Brick Lane, home to London's fashionista crowd and curry houses, gave way to tech geeks yesterday. The long queue outside the Truman Brewery, matched my level of anticipation for the Silicon Milkroundabout technology careers fair. Once past the Thor-like bouncer and super-efficient registration helpers, I paused to take in the ambience. There were hundreds of people in the un-careers fair and the warehouse buzzed with a very familiar tech startup energy. From the Terminator 3 pinball machine to the beanbags and wifi area, and the Foosball machine to the Portuguese water dog, this tech job hunting nirvana felt like it was inspired by the Google offices in Victoria, London.
There were dozens of companies each with the usual range of freebies viz pens, notepads, t-shirts, chocolate and even cans of Red Bull. Dharmesh Raithatha from Mind Candy, creators of Moshi Monsters, was there looking for "EPIC hires - entrepreneurial, passionate & playful, intelligent and commercial". He said Mind Candy is rapidly growing and looking for bright candidates that can demonstrate they have tried to do stuff outside getting a degree. This was certainly a common theme I heard several times yesterday. He added that he had spoken to quite a few experienced hands and hadn't actually met many graduates. "We don't just want recruits, we want people to become part of the family." They certainly looked like a friendly bunch with colourful wigs and tonnes of sweets. Their Head of Recruitment, Richard Chipcase, even shared his chicken curry lunch with me while we talked about corporate strategy and potential expansion plans.
I couldn't help but think how times had changed since I graduated. I remember my first day on campus and how I had made a beeline to the careers office after the induction seminar. Back then, the options talented techies seeking challenging roles had were limited; investment banking, management consulting and IT support roles in the NHS. Ok, so maybe I exaggerate the NHS but the dearth of options was real. The folks at Songkick identified this gap and tried to rectify this. Silicon Milkroundabout was born and its debut in May this year proved to be a hit. Anaïs, Silicon Milkroundabout's Project Manager said, "Some universities were on board from the start, and have been tremendous champions on behalf of Silicon Milkroundabout. They recognise a significant part of their students is looking for alternatives. But some universities needed - to say the least - a couple of nudges. I expect, as Silicon Milkroundabout grows more established with each iteration, we'll get the bulk on board much more easily come May 2012."
COO Dee Coakley of Masabi, who were looking to fill 10 vacancies yesterday, acknowledged that grad developers rarely approach startups and recruiters don't always understand what startups look for. To be fair, most developers don't really know about competitive career options within startups. The word is not getting out! Will, part of the Masabi team, went the extra mile to blog about job hunting tips for techies keen to work in startups. As CEO Tom Adeyoola of Me_tail positively summed up, "This is the first event to match people who want to do something different with companies who are doing something different." CTO Barry Frost of Global Dev (lead sponsors of Barcamp London), added that, "It attracts very different people, not just the nine-to-fivers but individuals with real enthusiasm and commercial awareness". Barry should know because he not only attended but successfully recruited two developers - who were present and hard at work giving away chocolates and stress balls to passer-bys - from the Silicon Roundabout launch event in May.
Scott Roberts, a Computing and Information Systems graduate currently working as a web and iOS developer beamed as he explained why he was keen to explore working in a startup. "It is a bit more relaxed and fun while you are learning - kinda like the Google way. It gets the job done", he exclaimed to me. Michael Smith from INQ Mobile (pronounced 'Ink Mobile') was also there to hire the 'right kind of developers'. Shame he was only looking for Android devs else I would have introduced him to Scott, for a small fee of course.
My heart skipped a beat when I saw web development agency BrightLemon. I remember they were the first tech company I applied to nearly ten years ago as a Computer Science undergraduate. Their rejecting me spurred me to start my first registered company which did web design (funny that). I cornered CEO Leon Tong and joked about how hurt I was that they never replied me. He was very nice and we talked about how we might be able to do some work together next week. Amazing how every shut door opens another! So if you were unable to get into the fair, or don't get the response you want from the company of your choice, trust me when I say that the rejections only prepare you for bigger projects down the line that might still involve the counterparties you were unable to reach the first time around. I'm a witness.
In one phrase, the event was wow. And the fact that it is a homegrown initiative by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs makes it even more special. Simply put, this is why we ♥ startups.