How To Find, Vet, & Hire 10x Developers with Ross Buhrdorf, CTO of HomeAway

Finding developers can often be the difference between success and failure inside of a technology startup. You need great developers to build great products. You need creative developers to solve creative problems. And frankly, you need more of them if you want to move faster than the competition.

The problem is often that every startup is trying to hire from the same small pool of available talent. To help you find the developers you need to build out your team, I elicited the help of Ross Buhrdorf, CTO of HomeAway. I can’t think of a better person to chat with on this topic. During his time at HomeAway, Ross has grown the HomeAway development team to over 300 developers.

During our discussion, we cover everything from finding a technical co-founder and building an awesome developer culture to scaling your development team.

If you want to understand the dev ecosystem for tech startups, Ross has the answers.

Have comments, questions, ideas, or feedback? I want to hear it. Tweet me at @william_griggs.


Topics Covered In This Episode

  • Before we dive in, tell us briefly about your background and what you are up to at HomeAway.
  • If you were going to write a book on the topic of finding developers, what would the most important chapter be and why?
  • What are common misconceptions in finding developers?
  • How do you find great developers?
    • How do people screw it up
    • How do people do it right?
  • If you were 20, new to Austin, and needed to find 3 developers for your startup or you’d have to donate $250k to an anti-charity, what would you do?
  • When I say great engineer whose name comes to mind and why?
    • What should our audience look for developers?
    • How do you test for it?
  • What’s the interview process look like?
    • What kinds of things do developers care about?
    • What do developers expect?
    • How do you differentiate yourself
    • What are the top 3 reasons engineers leave companies?
  • What am I missing? What did I not cover that our audience needs to know?



Startup Slingshot Radio’s audio transcription is done by GMR Transcription

William Griggs: In this episode I talk with Ross Buhrdorf. Ross is an experienced technical leader and currently the CTO of HomeAway, which boasts a development team that he’s helped grow to over 300 developers. During our discussion, we cover everything from how you can find a technical cofounder and how you can build an awesome developer culture to how you could scale your development team. Without further ado, here’s my interview with Ross Buhrdorf of HomeAway. Enjoy. All right, Ross. Thanks for joining us today.

Ross Buhrdorf: Thanks for having me. And I am super excited to be honored by being on Startup Slingshot. I can’t wait to hear it and send it to all my friends and my Mom.

William Griggs: Yeah, we appreciate it. I hope your Mom’s an entrepreneur. If she is, I know she needs developers, and that’s what our goal of this episode is to do is to figure out and help our audience figure out how to find, vet, and hire great developers for their startup. It seems like everywhere you look, everyone wants to hire more startups or more startups – more developers than they can find.

So Ross I want you to help leverage your experience in the trenches to help our audience be successful at hiring great developers for their startups. So before we dive in, can you tell us briefly about your background and what you’re up to over at HomeAway?

Ross Buhrdorf: Sure. I am a software engineer. I graduated from the University of Texas with a software engineering degree in computer science. I’ve been hiring for 20 plus years. I’ve been a hiring manager. I’m currently the CTO at HomeAway. At HomeAway when I started there, we had five developers. We have now over 300 plus developers.

I’ve been a part of hiring certainly the foundational set of developers, and then the hiring managers take over. So I feel, like, I have a great deal of experience in this. People ask me to give them advice and council on hiring. I really feel, like, it’s something that I focus a lot of time and attention on.

William Griggs: Very cool. So now, when people ask you, you could just send them this interview, and you could save some time. How does that sound?

Ross Buhrdorf: Perfect. I’m excited about that.

William Griggs: Awesome! 20 years plus of experience, like you said, and your most recent company, HomeAway, going from five to 300 developers. Okay, I knew you were the right person to talk to. Now, the audience is confident you’re the right person to guide them in growing a kickass development team just like the ones you were describing.

So I like to do, kinda, rapid fire questions sometimes, and we can dig in as we find some interesting pieces. So if we’re thinking about finding them and say you were gonna write a book on the topic of finding developers, what would be the most important chapter?

Ross Buhrdorf: I think the most important chapter would be networking. Even during the interview process, you’re really trying to figure out how they would be in the job. The best way to find out how a person’s gonna perform in the job is by having a common person that you know and respect vouch for this person on how they behaved in the job. I mean, that’s the trick is references and networking.

William Griggs: Got it. So as the startups or the founders at home are thinking through this, thinking through their current personal network and then thinking through how to continue to, kinda, build out that network, is that what you would guide them on?

