Winning the Talent War


Employers in Silicon Valley and beyond are used to fighting the talent war – especially for qualified engineers. Stock options, free food and dog-friendly environments have become the norm. Attractive hiring packages are a must. Retention efforts are aggressive – think of Google’s $150 million payout to retain two top product managers. The talent war rages on, complete with warnings like “Top 10 Reasons Your Talent Will Leave You.” But recruiters are not helpless in this matter. They can win an unfair share of battles to hire brilliant people by focusing on the following fundamentals.

Understand Motivation 3.0

Companies with the best talent know that it’s not all about the money. Traditional recruiting based on title, salary and bonuses can only go so far; employees with the right skills know they can get the money and benefits they need. But what good engineers and other creative professionals crave is something not every company can give – the ability to develop mastery with leading-edge technologies, to work with a certain degree of autonomy, and to have a sense of purpose in their work. Companies must recruit with these motivating factors in mind.

Autonomy, mastery and purpose are what truly motivates us, says Daniel Pink. The popularity of his book “Drive” is evidence of how this message resonates with today’s workforce. In my years of building successful platform development teams for eBay, PayPal, and now Axcient, I’ve recruited some of Silicon Valley’s best engineering talent by keeping Pink’s Motivation 3.0 factors in mind:

  • Autonomy – People desire to be self-directed. While companies need employees to deliver specific results within deadlines, it’s crucial to offer leeway in how they get there. For engineers, this may mean flexibility in hours and schedule. At Axcient – voted one of the Bay Area’s Top 10 Places to Work – some of our engineers choose to start at noon and work through the evening, while others opt for a standard 9-5 schedule. Our meeting schedule accommodates either preference. We also follow an agile methodology, which at its heart offers a lot of autonomy.
  • Mastery – People want to learn and improve their skills. Engineers find it exciting to do sophisticated, technically challenging work, especially when it addresses current issues like Big Data. To lure engineers, a company must invest in development and offer the chance to work on technology that will advance a platform or disrupt a market. At Axcient, our engineers are attracted to the challenge of working on a SaaS platform that brings multiple petabytes of data into the cloud. Be sure your recruiting efforts are closely tied with the engineering hiring manager so you can deliver the right messages about your technology to potential hires.
  • Purpose – People desire to have an impact on the world. Engineers want to understand how the company they work for, as well as every line of code that they write, will impact a customer. Be sure job descriptions and interviews give examples of how your employees contribute to a greater purpose. At Axcient, we can show candidates how we save businesses from downtime and data loss, offering examples of how our engineers and support team helped partners virtualize their systems during Hurricane Sandy.

Don’t Compromise

In addition to addressing the employee’s motivational drive, share your vision for the company’s future. To convince a prospect that your company is going somewhere, show them where your product is differentiated in your competitive landscape. Also understand the impact of the network effect – that smart people attract other smart people. Once you have a core group of exceptional talent, it will draw others of similar caliber. Never compromise by hiring someone “almost good enough,” because the moment you do, you downgrade your ability to attract great talent.

Smaller Companies Have an Edge

If you are a small company, especially in an interesting space like cloud or SaaS, you have an almost unfair advantage for finding top talent. You can offer people the opportunity to have a tremendous impact in an environment that is far more fast-moving and risk-taking than a big company. This is appealing for employees who are motivated by a natural desire to learn and succeed. The wise recruiter will understand these motivating factors and use them to attract the very best and brightest.

About the author

Asim Razzaq, VP Engineering Axcient, welcomes your comments and feedback on this topic. You can reach him at View open engineering positions at Axcient here