Welcome back to Ask a Tech Worker. For each edition of this recurring feature, I’ve been chatting with tech professionals I meet in downtown San Francisco about some of the biggest workplace questions in the industry. Got an idea for a future question? Email me.
Money, mission and flexibility. That’s what tech workers want. And managers had better start paying attention, because according to one recent survey, 72% of tech workers are at least thinking about leaving their jobs. Last week, I asked tech workers I met in San Francisco whether they’d noticed a wave of turnover at work. No one I spoke with had seen an exodus of their colleagues, but some said company leaders were concerned about recruitment, retention or both.
HashiCorp, the $13 billion software-maker that went public in December, has seen turnover of longtime employees who were fully vested and ready to join a new startup, said Jack Huber, a senior deal analyst there whom I met walking around Salesforce Park. Other than that, Huber hasn’t noticed colleagues leaving.
Compensation is a major lever that companies in HashiCorp’s space use to recruit, but Huber said it’s only one piece of the puzzle.
“I think our company’s a little advantaged because people buy into what we’re doing, so I don’t know how important salary is relative to other factors,” Huber said. “Turnover is worse at companies where people don’t really want to be in the first place.”
That includes companies that are requiring employees to return to the office, said Huber, whose friends at other companies are seeing higher turnover because their employers require in-office work. HashiCorp, by contrast, allows its employees to work from anywhere.
Matthew Van Winkle, a customer success manager at Mixpanel, agreed: Both compensation and flexibility are key for attracting and retaining employees. Van Winkle hasn’t noticed much turnover since joining the product analytics software-maker in June, but said company leaders had “made it known that they’re worried about retention.”
“It’s kind of a race upward right now for recruiting, so comp keeps going up,” said Van Winkle, whose employer has around 300 employees. “It seems like the standard [at small startups] is full flexibility: whenever and wherever the employee would like to work.”
Going beyond the work-from-anywhere standard could help even more. The news about the ecommerce company Bolt adopting a four-day workweek “was circulated” among colleagues at Mixpanel, Van Winkle said.
“It seems like a lot of the tech companies are jostling around fringe benefits, which are nice,” Van Winkle said. “But if a company could do something big like four days, that’s something that nobody else offers. I wonder if more and more companies do big moves like that.”
Maybe big, radical flexibility moves will help. Either way, companies that can’t afford to compete for expensive tech talent might need to concentrate more on hiring in cheaper markets. That’s what I heard from Michael Giuliana, the co-founder and chief technology officer of the pre-seed software startup Core3D. The three-person company only plans to hire one or two employees this year, so Giuliana isn’t yet dealing with the day-to-day headache of recruitment, but said he’s watched one of his partners struggle to hire developers at his engineering agency.
“What they’re doing is going overseas now, primarily,” Giuliana said while having lunch at Salesforce Park. “They’re 30-, 40-people teams in different places, South America and Eastern Europe. He just can’t really find anyone locally that he can attract, I guess, to that type of work.”
Even as companies face unprecedented competition to hire tech talent, not all tech workers feel that the world is their oyster. Early-career engineers I met last week told me it can still be a challenge to get that first job out of school.
“I didn’t have an internship, so it was pretty rough. A lot of rejections,” said Daniel Escoto, a new University of California, Santa Cruz graduate who joined the audio workout company Perform as a software engineer last month. “A lot of new grads are desperate to get jobs.”