Joel on Hiring and Retention

Bob Cramblitt reports on Joel Spolsky’s talk from Business of Software 2007. To sign up for BoS 2008, visit

Everybody in the capacity audience at Business of Software 2007 wanted to know what he thought about employee hiring and retention.  He is Joel Spolsky, CEO of Fog Creek Software and author of the popular Joel on Software blog.  In a fast-paced presentation and question-and-answer period, Spolsky covered what type of people his company looks for, how he attracts them, and how they are kept in the fold.

The Fog Creek screening process for incoming resumes includes the following factors:

  • Passion – This is manifested by long-time interest in programming and an agressive pursuit of goals.
  • English – Not mastery of the English language, but good communication skills.
  • Creativity – As evidenced by whether applicants have shown that they want this particular job at this particular company.
  • Selectivity – The candidate has been selected by good schools and/or employers.
  • Brains – As reflected by good grades, participation in math camps, and special honors.
  • Diversity – People unlike those currently in the company; people with different ideas, and ethnic, cultural backgrounds.

Those who make the resume cut go through a phone interview, then could be invited to NYC for a personal interview, with all expenses paid.  Spolsky says it is important to make a good impression on the prospective employee.  The most important factors for most applicants are working with smart and interesting people, working on interesting problems, free lunches and other benefits, a nice office, and a boss who "gets" them.  Way down on the list is salary, although that certainly has to be competitive.

Two key criteria outweigh all for Fog Creek (1) being smart and (2) getting things done. An optional third factor: not being an asshole.

Things that Spolsky and his team have done to help make Fog Creek a great place to work include:

  • private offices
  • nice computing systems with large monitors
  • Aeron chairs
  • giving employees what they need to do their jobs
  • free lunches
  • more vacation than the average company
  • high bonuses

Brand awareness has become a major factor not just for products, but for attracting recruits, and the prominence of the Joel on Software blog definitely helps.  Spolsky says he has been on campus recruiting trips and heard Fog Creek mentioned in the same breath as Google and Microsoft.