Hiring Report: Liquid Machines Sets A High Bar When Hiring

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Company Name: Liquid Machines Hiring Plans: Aims to hire on 10 to 12 technical staff this year, primarily C++ developers (OS level) and QA engineers, both manual testers and automation. Some .Net/C# hires also. Company Focus: Liquid Machines is the leading provider of enterprise rights management (ERM) solutions that persistently protect critical business content and audit usage while enabling collaboration. It has partnerships and licensing agreements with some heavy-hitting local companies including Symantec, PTC, and SolidWorks. It has also been named a top technology innovator by Bank Technology News, and received high marks from Windows IT Pro Magazine.
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Headquarters: Waltham, Mass. Office Locations: Waltham, MA Web Site: www.liquidmachines.com Founded: 2001 Number of IT Employees: 30 Hiring Leaders: Holly Abernethy, director of human resources, has technical recruiting and HR background for both start-ups and large organizations. Given all the news about the talent crunch, have you or are you finding it more difficult to find qualified IT professionals? It is much harder to find top talent than it was two years ago, especially in New England, where technology companies are starting up or growing again. Microsoft, Google and Yahoo have a presence in Boston so that drains off some talent from an already shrinking pool. We lost a lot of technologists in the 2001"2003 timeframe, who relocated after the dot com bubble burst. The numbers of students in CS has been shrinking too, but we are hoping for an upswing in that area. Our bar is incredibly high. We hire individuals from top universities and from top companies. We are primarily a deep C++ shop (not GUI) with very challenging technical problems to solve. We need people who aren't just great programmers, but who are also thinkers and problem solvers. A lot of programmers have turned to C# and aren't as interested in programming in C++, so that is a challenge too. It also seems like a lot of companies in the Boston area are Java shops. What are your primary recruiting strategies? We do it all. We cast our nets wide and deep, and try to keep them in the water at all times. Our best source of candidates remains those who are referred by our employees. Our VP of Engineering, for example, has an awesome network that we pull from on an ongoing basis. We use agency recruiters, and also hire contract recruiters to help source. We did a very successful campaign at Harvard this year that was more informal than the traditional career service events that the big companies like Google does. That campaign yielded several hires, which given our size, is significant. We will do similar campaigns at MIT and other schools next year, and will continue to cultivate Harvard students as well. We do some posting, though we have found that strategy to be less successful than other Internet techniques such as searching for and contacting passive candidates. The recruiting role has really changed in the past few years. It's all about finding and luring already employed candidates. The good news is, once we find someone who fits our profile, we have no trouble making the hire. The candidates all leave wanting the job at Liquid Machines. That's really true! What is the hiring process? Our process is rigorous. Candidates are prescreened, first by HR and next by a high-level technical person. We typically have candidates in on three separate occasions. The first round is very technical, and we do some logic exercises as well. This is all done on the whiteboard and is not too formulaic. The second round is a mix of interviewing for specific technical knowledge as well as fit within the team. The final interview usually involves a half hour "Tech Talk" that is meant to simulate a design review. These are great events for us internally since we always learn something interesting. It's also very important for us to get a sense as to how the person will work with others on the team and vice versa. We also do a lot of reference checking. We can't afford to make hiring mistakes. We rarely do. What should candidates know before they interview at Liquid Machines? Don't exaggerate your skills on your resume or during your interview! Somebody in the interview will find you out. That is embarrassing for everyone. Expect to meet some captivating people who will ask you a lot of good questions that will make you think about what you really love to do and why you're good at it. What makes for an outstanding potential hire? We usually can spot "it" pretty immediately, but we are then very thorough in interviewing to make sure our instincts are right. An outstanding potential hire is always articulate and confident. The tech skills are there of course, but it's the communication and thinking skills that are critical to success at Liquid Machines. We solve such hard problems here that the jobs are just not about coding. They are about putting our heads together and working on thorny problems. When I say confidence, I don't mean cockiness. People who are secure do best because their thinking is challenged during the interview process. You also need to accept (and embrace) that fact that you will never be the smartest person in the room. Confident people love that. People who want to learn love that. Individuals who know what they don't know are also a good fit here, especially if they crave constant improvement and learning new technologies and tricks. We also look for people with outstanding programming skills and they have to have great habits. Sloppy coding just doesn't fly here. What are red flags you look for when reviewing resumes? The usual stuff like short tenures at jobs, staying too long at a job, careers that seem stalled or indicate backward momentum. We also look for real meat in a resume " preciseness about what the person actually did and some interesting projects. Overly long resumes aren't a good sign, since it means people can't synthesize, which is a really important skill to us. In interviews we always search for honesty and self-awareness. It's much better to say "I don't know but that's a really interesting question" than to try and fake it. We look for people who really listen, and prefer for people to think about responses to questions instead of answering right off the bat and then rambling on. We like communication that is clean and concise. Arrogance turns us off too. What kind of non-IT skills do your IT team members need, if any? See above and the only thing to add is that we want people to think this is the best company they ever worked for. People need to believe in the company, the team and the project. You don't have to "drink the kool-aid" but you do need to be engaged and focused on our success. How important is the cover letter in job queries? I don't read cover letters in general. The only time I might see a cover letter as a positive or important aspect to how the candidate presents him/herself is if they have taken the time to make a table that breaks down the components of the job and then compares each requirement of our opening to their skill set. Otherwise, I wouldn't bother beyond a sentence or two that says why you are especially interested in our company. I tend to respond more favorably to informal rather than formal, antiquated language but that just might be my personal preference. Is the IT organization looking for certified skills, is that a must have or is there any other qualification that is a must have? No certified skills are necessary. Does the organization hire 'newbies' and invest in training and how well does that work, and if not, why not? We love newbies, but it can be hard to get the right fit. We are okay with newbies coming to us without having all the technology in place as long as they can and want to learn. Training is primarily by mentoring by senior folks and learning on your own. Successful newbies are intellectually curious, usually have had academic success in top CS schools and aren't intimidated by working with people who are senior and very, very talented. We have really worked on our onboarding program—and especially for developers—we have a really good plan in place for getting folks up-to-speed. What characteristics or personality traits do you want in a hire, and don't want? We want the following traits: Curious, resourceful, organized, confident, self-reliant, articulate, clear, collaborative, energetic, thorough, and can-do attitude. What we don't want: Passive, blaming, overly-independent, arrogant, or credit-seeker. What does your company offer IT specialists as an employer? A developer recently told me that a year at Liquid Machines is like getting your CS masters at MIT. Here you learn and live best software practices and you are exposed to a lot of different technologies and techniques. You get to work with the best minds in computing, who are willing and patient enough to be good mentors. You get to work on really hard problems and you get to see the impact of your work on a daily basis. I recently asked our development team the same question you are asking. Here is a sample of what they told me:
  • Work is fun " like playing
  • Top quality team - the people are awesome
  • Coding and development practices are cool and cutting edge
  • Business impact of work is easy to see
  • Chance to be part of company that's going somewhere fast!
  • Fourth item
Other recent articles from TechCareers Hiring Report: Payce Looking For C and .NET developers Career Profile: Director of Engineering/Liquid Machines Inc.
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