Talent Crunch

To Beat Goldman and Google on Campus Recruiting, Startups Like Square Sponsor 25-School Hacker Tour

“It’s more about free time and dogs and beer and Ping-Pong and, you know, collaboration, versus suits and wine.”
airstream To Beat Goldman and Google on Campus Recruiting, Startups Like Square Sponsor 25 School Hacker Tour

(Photo: Hackertour2012.com)

Talk to a startup recruiter about hiring young developers, and he’ll eventually admit it’s hard to compete in the campus cattle call, with Goldman and Google sucking up all the air.

But rather than rely on incendiary exit letters or Aaron Sorkin scripts to convince engineering talent to come over to to the startup side, a number of smaller companies are banding together to flex their collective recruiting power.

This fall, startups like Square, Box, 10Gen and Codecademy are sponsoring a nationwide effort called Hacker Tour 2012 that kicks off September 12th. The tour targets computer science and engineering students at 25 top campuses, including Cornell, Princeton, Penn State, MIT and Harvard on the East Coast—which they claim will reach 20,000 students. The bulk of the positions the tour hopes to fill are in software engineering, with user-experience designers coming in second.

The tour is being organized by Readyforce, a San Francisco job search company that matches college students with the right employers. (Sponsorship for the tour costs $5,000, and Readyforce gets no commission for job placement.) Hacker Tour will be using customized tech talks, career fairs and yes, an Airstream bus. The company was lucky to score mobile payment company Square, founded by Twitter luminary Jack Dorsey, as its first sponsor.

“Square got it immediately,” Anna Binder, Readyforce’s VP of client relations, told Betabeat by phone. “The demand for engineering talent is by far the biggest story in Silicon Valley right now. Many people say the challenge you face is not raising money, it’s finding engineers to hop on the bandwagon with you to help realize your dream.”

One of the goals of the tour, said Ms. Binder, is to “tell the students the story about their options outside of Goldman and McKinsey and the Ford Motor Company. Just because those companies are the ones that are prevalent and super-organized on campus doesn’t mean,” that they’re the only choice.

The time seems right to test out the world-changing waters. Last winter, Occupy Wall Street turned investment bank recruiting events at schools like Yale into a “crucible of controversy.” Meanwhile, student newspapers at Harvard, Cornell and Dartmouth urged students to consider a career outside finance. And that was before the “Why I Left,” Goldman Sachs resignation bomb exploded across the New York Times op-ed section.

Working at a startup gives students a chance to work in an environment, Ms. Binder said, where you can have access to the CEO and, “Raise your hand and say, ‘You know what? I don’t think that’s a good idea.’”

Partly to reflect the startup work experience, and partly, we imagine, because it’s cheaper, Ms. Binder said, “I want to take an approach that’s a little bit different than Goldman Sachs’s wine-and-dine.”

But how does that pitch play amid rising unemployment rates to an audience that will soon have to start paying off their student loans? “Part of the startup dream is this opportunity to really make it big,” Ms. Binder acknowledged. “This is your opportunity—if you choose well and you focus and commit yourself, you do have the opportunity to build a billion dollar business. It’s more about free time and dogs and beer and Ping-Pong and, you know, collaboration, versus suits and wine.”

Maybe leave out the part about what happens to that billion dollar valuation when the public markets get their hands on your stock.

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com