To accomplish its current pace of hiring about 10 new employees a day, Google has assembled a formidable hiring machine. Its recruitment department includes as many as 300 free-lance recruiters who are helping it to identify who’s who in software engineering, according to three people involved in the effort.
To locate new talent, Google has held software-code-writing contests. It has plastered billboards with math problems, such as one on U.S. 101 in Silicon Valley that asked drivers to identify „the first 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of e.“ It has paid to insert an „aptitude test“ into tech magazines, encouraging engineers to submit their answers to 21 questions, along with their résumés. And it has upped the stakes in competing with other companies to draw attention from engineering students, handing out free pizza and raffling off gadgets to boost university recruitment.
One top-notch engineer is worth „300 times or more than the average,“ explains Alan Eustace, a Google vice president of engineering. He says he would rather lose an entire incoming class of engineering graduates than one exceptional technologist. Many Google services, such as Gmail and Google News, were started by a single person, he says.
To compete against its larger rivals, Google beefed up its recruiting effort, retaining veterans like Shally Steckerl, a contract recruiter who runs a consulting firm called JobMachine, and Eric Jaquith, a free-lance recruiter who runs Recruiting Choices. Both began working as in-house consultants for Google in September 2004, when the company had more than 80 full-time and contract recruiters in-house, says Mr. Jaquith.
Messrs. Steckerl and Jaquith say they were instructed to diversify Google’s engineering pool by hiring more female engineers. They called their team „Zion,“ after the underground city of humans in „The Matrix“ movies. Mr. Jaquith says he was assigned to track down all women from the top 50 universities world-wide who had graduated after 1980 with Ph.D.s or master’s degrees in physics, math or computer science. By last December, the end of his stint at Google, he had made thousands of phone calls to female engineers, he says.
Jim Stroud, a contract recruiter involved in the effort between December 2004 and June, says he unearthed several hundred names of female engineers. He estimates that fewer than 10 of those were hired during his tenure. Google’s job-interview process is „like a Senate committee hearing,“ says Mr. Stroud. „You have to get approved by 14 people at least before you get hired.“
Mr. Steckerl says the Zion group hired more than 45 engineers during the last quarter of 2004, and increased the total to more than 100 in the first quarter of 2005. Google declines to comment on Messrs. Steckerl, Stroud and Jaquith or the percentage of engineers who are female. Google says it doesn’t have 300 recruiters, but declined to elaborate.
Other tech companies have made runs at Google employees. Mr. Steckerl says Microsoft approached him earlier this year. In April, he joined Microsoft as a full-time employee. Within weeks, he says, Microsoft had hired away three other Google contract recruiters from the Zion team, including Mr. Stroud. „They knew who they wanted and they went after us,“ says Mr. Steckerl.
Abilio Gonzales, Microsoft’s general manager of staffing, says the software maker has stepped up recruiting in the past year, telling prospective hires that it works on a wider array of technologies than Google. He says Microsoft’s staffing department has grown to 355, up 15% from a year ago.
Yahoo has also expanded its recruiting team. Its executive committee discussed Google’s hiring push at meetings earlier this year, says Usama Fayyad, Yahoo’s chief data officer. „We believe the [compensation] levels they are willing to go to are unreasonable,“ says Mr. Fayyad. „It has gotten nuts over the last six months.“
Nevertheless, Prabhakar Raghavan, Yahoo’s head of research, contends Yahoo has won a majority of the head-to-head hiring battles against Google that he has been involved with. But he says it may become harder to compete if Google continues with what he contends are inflated compensation packages. Earlier this year, he says, Google offered one job candidate much more money than Yahoo was willing to pay. When the engineer decided to join Yahoo anyway, Google doubled the amount of stock it was offering, to no avail, he says.
Mr. Raghavan, who says he was wooed by Google and Microsoft before joining Yahoo in July, argues that such „irrational“ offers are bad for the tech industry because they distort compensation expectations and sow resentment among lower-paid employees.
Allan Brown, Google’s director of recognition and human-resources systems, disputes that the company is bidding too aggressively for talent. He estimates that Google wins only about half of its hiring showdowns with Yahoo. He says Yahoo also engages in bidding wars, and that Google would consider doubling a restricted stock offer only if there was a strong argument for doing so. Mr. Eustace adds that Google sometimes offers compensation of up to about 15% more than other tech companies, but generally stays within the same range as its rivals.
EBay spokesman Hani Durzy says the San Jose, Calif., Internet auctioneer has lost 10 to 20 technologists to Google since the start of the year. But Mr. Durzy says eBay hired 1,300 people during that period, including 800 technologists.
Google may need to assemble an engineering brain trust to hedge against a potential talent drain. With its stock closing yesterday at $416.47 a share, many of its earliest employees have become multimillionaires. At other successful tech companies such as Microsoft, some wealthy veterans have retired young. Earlier this year, a Google vice president of engineering, Wayne Rosing, retired to pursue his passion for astronomy. Google says there is no mass exodus and that its annualized attrition rate is in the low single-digits, below average for a tech firm.