Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Opening My Big Mouth

Engineers generally attend meetups to learn and network with colleagues - not be recruited.  So I try hard not to be that recruiter at the meetup, opting instead to sit quietly and soak up whatever content isn't too far over my head.  Other than a few 30 second sponsor spots for buying the pizza, my meetup speaking history was essentially zero - until a DCTech event last year.

The DCTech meetup generally has three parts - start up demos, panel discussion, and the open mic.  That evening featured some strong demos and a great Big Data panel.  But it was the open mic segment that prompted me to step up and finally speak.

The open mic session went something like this:

"I'm the Founder of Startup A, we do something awesome and we're hiring engineers"
"I'm the Founder of Startup B, and we also do something awesome and we're hiring engineers too"
"I'm the Founder of Startup C,...."

On and on it went.  At least 25 start ups were looking for engineers, and each of the panelists and demo presenters had made similar hiring pleas.  Here we had over 1000 people active in the start up community, but each was already busy with his/her own project.  Seemed like a problem to me. So up to the mic I went.  My message was simple.  

Unless we attract more talented people to the local startup ecosystem,  nothing will get built and we'll all fail.  

The DC startup community has never been more visible, but we're still dwarfed by the sheer volume of IT spend and staffing on the Federal side.  Just this week, I met an engineer who'd worked for a successful startup in college, but upon relocating to the DC area ended up in Gov't contracting.   He thought that's all DC tech was.  When I told him about some of the amazing products being built locally, he was both surprised and excited.  I think there are others like him who, if they had the information, could be very interested in working on the commercial side.

So this Thursday, April 18th, Fluidhire, AddThis and CustomInk are putting on an informational event to help Federally focused IT professionals learn about the commercial/startup scene.  We'll share the upsides, and downsides, of working in the private sector.  We'll provide a basic framework for engineers to learn more about their options on the commercial side and position themselves to make the switch, should they choose to do so.

Some attendees might think the commercial side sounds great and choose to come join us.  Others might think we're insane - and that's OK too.  But at least, for those in attendance, they will know that the DC tech scene has options for them and their colleagues outside of Gov't contracting.  And that's the goal.

A handful of seats are still available for the .Gov to .Com event.  Info and registration at the link below.



Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"You know, like Justin"

My first gig in the start up space was as Director of Recruiting for Clearspring (now AddThis). It was an amazing experience and we built a great team, but it was really hard - especially at the beginning. I'd just started to feel comfortable in the role when our VP of Engineering made a request that knocked me right back off balance. The conversation went something like this...

Will: "We need to hire a Community Manager"
Me: "Huh?"
Will: "A Community Manager.  Someone to work with developers and publishers using our widget platform.  A mix of marketing, evangelism, technical support, implementation, and customer care."
Me: "Huh?"
Will: "Someone whom both developers and business people genuinely love talking to. You know, like Justin"
Me: "Ah, yeah. OK. I get it"

Although I still didn't fully grasp the role, I knew exactly what Will was looking for. He was referring to Justin Thorp, officially a Web Developer at the Library of Congress, but unofficially a prominent ambassador for the DC start up scene. Justin was an unmistakable and consistent presence at local tech meetups, where is booming voice, trademark beard, and infectious passion for all things geeky helped establish him as a major influencer, a Titan if you will, in DC tech circles.

Still somewhat confused, and having a large and growing backlog of positions to fill, I chose the direct approach.  At the next evening's meetup, I approached Justin with a simple proposition.  "We'd like you to keep doing what your are doing, just with our business card." He bought in, and a few weeks later was signed on as Clearspring's first Community Manager.

Justin thrived as our Community Manager, impacting our product and our culture.  Through his example, I learned what it means to be part of a professional ecosystem, and the value it creates for your business and those around you.  There is a long list of people who've been influential in getting my business off the ground, and Justin's name is certainly near the top of that list.

Although we don't work together anymore, Justin and I have remained friends, sharing a good number of beers and ideas over the past few years. Tonight we'll share a few drinks at a going away party for Justin and his entrepreneurial spouse Lauren, who's thriving eCommerce start up, UmbaBox, has been successfully courted by the Zappos-infused start up scene in Las Vegas.  Their departure will leave a big hole in DC's tech scene, one we'll have to work hard to fill.