Ross Buhrdorf: That’s right. That’s right. I mean, you want to use your existing network. You want to use other people’s networks. Ultimately, you want a good reference on a candidate that fits your criteria for that particular job. And it’s like when you date. You get multiple times to figure out if this is the right person for you. When interviewing for a job, we don’t get that much time.

So it’s such an accelerated process that you have to talk to someone else that you feel comfortable with that shares the criteria that you want for hiring a person, and get those good references so then it lowers your risk on hiring this person.

William Griggs: That makes a lot of sense. So the process of derisking looks at yes, this person might be interested in joining your startup, but you only have a few data points, a few interactions with them through the interview process whereas you have someone else in your network that has an extended period of time in which they’ve known the person and interacted with the person. And so you’re able to lean on them in order to get a more holistic understanding. You’re able to derisk it. That makes a lot of sense.

Ross Buhrdorf: That’s right. That’s right. That’d be the key chapter.

William Griggs: So the key chapter is all about networking so working your current network, building out –

Ross Buhrdorf: Networking and references.

William Griggs: Got it. Working your current network and then building out your network. Is it as simple as just shooting out some emails and saying hey, do you know a good ruby on rails developer? Is it as simple as that for your network?

Ross Buhrdorf: I think that is certainly one of the things you should do. You need to go after it from all angles. One of them is email. I think as far as recruiting, you should constantly be recruiting, especially as a startup or if you’re an engineering manager. Any company that’s growing, even if you don’t have open positions right now, you will have open positions in the future.

So you should constantly be recruiting so that there’s always this perception that you’re looking for great people. And that can include periodically sending out emails if you’ve got a specific job, but whenever you’re out in public, constantly be recruiting. Even if –

William Griggs: Yeah, so it sounds like getting involved in any kind of a tech community in general is gonna lead you to more of those opportunities to find those people.

Ross Buhrdorf: That’s right.

William Griggs: Maybe they’re going to meetups for your particular tech stack or marketing meetups or what have you for people and just starting to connect that way. Do you also see that – I’m sure –

Ross Buhrdorf: That –

William Griggs: Go ahead.
Ross Buhrdorf: – that plus you want to have your existing staff. You really want to have them be constantly recruiting also because the way it works from this network effect is you want to – I’ll just tell you my story. So at HomeAway I hired my initial people that came in there. Well, some of them I had worked with nearly 20 years at multiple places, so i.e. I knew what I was getting when I hired these folks.

And I consider them some of the best in the industry. So I get them. I get a base of those people. They go out into their networks. They bring in a base of people that then brings in a base of people. Now, this is based on a culture, and you’ve got some questions down farther on the list here. This builds a culture of bringing in the best people or bringing in people you want to work with, brining in the outstanding staff.

So it’s that network effect of bringing in the best people, and the antitheses of this is if you get someone that’s not the best people is get rid of them very quickly. So I’m quick to hire and quick to fire with respect to building a great team.

William Griggs: Gotcha. It makes a lot of sense. So we talked a little bit about tapping into your personal network, going out into the community, tapping into that. I’m sure you sit as an advisor on some startups. Is that also a good way to start building that network and getting access to talent?

Ross Buhrdorf: Yes, I mean, as far as from a startup point of view is getting advisors that have a big network is a great way to access that.

William Griggs: Very cool. So what about –

Ross Buhrdorf: Kind of cool.

William Griggs: – what about technical recruiters? It seems like there are a lot of them out there. Do you ever recommend startups use them?

Ross Buhrdorf: Yes, I do. And I think, again, it comes back to this networking and referencing part of it. What I see in Austin, which is fabulous, is a lot of companies are coming to town either from the valley or from all over the country and the world. And they’re coming to Austin, and they’re saying hey, Ross. Help me recruit. And I’m happy to do that, and they tap into my network.

They can get a head start – and I think it’s well worth the money – is to talk to a good technical recruiter, and there’s plenty of them in Austin, Texas. And the reason you want to do that is good technical recruiters already have the references. The good people already coming to the technical recruiter they’re not out on the job boards.

The best people are using the best recruiters to place them in the best places because a good technical recruiting firm is an advocate for the potential employee. And they’re also an advocate for the company because they have contractual agreements on is this a good person? Do they stay? If they don’t stick at the company, they don’t get paid, etc.

