Interns: How to Hire Porn Stars

Do we actually want to hire porn stars? No. Its a joke stolen from a recent hacker news posting. And despite being flamed a bit in the forum the author made some pretty good points about how funny the job titles we give hackers are. Avery has some thoughts on the interesting job titles and reason for them, and honestly I like his titles way better than the generic ones. And at the end of the day we don’t really want Rock Stars or Ninjas but something a lot more like Porn Stars (willing to work anywhere and probably keeps working at home, doesn’t show up drunk or invisible, etc).

The important part – that we are looking at doing some hiring soon, and looking into our longer term growth. Interns are very important to us, we all used to be co-op students at UWaterloo, we know co-ops rock, and we know the best way to get talent before it gets into the market is to get it as students. Adam wrote a great article about this and I’m stealing some of his ideas here, but the first big problem is no one knows who we are (see avery’s article). We are generic start-up X. And as Adam correctly points out, students, for two reasons, want to work for the Googles and the Facebooks of the world. They get all of the good talent for free, and its not in the students best interests at all. Adam proposed a YCombinator for interns, and I think its a great idea, but way outside the range of what we can do at Upverter right now. So while he is working to make it happen 😉 we have cooked up our own little hacks to try and solve our part of the problem. But first, the problems as we see them:

  • Students don’t get startups. We have been reading Joel and PG since we were teenagers (Steve might have started in the womb). We lived and breathed startup during our co-op terms. We know we would someday be in these shoes. Hell I even dropped out of high-school to start my first business. But other students don’t get it. there are probably tons of students that would thrive in startup culture but have no idea what it means to work for one.
  • Students are irrationally risky. Adam was bang on with this point. You are at the most flexible point in your life, why would you ever chose stability?!?! You could do anything. You could go anywhere, work anywhere. You have no obligations and no ties. Go work for Google when you get bad, or old, or slow, or married.
  • Students want resume juice & prestige. But they don’t know how to get it. They wrongly assume that for their next co-op or real job someone is gonna care that they worked at Facebook. What they don’t realize is that owning a project at a startup and keeping them alive is worth a million times as much to a hirer.
  • Startups are scary & job postings suck. Students don’t know how to pick a startup. They don’t know if a startup is going to disappear and leave them stranded. There are a lot of crappy jobs masquerading as startups, and they are hard to see. And the big boys have realized that fun titles and cool descriptions can hide the cubicle farm reality.

We are going to do 2 things to try and solve these problems. The first is really simple. We are going to convince CECS to allow us to start embedding youtube videos in our job postings. We think this would be magic. The vibrancy, energy and passion that would be conveyed by the three of us talking at a webcam from our ‘office’ cant be faked. You cant cover up a cube farm in a video. You can’t fake interesting. And students immediately get a sense of fit. We think this will do a pretty incredible job of tackling the scary startups & crappy postings problems. The second thing we are going to do is talk to students. And honestly this probably wont scale very well, but we think talking to them about what a startup is, what co-ops do in startups, and what we did in startups is a hell of a first step.

We want to talk about what we look for when hiring and why the name Google will never matter as much as the work you do. We could talk about how none of us ever worked for a buzz name and what that means. About where innovation actually happens and why Google and Facebook buy so many startups. We also want to talk about risk, and give the students a vocabulary for talking to a startup; The questions to ask, and how to know if one is going to disappear or not. The goals of this talk would be pretty simple:

  • Explain what a startup is and why they are the innovators
  • Look realistically at the risk, and the reward
  • Give students a skill-set for evaluating startups
  • Dispel the resume juice myth

And realistically if we could pull off two of these we would be doing pretty well! So whats this look like? We think its us renting a lecture hall and inviting 7 of our most interesting startup friend and colleagues. Fill the hall with a hundred or so of the best and brightest engineering and CS students. Tell stories for about 10 minutes each, no more, and try and get these kids excited about startups. Tell stories that talk about how real and influential the work we do is. Tell stories about the day we killed the internet to Chicago or had a million page views, or changed the world. Tell stories about how the CEO gets the co-ops coffee, not the other way around. Tell a story about hiring and whats really important. A story about what Mom said when PG was on the cover of Forbes. Little, big, passion, excitement, real work, real change, 3 guys in a dorm room. Afterwards we all get pizza and beer together and we can mingle. But the takeaway, and this is where we win or lose, is what the students apply for the next day. Do they still click Google? or do they say “what the hell, why not try a startup”.

At the end of the day its a hack, and we dont really know what will happen, but with any luck we get some great co-op applications. That being said the motivation and the goal is to fix the fundamental problems with the culture around going to work for a startup. I’ll probably be writing more about this as the event gets closer. We think it will be happening May 18th at UWaterloo – but its not set in stone yet. And we are still looking for speakers, sponsors and thoughts, so email me (zak@upverter.com).

Bonus: I found a very cool resume while I was doing some research for the blog post. I’m not sure if CECS would ever allow co-ops to post a resume like this, but it would be monumental in fixing the opposite problem of getting a billion resumes for a co-op posting.

Update: Avery posted a response to some of my points, and I think its perfect. I took a pretty hard line in one direction with this post, and he has done a great job of pointing out where I’m over the edge. I only hope the dialog continues!

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