Recruitment

Something that I’ve struggled mightily with is the trouble of recruiting technical talent for college news organizations. It appears to be a common problem, and yet I have heard few good solutions.

I’ve often been asked by my colleagues at the YDN what we can do to recruit more people to the web team. There are clearly people with the requisite skills on campus, but running house ads, putting up posters, and sending campus-wide email blasts have been completely unsuccessful this year.

Many college news orgs pay their student staff, which is one way to incentivize work, but the YDN is a volunteer-only organization. No one gets paid, and that’s really not even an option, no matter how desperate we may be. So if you won’t get paid, why would you work for us?

I’ve struggled with this question over the past year or so. There are a number of intangible advantages of working for a news org, especially one with a powerful list of alumni like the YDN, but it is hard to convince people on the basis of intangibles alone, especially when it is so easy to get paying jobs elsewhere on campus or online.

One of the big draws for me was having my work seen on a scale uncommon to most freelance projects. The YDN gets tens of thousands of pageviews per day, and have had peaks of up to several hundred thousand in a day when our stories get picked up by some popular aggregation services (e.g., Drudge Report, Huffington Post). Large amounts of traffic bring some interesting new technical problems to building a website, but is that alone sufficiently attractive to prospective staffers?

I often hear people recommend giving a pitch at a Computer Science class, but I’ve often wondered what kind of talent you can get. If you pitch at intro-level classes, they likely won’t have the programming skills to be immediately helpful anyways. If you pitch at a high level class, you need a really damn good pitch to convince people who have skills that are high in demand.

So I ask you, fellow college news folks, what means have you used to recruit and retain technical staff?

13 Responses to Recruitment
  1. Joey Baker

    Max–

    Great topic. Speaking of reach, we ought get you to do a guest post or two over at the CoPress Blog.

    You’re right: reach is a good draw.

    I’ll give you 2 more: the potential business opportunities and the draw of getting to set your own rules.

    An entrepreneurial minded developer should be excited about the possibilities of an industry in such upheaval. Especially one that is in such desperate need of good devs.

    Which leads to the second point: the industry doesn’t know how to use developers yet, just that they need some. You can pretty much write your own ticket, work on projects that you want to work on (sooo much better than working in an MS cubicle), and get to produce some pretty cool stuff.

    IMHO.

  2. Robert Baskin

    @Joey

    Both Max and I are going to work at MS. 😉 And to be fair, one of the perks of working at Microsoft is everybody has an office with a door, no cubes.

  3. Joey Baker

    Well, I’ll just take my foot out of my mouth, set my Apple shrine to the side, as ask, are you for real!? No cubes? What a way to spend all that money!

  4. Max

    @Joey

    I don’t want to sidetrack the real conversation here, but this is a common misconception and something that really sold me during the interview process. It is surprisingly hard to find pictures of the insides of MS buildings, but here are some of the new building which I’ll be working in (opened last summer): http://home.earthlink.net/~celebok/AdvantaPics/. There’s a picture of one office and a hallway, but the entire building is essentially like that. Maybe Rob knows of a site somewhere with floor plans or pictures. If you watch some Channel9 videos, they often go on tours and meet the developers in their offices.

  5. Joey Baker

    I have heard that MS is a good place to work. They’ve got a lot of money, and they treat their employees well. I’ve also heard that it is a corporation. It feels like it.

    Now, maybe I’m wrong, b/c I’m not a developer, but it seems to me that working for MS entails a lot or work on a very small part of a very small part of a massive project. Wouldn’t it would be much more enjoyable to code your own project? something that your intensely involved in, that you can claim as your own?

    IMHO

  6. Max

    @Joey

    Sure, that’s the appeal of working on small open source projects. Most programmers do work on side or hobby projects, even (especially?) if they are gainfully employed by a company. There’s nothing that says you can’t work on your own projects when you’re not on the clock, as long as it abides by any non-competes.

    I guess that is also one of the appeals of working at the YDN and Courant for me, because it’s an interesting endeavor that I can fully dive into outside of my normal course work.

  7. Daniel

    Another idea: working out arrangements with CS professors so that developers can do freelance journ projects for the YDN as independent study.

  8. Andrew

    Nice post Max. I’m impressed by the number of visitors to the YDN’s site. Makes the Pioneer look paltry. Another idea I had was what about reaching out to those outside of the YDN community?

    I know that part of the point is to build a community of involvement within Yale, but what about people going to schools that maybe don’t have tech-savvy newspapers? They might not be able to put their skills to use at their school but might be willing to do so in collaboration with YDN.

    Just a thought. Keep the posts coming I like them!

  9. Daniel

    @Andrew, that’s a good point about students working on other student papers when their own doesn’t have any use for them. I think there’s a lot of potential there.

  10. Max

    @Andrew and Daniel

    That’s something that CoPress could really take a lead on (connecting available student devs with news orgs seeking some). Any interest or capability to do that stuff yet on your end?

  11. Joey Baker

    @Max et al–

    Connecting folks up w/ other organizations is very much on our todo list. We’ve got master plans to do just that, and may start looking for developers at some point in the future. Interested? 🙂

  12. Daniel

    @Max The interest is certainly there, and we’re in the process of spec-ing out what it would take to build a tool that would be useful for this.

  13. [...] Cutler asks one of the big questions on everyone’s mind these days: how do you recruit technical t... copress.org/2009/04/13/the-big-question-recruiting-technical-talent

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