Success is a tough thing to measure, as everyone has their own unique view of what matters most.  But if your day-to-day includes having a widespread impact on those around you, helping foster innovation and success of others in your community, and becoming commonly known as a benchmark in your profession - then you've accomplished something special.  You know, like Justin.

Safe travels, dude.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Living vicariously through clients

Going solo was a great move for me.  I love it.  But there is one big drawback, I don't really build anything.  I consult, broker, and advise - all valuable actions - but as a one man show in a pure services model there is nothing tangible for me to point to.  So I tend to live vicariously though the products my clients build, and get oddly giddy when those products overlap with everyday life.

Last summer, CustomInk did an amazing job on Tshirts for our family beach trip.  And when I purchase a LivingSocial deal, I'll typically share it on social media using AddThis, thus completing a complex multi-client maneuver.   My contribution to these companies is minuscule compared to heavy lifting done daily by their teams, but I take pride in having had some small impact on products that, in return, make a positive impact on my life as well.  That's why I'm so excited to be starting a consulting assignment with a company solving a problem that is a significant part of my personal life right now.

In November, I chose to have a long overdue operation to repair my right shoulder.   Even with an amazing Orthopedic surgeon in a top flight hospital, going under the knife was still a scary proposition for me.   Thanks to the wonderful team which executed my surgery, everything went flawlessly.  But the reality is that adverse events do happen in healthcare, and when they do, the impact can be devastating.

DC-based Pascal Metrics builds technology that identifies, prevents and reduces adverse events in healthcare.  Pascal's clients share stories where their technology has literally saved lives.  Amazing. How many early stage tech companies can say that?

Pascal is a really interesting client for a number of reasons, including true Big Data applications, a progressive tech stack, ridiculously smart people, and a Double Barreled Ping Pong Robot at HQ.  I'm genuinely excited to be hiring engineers, operations, product management, and marketing roles for them - Pascal is definitely worth checking out for anyone seeking a high impact job.

But what is really exciting to me is to be able to impact, through hiring, a company that is improving patient safety and healthcare across the globe for millions of people - including me and my family.

That's cool.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Fluidhire Turns 4!

Starting out in the midst of a brutal recession in January '09, I honestly didn't know if I’d make it four months, let alone four years. 

Officially, Fluidhire is a sole proprietorship, but that’s a wildly misleading label. My business would not exist without the professional ecosystem that surrounds it.    

It’s impossible to thank everyone who has  helped along the way, but I’d like to say Thank You to a few people who have made it all possible.

  • My wife, for supporting and staying with me during that first year.  Business was ugly in 09, as so was I at many times.
  • Vern McDonald, for goading me into becoming a recruiter in the first place
  • Brad Thornton, for teaching me how to achieve long term success in this business and how to keep things in proper perspective
  • Rob Eubank, Jon Olin, Jeff Harris and Brian Deblitz for giving me the opportunity to prove I could build something from the ground up
  • Hunter McElfish, for busting his tail and making Ettain Group’s DC office a success
  • Hooman Radfar and Jay Rappaport for giving me the opportunity to fall in love with the start up space
  • Liam Darmody, for being smart and ignoring my bad advice.  Your strong moves opened up big opportunities for both of us.
  • Stewart Allen, Will Meyer  and the Clearspring/AddThis engineering team for teaching me what it takes to hire truly elite engineering talent
  • Ted Leonsis, Steve Case, Revolution Growth, NEA, Grotech,  Novak Biddle and the other investors supporting the DC start up community   
  • LivingSocial, CustomInk, Resonate Insights, Opower, and the many other clients who've allowed me the opportunity to support their efforts in building world class teams  
  • All the candidates who've put their trust in me to help advance their careers and find positions where they can thrive by building amazing products
Thank you to all who've supported me along the way, I hope I can return the favor at some point down the road.  Best wishes to all for a happy, healthy and successful 2013!