So there’s motives there, and I think it’s money well spent for your key initial hiring, which is the startup building up this network and this base. So I do recommend them. Obviously, you can’t afford to hire all of your people that way, but some of your key people especially for these young startups that can be an alley or an avenue to get great talent.

William Griggs: What does their fee structure look like typically?

Ross Buhrdorf: I think it can run anywhere from 15 to 30 percent. Some of the technical recruiters will give you a better break for a startup. I’ve seen it where sometimes some of the technical recruiters – I’ve twisted a few arms – will do stuff for equity if they feel strongly about the company.

William Griggs: Got it. So we talked a little bit about networking. Obviously, to get to those technical recruiters wherever they are, that’s a piece of that networking is connecting with other entrepreneurs, connecting with their advisory board, building that out, and start to tap in and find out who has a good reputation around their town and city for being a technical recruiter.

If we’re going back to the chapter on finding or networking to find great developers, do you have any tidbits about how people screw up the process of networking to find great talent?

Ross Buhrdorf: I touched on it before is to not be constantly recruiting.

William Griggs: Okay.

Ross Buhrdorf: I think you really have to have a culture in the team, the technical team, that recruiting is talent acquisition is your number one job. Companies fail and succeed based on the team, so it’s gotta be your number one job. And if you culturally put that out in the team and enforce that with actions like, for example, hey, we just brought in this fabulous candidate. Have you gotten back with them?

Have you gotten an offer? What will infuriate me is geez, no. I was busy. I haven’t gotten back to them. We’re still trying to figure out if we want to hire them or not. I mean, to me that’s just completely unacceptable. It’s this person’s taken their time. We’ve taken our time to interview them. We need to get back with them. We need to get the answer if it’s a yes or a no.

Let them know that they’re not a right fit, or let them know that they’re a great fit by getting them a competitive offer. And get them part of the team. So that culture of constantly recruiting and constantly going after the best talent to build the best teams that each one of these managers and other teammates right down to the teammates that are doing the interviewing, that’s gotta be in the culture.

So I see far too many companies viewing talent acquisition as oh, I just need to hire ten developers, and then I’m done. And it’s just a task that I check off on my to do list. It’s gotta be a constant cultural aspect of the company, which is critically important with startups.

William Griggs: Yeah, it seems like it’s a transition and mindset from something that’s transactional, like you’re saying. Just, kinda, let’s get it done. It doesn’t matter. Let’s get butts and seeds, as some people would say, to something that’s a little bit more special and thinking through how you’re building this team because it appears – and just like a few of the other guests previously have mentioned – the team is what makes or breaks it, right? So we had, like –

Ross Buhrdorf: That’s right.

William Griggs: – we had Dean Draco on, and he talks about strategy and execution being really important. We had Melly Price on to talk about building out the team, and it sounds like you’re right in the line with the team is so important that anything else pales in comparison because you won’t be able to accomplish your goals if you don’t have that team on board. So viewing it less is less of a transaction and more as something that you have to spend and dedicate a large amount of time on.

Ross Buhrdorf: Right.

William Griggs: We talked about network, and we talked about recruiting. What do you think about job boards and job sites and stuff like that?

Ross Buhrdorf: Well, the struggle I have with job boards and job sites is those are people that I’m not sure they’re the best. I’m not sure the best talent posts that they’re looking for a job on the job board. What I find is that the best talent is either you’ve been recruiting them for months to years, and all of the sudden, they are available on the market. And they know that you’re interested in them.

William Griggs: Right.

Ross Buhrdorf: Right? Or that they maybe are unhappy, or the situation changes at their current job. And you’re there to get them on your team. So I worry that the top talent doesn’t have to go to job boards in a hot market like what we’ve got right now.

William Griggs: Right.

Ross Buhrdorf: Now, that’s when you’re looking for experienced talent. And we do a tremendous amount of college recruiting. If it’s college recruiting, you’re at the colleges. You’re interviewing. You’re interviewing for a whole different set of skills than you are from an experienced point of view. In the case of college recruiting, it is far more technical, cultural fit, programming questions, design tests.

It’s far more on raw talent. Interesting enough, we’ve done it for years now on the college recruiting that now we get references from folks that we have hired already. And they say yeah, I went to the school with him. I was a senior when he was a junior. We should be looking at that person. Again, you get back into this reference thing.

