Alley vs. Valley

Engineers from Foursquare, OMGPOP and Facebook Make the Case for NYC as an Engineering Hotspot

Techcrunch Disrupt's afternoon session kicked off with a panel with the three tech heavy-hitters.
 Engineers from Foursquare, OMGPOP and Facebook Make the Case for NYC as an Engineering Hotspot

TC Disrupt NYC 2012

After a Southern-inspired lunch of sloppy joes, potato salad and cornbread, the attendees of TechCrunch Disrupt NYC filtered into the auditorium of a spacious pier building on the West Side Highway for another set of panels. Jason Kincaid, formerly of TechCrunch, took the stage with Foursquare’s Harry Heymann, OMGPOP’s Jason Pearlman and Facebook’s Serkan Piantino to discuss whether or not the East Coast is indeed the “best coast” for engineering.

“It’s sort of a silly name,” opened Mr. Kincaid, playing politely to both sides. “I think both coasts are very nice.”

He then asked the panelists whether hiring engineers in New York is particularly hard due to the fact that many of them are drawn to the glitz and cashmoney of the finance sector.

“The ideal Foursquare employee really cares about product,” said Mr. Heymann. “We sort of compete with finance in order to attract engineers but in finance there’s sort of a distinct audience. The kind of engineer that we really want to attract isn’t going to be interested in [money] in the first place.”

Mr. Kincaid asked Mr. Piantino whether or not Facebook’s IPO may have been a major reason engineers were keen to join his team.

“I think when people come to Facebook they are looking at long term,” clarified Mr. Piantino. “Our shares vest over four years, so I think the IPO didn’t change much and they’re excited about the opportunity. They want to come and build things.”

Mr. Kincaid asked whether or not the explosion of city-sponsored programs like CornellNYC help the companies’s recruiting efforts.

“I think it has a huge impact,” replied Mr. Heymann. “We did fullscale college recruiting for Foursquare for the first time this year, where we were trying to recruit a large number of grads….We gave them a choice [between San Francisco and New York] and a significant portion chose New York. There’s lots to do there, so being in New York has actually been a recruiting tool, and I expect that to only increase moving forward.”

In response to a question about company culture, Mr. Pearlman elaborated on how OMGPOP’s culture has shifted since it was acquired by Zynga.

“We’ve been able to still do our own thing and everyone’s been cool with that so far,” he assured us. “I think a lot of the Zynga values of ‘Be your own CEO’–that works to our benefit in that it’s up to us to continue to run our office the way we want to, to continue to let our engineers do what they want to do–being far away [from Zynga’s HQ] kind of helps.”

Mr. Kincaid wrapped with a question about why these companies chose to open New York offices in the first place.

“It’s kind of an odd question because it implies that Dennis and Naveen got out a globe and picked a place,” said Mr. Heymann. “They started the company where they lived and never had any intention or desire to live anywhere else. But over the past few years, the tech community in New York has increased two or three fold.”

“Especially compared to the South Bay in terms of quality of life, there’s really no comparison,” Mr. Heymann added.

Beside him, Mr. Piantino shifted uncomfortably. Perhaps the pom-pom shaking was getting to him, too.

“A lot of engineers move to San Francisco,” argued Mr. Piantino.

“A Foursquare employee can stay and build things or he can go out to events,” replied Mr. Heymann. “In the early days of Facebook I think it was like, ‘We may as well stay in and build some great products because there’s nothing to do in Palo Alto.’”

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