. Fantastic if you can find and afford to hire the best, even better if you can surround yourself with people faster and smarter than you, but don’t put so much weight on doing so that you won’t hire anyone until you can.

    Getting those stuck projects you need to do but don’t have time to do moving is far more important than perfection, and if you never get to them because you never take the risk of hiring help then you’ll be severely limiting your potential. I’ll bet that once you’ve got your first employee you’ll be thinking two things: “how/why did I ever go so long without hiring help?” and “ooh, what else isn’t getting done that I can offload to yet another person?”

  6. Reginald W Says:

    Hiring is all well and good, but if you don’t have the processes worked out and in place, you will spend more time supervising them and creating the processes than anything else, meaning the work you do (and make money at) will not get done.

    I don’t write software, but the Peter Principle arises in anything, in that you rise to your level of incompetence. If you are a god programmer, then stay programming, but hire people to do your website, to handle your mail and ordering and cleaning your offfice and such stuff and stick to the stuff that makes you money, namely programming.

    Ensure the person you hire for specific tasks can do them with minimal supervision and if it involves money, ensure that there are checks and balances to keep sticky fingers out of the till.

    Until you need someone who can do the exact thing that you are doing, get rid of those things that you don’t like doing, that prevent you from making money and that drag you down physically, emotionally and/or financially. When you have all those things out of your way and you are still needing more of what you do best, then look to hire someone who can assist you on those things that make you money.

    Just my thoughts. Merry Christmas.

  7. Reginald W Says:

    You can be a god programmer or even a good programmer for the comments to apply. :-)

  8. Erik M. Buck Says:

    I started a one person NeXTstep–>Openstep software business in 1993. By 1995 I had sold $7 figures worth of software and began to rent office space and hire/train my first eleven employees. At first I hired contractors for brief periods. You might know Don Yacktman He bounced back and forth between working for me and working with Scott Anguish. Our big break happened in 1996 when one of our customers featured products that incorporated our software in a trade show exhibit. A customer executive was quoted praising our software in the daily trade show magazine, and our phone basically never stopped ringing after that. Our software was featured in just about every aerospace magazine and shown on the cover of many. By 1997, our sales were most likely exceeding NeXT”™s sales from their best years.

    Hiring was always a challenge. One of my best employees was a physics undergraduate that I met because he is the little brother of my wife’s best friend from high school. (It’s always who you know…) In general, nobody you hire will have the same passion that you have. If they did, they would be competing against you rather than working for you. You need your employees to be motivated and interested in their work, but in the end you are offering them a job much like other jobs they could take. Hiring is a mutually beneficial financial relationship. Don”™t take things personally and don”™t expect your employees to show any more dedication or loyalty than you showed to your last employer.

    My company provided generous benefits including tuition reimbursement, insurance, and a retirement plan. I provided at least one free lunch per week at local restaurants and kept the refrigerator and snack room well stocked with free munchies at all times. We had a pleasant work environment, but that didn”™t stop all problems. I fired one employee for not working the hours he said he worked, but only after other employees were constantly complaining that the guy wasn’t contributing his fair share. I later fired one of the complaining employees for the same offence. Firing is harder than hiring, and then you have to hire a replacement for the person you fired. For that reason, avoid firing anyone as long as you can.

    In the end, a combination of Apple and of 9/11/2001 killed my business. Our customers made money by selling avionics, the electronics in aircraft cockpits. We made money by selling the software used to design and build avionics. The first major hit came when one of our customers committed to deliver a lab full of avionics development systems based on our software to one of the big two commercial aircraft manufactures. When Apple refused to sell more Openstep licenses at any price, my customer couldn”™t meet their commitment, and I couldn”™t sell any more software. Our software needed to run in embedded systems on single board computers, so Mac OS X, when it finally arrived, was not suitable. The second hit came with the attack on 9/11. After 9/11, our customers temporarily stopped designing new avionics in anticipation of a commercial avionics slump. In fact, on 9/11, I was on-route to San Diego for final acceptance test of another of our software products by the USMC. I was stranded in Minneapolis, and the colonel in charge of the project was transferred to South Korea to replace someone who went to Afganistan.

  9. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Erik: thanks for the brief history of your business, and for the practical tips based on your experience. Good stuff!

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