In addition, I’ll tell you what we do from the college point of view is maybe not germane to startups right away, but we were certainly a startup at some point in recruiting out of the university is internships because what an internship gets you is basically a low risk way to try somebody out. And then you can make your own judgement about them. And like wow, this is a perfect person. Let’s make them an offer when they graduate. Additionally, that candidate also gets to find out if this is a place they’re gonna be happy with. So we do a lot of recruiting via internships is where it starts on. Just raw talent. So on this front, I really view, kinda, three buckets.

There’s the college recruiting. There’s the stars, the people that have experience, the up and coming stars, maybe three to ten years’ experience, and then there’s the superstars that you can be recruiting for years and years and just waiting for them to be on your team and the right opportunity, the right fit for those superstars to join your team. And, again, that’s based on reputation –

William Griggs: Yeah –

Ross Buhrdorf: – and other –

William Griggs: – so –

Ross Buhrdorf: – references.

William Griggs: Yeah, so we covered those three buckets. That was a great synopsis. So if we had to strip away the layers, right, so we covered a lot of different stuff that our audience can tackle. But if we ask one more question to see if we can dig down to, like, the essentials or the things that they should really start with, I like to ask this question which is if you’re 20, new to a city – so let’s say Austin – you needed to find three developers for your startup where you’d have to donate – I don’t know – let’s say $250,000.00 to an anti-charity of your case.

I don’t know how you feel about Texas A&M, but lots of Texas fans not fans of them. So let’s say you had to donate 250 grand to Texas A&M unless you found your three developers, right? What would you do? So getting down to the essentials, you’re new to the city. You got something on the line. You need three developers. How do you cut through all the things that they could do and get to the most essential?

Ross Buhrdorf: What I would do is No. 1.) I’d find the top technical recruiter in town and establish a relationship with them and have one of the hires be via the technical recruiter. If I couldn’t afford that, then I would be networking to get in front of as many people as possible that are in the technical domain that I’m looking for, developers be it Java or Rails developers. I’d be wanting to get in front of those folks and be selling them on my company story. And I’d be looking for a technical cofounder at that level and get them sold on equity in all cases. So two concrete things: networking selling my story and using a technical recruiter selling my story.

William Griggs: Yeah. Yeah, that’s good stuff. So it seems like with the sell on your story piece, you could go to meetups. You could speak at meetups. You can launch your own meetup. You can work with local reporters to try to get press around the vision for your story. It seems like you’re saying networking as well. There might be even more opportunities that would come out of that in terms of getting you more opportunities to get your story out in front of people other than the obvious.

Ross Buhrdorf: Yeah, I mean, the story – sorry to interrupt – the story is selling the talent on your company because you’re at a disadvantage as a startup, right? You’re competing, at this point, established companies that have great cultures and great engineering cultures and great opportunity. So you really are selling a story.

Entrepreneurs – and I am one of them – you’re constantly selling your story from the fundraising point of view to getting the right talent. So it’s just a continuation of that, and I always encourage startups that they really need a technical cofounder or an equivalent of a technical cofounder in equity and in building up this team. And that is a critical hire. So using a recruiter for that is money well spent. Getting that first right hire is critical.

William Griggs: Yeah.

Ross Buhrdorf: And you don’t want to rush that one. You want to be clear on what you need and what you want with that person.

William Griggs: Yeah, that’s a good transition to the next couple of points. So we talked a little bit about finding or we talked a good bit about finding these individuals through networking, through technical recruiters, etc. So let’s talk a little bit about vetting and hiring them. So another one of those, kinda, off-the-wall questions but help, kinda, cut through all the crap that we could be thinking about and, kinda, get down to the bare bones, which is when I say great engineer, whose name comes to mind and why?

Ross Buhrdorf: Well, I think for me it’s the companies.
William Griggs: Okay.

Ross Buhrdorf: It’s companies, so it’s companies in Austin like HomeAway, Retail Me Not, companies in the valley, Google, Twitter. All these great companies that we know with fabulous engineering cultures and cultures where they have engineers hiring other engineers because this is a great place to work.

William Griggs: Right.

Ross Buhrdorf: So I think it’s this team piece. It’s this craft piece of you want to work at a place where you can have an impact, and you have that opportunity –

William Griggs: Yeah, so talk –

Ross Buhrdorf: – as a developer.

William Griggs: – so talk a little bit about if you know – well, obviously, you know about HomeAway and a few other examples I’m sure around that cultural piece, and how are you building? If it’s so hard to get developers in originally, then if you can build that developer culture, obviously, the developers internally have to help build that as well. But if you have to build that culture to get more developers and keep them, what does that developer culture look like, or what should be strive for?

