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Death of the signing bonus: Open source recruitment works

The referral's in the code

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Open...and Shut Venture capitalist Fred Wilson recently derided marketing as "what you do when your product or service sucks." Great products market themselves. In a similar way, paid recruiting is what you do when your insight into the movers and shakers in your corner of the industry stinks.

I'm not referring to the courting of talent. Instead, I mean finding talent in the first place, which many companies pay top dollar to recruiters to do for them. The recruiters throw the equivalent of nets into a big ocean and hopefully dredge up something useful for you.

At least as pertains to technical talent, this is suicide at worst, and stupidity at best.

I've noted recently that some of open source's benefits are lost in a world of mobile app stores and the web, where the immediacy of downloading source code is trumped by the immediacy of polished, easily installed code or web services. But one area where open source reigns supreme is in hiring technical talent, a benefit open source is unlikely to cede to its recently sexy peers, cloud computing and mobile.

This is so because open source is the Google Adsense of recruiting technical talent.

At every open-source company where I've worked - and I've worked at five so far - it has been easy to identify top talent: they're the most active and/or useful community members. These are people that find the project (and company), rather than the other way around.

Importantly, these engineers aren't necessarily confined by Silicon Valley's borders, with all the Darwinian recruitment competitions that go with limited supply and heavy demand. One of the best engineers at my current company hails from the hinterlands of Nova Scotia, Canada. Before Strobe I worked at Canonical, where we had employees scattered throughout 29 different countries. We hired the best Linux engineers wherever they happened to be (and many "happened to be" in some pretty remote locations).

This is a far more efficient (and sustainable) model than Silicon Valley's current hiring binge, which apparently requires $5m retention bonuses at Google and outsized salaries everywhere else, simply to hire - often - middling talent.

Some of the fat paychecks will undoubtedly be well earned, but for many companies, they're hiring on hope. Open source, again, provides a better way, because it offers employers the chance to fully vet a candidate before he or she is hired. I don't need "referrals upon request," as I already have a wealth of information on how well someone codes or gets along with others among other useful information.

No, open source is not a solution for most kinds of hiring. It probably won't net you a great marketing lead, or your next sales vice president. But if you're looking for great technical expertise, you're wasting shareholder money if you're not scouting relevant open-source projects, especially if they happen to be ones that your company sponsors. ®

Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Strobe, a startup that offers an open source framework for building mobile apps. He was formerly chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfreso's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open-source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears twice a week on The Register.

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