Beyond the Free Lunch: Attracting High Tech’s Top Talent

What attracts top talent? In the competitive, high-stakes world of technology, the answer to that question is as critical to success for established companies as it is to the newest startup. To explore some answers, VMware hosted a panel discussion moderated by Bloomberg TV’s Cory Johnson and featuring influential technology leaders from Dropbox, Fastly, Pure Storage, and Stripe. The event took place on Thursday, August 4, 2016, at the San Francisco campus of the Wharton School of Business.

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger kicked off the discussion by asserting that today, “The competition for attracting top engineering talent has never been more competitive.”  He framed the importance of attracting the right talent by saying that for VMware, “It’s not just about people joining a company, but also about people doing things for a purpose.” It’s about doing the kind of work that he says would lead to “game-changing” new products and innovations for VMware. And for that, Gelsinger said, “talent is essential.”

Watch the highlights from this engaging panel discussion, and then read on to hear what panelists had to say about company culture, attracting and hiring diverse talent, and what today’s new hires are really searching for. From left to right, the panel includes moderator Cory Johnson of Bloomberg TV, Raylene Yung of Stripe, Aditya Agarwal of Dropbox, Pat Gelsinger of VMware, Tyler McMullen of Fastly, and John Hayes of Pure Storage.

Culture Wars

Following Gelsinger’s introduction, Johnson asked the panelists how they managed the process of attracting and retaining new talent. The panelists answered that for the vast majority of prospective hires, a company’s values and culture are more important than any combination of stock options or salary. In fact, the consensus was that compensation packages are “flattening out” across the board in Silicon Valley—meaning that most companies are reasonably competitive with each other when it comes to compensation packages.

The panelists also agreed that a company’s culture needs to mirror the personal values of the talent it is trying to attract, and that a company’s culture tends to reflect the working goals of the company itself. “The word ‘culture’ is thrown around too loosely,” said Dropbox’s Agarwal. “There is no such thing as a right or wrong culture. We look for the values and culture that work for us in new hires.”

Size Matters

The panelists also agreed that size influences both a company’s culture and the hiring of new talent. “We have just over 100 engineers now,” said Fastly’s McMullen. “We can still take time to find the individual to fit that one specific job.” But when a company grows beyond a certain size, said Pure Storage’s Hayes, “You need to hire different kinds of people, with more specialized skills, and more people you can trust.” Hayes said that he believes that fact has a huge influence on a company’s culture and values.

Gelsinger noted that at VMware, “We believe in a common culture—the same company culture at scale.” VMware’s values, he said, need to remain consistent from office to office, country to country, for VMware to appeal to the kind of top talent it needs to continue to attract. Agarwal added to this discussion, saying, “We need to allow for individual expression. Culture cannot be defined exclusively by headquarters.” Gelsinger agreed with this as well. “We must allow diversity in opinion and background because,” he stated, “that’s where the fun and innovation happens.”

Bloomberg TV’s Cory Johnson, and VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger

Bloomberg TV’s Cory Johnson, and VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger

Engineering Diversity

All of the panelists agreed that diversity is important for a company’s future and a challenge to achieve. Yung said that in order to encourage diversity, Stripe “invests a lot of time to prepare the candidate. Every interview is a prep interview. You work with your interviewees to solve problems,” to correct for any interviewer bias and ensure the potential candidate can make the best possible impression.

The panelists agreed that embedding specific steps like this in the hiring process is needed to guard against built-in bias. “Diversity is a part of our interview process,” said Gelsinger. “A focus on hiring new women has raised the percentage of women working at VMware to nearly 30 percent,” certainly above the norm for technology companies. But, Gelsinger noted, “You must be very intentional to do that. It requires a very different approach than the standard hiring process.”

Community More Than Compensation

Johnson brought the discussion to a close by asking the panelists if they believe there is a common factor driving the top talent. With salaries and stock options less a focus, said Gelsinger, “The community becomes the driving factor.” Agarwal and Hayes agreed. Yung chimed in, “They all want to know, ‘How does what you do impact the world?’”   

Perhaps speaking for all the panelists, Gelsinger concluded, “We want to make sure that other companies won’t take our top talent. We invest in them, so they will invest in us.” It’s a philosophy that ensures your company’s future success as the best and the brightest become your company’s best and brightest.