Ross Buhrdorf: Well, I think it starts with the people you hire. So it does come back to references, the team. So you want to hire people that you want to work with. Let me give you the anti-pattern for this. Let’s say you hire someone that is super technical, and they’ve got great references. This person is a rock star technically and geez has had some trouble with working with people. Can, kinda, be disruptive with a team, etc. I don’t hire that person.

And the reason is that you want to work with these people, and the ideal candidate is someone that is a skilled craftsman, a rock star in software development and also a great team member, right? So that is part of the culture. Part of the culture is hey, we don’t suffer – you fill in the blank – people. So you want to hire people that you want to work with, and then you want them to hire people that they work with.

And if someone turns out to be not a good fit, then you need to get rid of them. That kind of cultural piece will create a reputation for the company that this is a great place to work for engineers. Good engineers can work anywhere, so they’re gonna pick a great place to work at. Now, on top of that, you lay on all of the other aspects of the culture.

Are you using the latest and the greatest best technology? Are you doing things properly from an engineering point of view? Are your schedules reasonable? Do you have a reasonable best in class development process? All of the craftsmanship pieces that’s important to people. If they have to come to work and be in a poorly run development environment with poorly run tools, that’s no fun.

So I think it’s all those cultural aspects that comes down to literally the tools you’re using to the software you’re working on to the product you’re building. I mean, it’s great for us at HomeAway because we’re building software that allows people to go on vacations and have fun with their family and friends and groups. I mean, it’s awesome.

William Griggs: Yeah. No, that makes a lot of sense, and I think that cuts through the clutter and gets straight to it, which is hire refined people you want to work with.

Ross Buhrdorf: Yeah.

William Griggs: Be choosey, so avoid the transactional. Don’t hire jerks just because they can do the job. And so it all, kinda, goes back and, kinda, feeds off each other. As you get more people that you want to work with, the people that you want to be in the trenches with and that you want to spend ten hours a day with, you’re gonna have people that are good fits and that know other people that want to work with them.

So if you’re cutting corners or you’re just hiring people to fill the seats, they’re not gonna be as bought in as if you hire someone that has that kind of charisma about them or something about them that makes people want to work with them. So starting with that and going from there, and it sounds like those are the people that also are gonna want to continue to make it a workplace that other people want to work at. So it’s, like you said –

Ross Buhrdorf: That’s right.

William Griggs: – attached to that craftsmanship piece, and it goes to them recruiting people and getting more people in the right door. But I think a piece that you touched on that I hadn’t even thought about was that whole business side of things which is not only just sharing the vision for what it is but making sure that you’re solving a real problem and a problem that potentially that the people care about that you’re hiring.

Ross Buhrdorf: That’s right.

William Griggs: Yeah.

Ross Buhrdorf: That’s right.

William Griggs: Yeah.

Ross Buhrdorf: Absolutely.

William Griggs: Yeah, and once you get to someone like HomeAway, Twitter, or Google’s stage, you’re doing it at scale, and that gets another type of point of interest for lots of people is that point of scale. But it really sounds like not only the craftsmanship of getting the right tools in place, the right methodologies, all that good stuff, getting the right people on board, but are you really solving a problem.

Because it seems, like, there are lots of developers that I’ve worked with that some of them enjoyed writing the code to write the code, and some of them enjoy helping solve real people’s problems and don’t wanna write the code just so they can push some code out here.

Ross Buhrdorf: Yeah, and I think that’s great, and that comes with experience. We’re always gleaming from a very pragmatic and a specific point of view. Number one criteria of these three buckets for the stars and the superstars, experienced people is have you delivered code to real customers?

William Griggs: Right.

Ross Buhrdorf: Have you had experience of delivery? And as you mentioned, there’s plenty of people that have written plenty of software that doesn’t get used or barely gets used, so I’m always looking for people that have actually delivered software.

William Griggs: Yeah, so then it also seems like if you’re the founder or cofounder of the team and you’re listening, it seems like continue to validate. Whether you’re using lean or customer development, continue to validate the business. So that could be one huge talking point that hey, this is the market that we’re trying to serve. These are what they’re saying.

I interviewed Luke from Silver Card the other day, and he was talking about one of the points that he talked about with investors and with the team is the net promoter score. The net promoter score current rental card companies was something like 18, and theirs has been averaging at 88 out of a 100 for the last 6 or 12 months. So that’s another piece of advice or piece of –

Ross Buhrdorf: Absolutely.

