Five secrets to attracting and retaining top technology talent

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Hiring and retaining top technology talent has always been a challenge, and it's only getting more difficult as the demand for technology workers grows. How can a smaller company compete with Google and Facebook for talented engineers?

Paying attention to the things that really matter to engineers will help you compete with the big boys, according to Greg Arnette, CTO and founder of Sonian, a cloud-based email archiving company.

Here's his strategy for hiring and keeping top talent:

  1. Support a distributed workforce. This may be the single most powerful thing you can do to beat out the big guys, Arnette says. "We support a distributed team development model, which means we can recruit across the country for the best talent and are not constrained by hotly contested talent clusters in Silicon Valley, NYC or Boston. We're able to source the best people from Denver, Seattle, Syracuse, Portland and other leader, but smaller, cities. We recognized early this was a way to differentiate against Google and Facebook."
  2. Give remote employees the technology and leadership they need to act as a team. "We are committed to developing best practices for managing distributed teams," Arnette says. "We have improved our communications, information transparency and collaboration tools that support efficient asynchronous workflows. Team members are able to work in whichever physical environment they are the most productive. They are not forced to trek to work on a daily basis and work in a cube farm." This strategy not only helps Sonian acquire talented engineers wherever they may be, but also keep them on board. "This gives us the advantage to keep team members engaged in the types of projects that Sonian is creating," Arnette says.
  3. Choose technology engineers are eager to work with. "Most leaders make the mistake of not understanding that most technical people are motivated by how interesting the project is. Cutting-edge technology can usually trump monetary compensation," he says. "Engineers will typically work for a company that is working on interesting projects and using state-of-the-art technologies over a bigger salary at a 'boring company,'" he says. Developers are always looking for the next great technology or challenge, so ensure they have the opportunities and tools to meet those challenges.
  4. Focus on their professional development. Sonian is committed to the educational and professional development of its engineers, and looks for opportunities to send them to conferences or training, he says. "We focus on developing the individual and giving them challenging projects to work on. We create scrum teams that will really challenge each other to be better, and we solicit feedback from our employees on how we can improve."
  5. Get out there! There's one more important thing tech leaders can do to attract top talent: Get out of the office and make contact with the tech community whenever you can, Arnette says. "Go to Meetup events in your local target area to get the pulse of the available talent pool," he says. "Then you can take advantage of the distributed team model for access to a more diverse group of team members. It's key to network constantly."


Six creative ways to retain IT talent: These tips come directly from IT leaders with hands-on experience trying to find the right people to create their teams.

Greg is the CTO and founder of Sonian, and is responsible for product vision, technical innovation, and engineering leadership. He has been a messaging, collaboration, Internet, and networking expert for over 15 years, and has been consulted by leading corporations on the management and administration of email systems. Greg has created messaging products and services for over ten years, starting with AlertWare which was acquired by Netpro, and most recently IntelliReach, which was acquired by Infocrossing in May 2006. Greg has designed leading messaging system solutions for all communication platforms. Greg was founder and CTO for IntelliReach Corporation from 1998 to 2006. Intellireach Corporation was a pioneer in integrated messaging management products and services. Since 2006 Greg has been developing web-based information management solutions leveraging open source technology with virtualization infrastructure.

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and columnist for She is co-author of "The Geek Gap: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don't Understand Each Other and Why They Need Each Other to Survive," as well as several other books. She lives in Snohomish, Washington.