William Griggs: – that they get, they can use.

Ross Buhrdorf: You ultimately have to make the customer happy and deliver. I mean, one of the questions that I ask to make sure that an engineer has the proper or developer has the proper experiences so tell me about you delivering a product. Tell me about customer support. Tell me about the defects that came back. I really want to get them in that whole cycle. Tell me about the NBS score. Did you measure that? Stuff that really proves that they’ve been in that complete cycle.

William Griggs: Yeah, talk a little bit more about, kinda, the interview process and how you would structure it if you were back at a smaller company, and how you structure it today at HomeAway.

Ross Buhrdorf: Well, I mean, at HomeAway I’ll keep it real simple. Depending on the types, these three types, right, if it’s college, we’ve got a rigorous process where we’re going out to the universities. We have recruiting teams. We use our best interview people to go out to the campuses, and they’re interviewing and selling. And this is a very rigorous process based on personality fit and their raw talent, okay.

So I really put that in one bucket. That’s a whole process. Think of that as a machine that you would use to recruit college folks. And, again, we’re looking for interns plus folks that are graduating. Then those other two buckets are these people up and coming in their career and then the superstars. People that are up and coming in their career, the three to ten years of experience, really those are based on come on in. We have a standard set of interview questions that we use depending on the candidate and the team. The team interviews them. The best people that are good interviewers you want them interviewing people. And we have a few hour interview of this particular individual. If they come with references, again, it comes back to networking references. That makes it easier.

And then I want either a no, this is the wrong person. Not a good fit, or yes, let’s make an offer, or we’ve got another person coming in that we need to vet this person against. But it’s really gotta happen quick. So for me this mid bucket is do it quick and fast, and let’s get them an offer and get them on the team. And then I think the third part is the superstars, the people that take years to recruit in some cases.

I think it’s our top people are constantly taking them out to lunch, constantly checking in on how they’re doing at their existing job, and constantly just – I don’t want to say constantly recruiting. I just want to say constantly letting them know we’re here, and we want them to be part of our team. So it’s not really a recruiting process. It’s more of a dialogue.

Hey, we think that this is a great opportunity, and I think we have to be sincere about this. It’s not just get you on our team and have you start doing something you don’t want to do. We have a really terrific opportunity. We think you’re a great fit. We’ve had this conversation for the x number of months or x number of years. Now is the time for you to come over, take a look, see what you want to do. It’s more of just staying in contact with those people.

William Griggs: Yeah, I think there’s a book called Never Eat Alone, which calls it, kinda, your ping strategy, your strategy of consistently keeping contact. Not too much that you’re overbearing but enough so they don’t forget you type of thing, yeah.

Ross Buhrdorf: And these are people you have relationships with anyhow, so it’s –

William Griggs: Right.

Ross Buhrdorf: – and those will become a natural thing. If it’s a good fit, it’s a great fit, than it’s easy to sell. If you’re forcing it because it’s not a good fit, you shouldn’t be forcing it, and you should also remember that forcing it’s not doing anybody a favor because 30 days down the road, maybe it’s not a fit.
William Griggs: Right.

Ross Buhrdorf: Maybe it’s not a force. It’s a perfect fit, and you should have waited anyhow.

William Griggs: Yeah, so we talked a little bit about the process and, obviously, as the founders are going, they’ll be involved as much as they want. And as you get that first technical talent or that cofounder into the position, they’ll help build out that culture, like you’re saying and like you’ve been talking about at Twitter and HomeAway.

And we talked a little bit about the craftsman aspect, the methodologies and the tools. What else or what other kinds of things do you think developers care about if you’re able to generalize them?

Ross Buhrdorf: Yeah, I think for me I always put it down to really four pieces. One is your manager. So you really have to have great people managers in the team, right? People leave companies because of their manager.

William Griggs: Right.

Ross Buhrdorf: If you’ve got a bad boss, it becomes untenable, right?

William Griggs: Um-hum.

Ross Buhrdorf: Then I think the next piece is the culture. Is this a place I want to work with people I want to work with? Is this a culture that fits my criteria for engineering? Then I think it’s this opportunity, and we touched on it before is am I building a product that I want to be involved with? Is this a fast growing company?

Is this the kind of company I want to be involved with right now where I have opportunity for my career, opportunity to learn things, opportunity to have my craft see the light of day in this product? And then I think the last piece is am I gonna have an impact? At big companies, you can struggle with no matter how much – you’ve got a great manager. It’s a great culture.

But if you can’t have a significant impact or you don’t feel, like, you can make a difference, then I think that that can wear on you over time. So, again, just looking for these high points is manager. You gotta have a good manager because they’re gonna be partnering with you to manage your career through the company. Opportunity, is this a company that there is opportunity in growing? Has it got a culture that I wanna be a part of, and I am going to be able to have an impact? Now, with startups there certainly should be an impact piece there; otherwise, you’re hiring the wrong person. The cultural piece you really need to make sure you’re hiring the kind of person you want to work with.

Opportunity if it’s a good idea and you’ve got a good team, I think there should be opportunity there. And then I think you need to be conscious of being a good people manager and making sure that these individuals are happy and feeling successful in the team, regardless of the external stresses.

William Griggs: Yeah. No, those are all really good things for our audience to think about. As we wrap this up, we’ve, obviously, talked through where we can find them, how we can vet them, how we should think about hiring the, what should we show, what should we prove? But don’t force it, but stay in touch and that type of stuff. What am I missing? Is there anything that we need to drive home for the audience that I haven’t covered or asked about?

Ross Buhrdorf: I think you’ve got it all. I think, it’s – I would just reiterate the biggest thing is hiring in a network with references, making sure you’re hiring the people you want to work with that are the best in their craft.

William Griggs: Yeah, perfect. So, obviously, we can’t cover – well, we’ve covered most of the topics here in the show. Are there any other resources, maybe YouTube videos, blog posts, books on hiring or hiring developers or networking that you would suggest?

Ross Buhrdorf: This is a popular topic out there. I would just do a web search, and all the information out there is pretty good.

William Griggs: Yeah.

Ross Buhrdorf: I wouldn’t recommend anything. The minute you recommend something something else comes out. I think fundamentally they all hit on the points we talked about.

William Griggs: Yeah.

Ross Buhrdorf: And you can get into more detail about oh, what are the questions that I should be using for college recruiting? I think that’s great. You can go out and Google that, and get those for references. I think, again, you still need to have the team vet those questions, and come up with your own modified set. There’s plenty of great resources out there, so I would just encourage everyone to do a search.

William Griggs: Perfect. This has been a great conversation. If people want to connect with you online or learn more about HomeAway, how can they do that?

Ross Buhrdorf: Well, they can just send me an email at HomeAway –

William Griggs: Perfect.

Ross Buhrdorf: – which is rbuhrdorf –

William Griggs: Okay.

Ross Buhrdorf: – Do you want me to spell that for you?

William Griggs: It’ll be in the show.

Ross Buhrdorf: Yeah.

William Griggs: They should –

Ross Buhrdorf: Okay.

William Griggs: – they should be able to find it.

Ross Buhrdorf: Good. Well, I hope I was helpful.

William Griggs: All right, perfect. Great. I’ll put that in the show notes. Ross thanks for joining us today.

Ross Buhrdorf: Thank you.


Ross Buhrdorf’s Bio

ross_buhrdorfRoss Buhrdorf is currently the CTO of HomeAway and oversees technology, trust and security, hosting, corporate IT, infrastructure and global customer systems. He has been instrumental in defining the product and technology while integrating multiple technology systems to contribute to the company’s rapid growth.Ross has always been involved in building startups. From Ross’ early start as a developer for DataGeneral and Tandem
Computers (both internal corporate start-ups) to his long career in ground floor start-ups with both failed companies (not to be mentioned) and successful companies like Hal Computers (purchased by Futijsu), Vice President of Engineering at (fastest-growing company in Silicon Valley in 2000) and most recently as the CTO of HomeAway.


Connect With Ross



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About William Griggs

William Griggs

William Griggs is a product and customer acquisition strategist who has helped numerous startups including companies backed by Andreessen Horowitz, FLOODGATE, & 500 Startups. In addition to his consulting work, he has written for Mashable, VentureBeat, & ReadWrite. You can check out his podcast on iTunes (The Startup Slingshot TV) or follow him on Twitter @william_griggs for Tweets chock-full of delicious knowledge nuggets.

In addition to everything tech startups, William loves breakfast tacos, dogs, short emails, and Amazon Prime. He currently resides in Austin, Texas with his beautiful wife Elizabeth.

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