Job recruiting in Silicon Valley is broken, and these guys are trying to fix it

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on August 26, 2013

From The News Desk

When Riviera Partners recruiting firm asked serial entrepreneur and Y Combinator grad Michael Ellison to join the company, he gave them a list of demands a mile long. They would need to fund a non-profit in the education sector, shift their marketing and branding strategy, and change their relationship with entrepreneurs. After he sent his requirements he assumed he'd never hear from Riviera again. "I was requesting a lot that was not traditional for a recruiting firm," Ellison says.

But much to his surprise, the very next day Riviera CEO John Simonelli invited Ellison to the firm's new offices and welcomed him to the team. Riviera wanted big changes, and Simonelli thought Ellison had the right vision to help.

Technical recruiting has been disrupted by the Web just like other industries. LinkedIn has made talent recruiting more competitive, by giving everyone access to a pool of applicants. At the same time, recruiting firms annoy the hell out of developers by cold-calling them. As a result, many headhunters don't have a great rap with the industry talent they're supposed to be placing. "We would go so far as to say recruiting is broken," Riviera's Simonelli says. "My characterization is that recruiting spends too much time focusing on the recruiter."

If the IT recruiting industry is to survive the cultural shifts, Ellison and Simonelli think it has to take a more holistic approach to the market. Riviera's decided to start by supporting developers over the long term -- not just during the job search process. The firm is trying to become long term career consultants to engineers.

Riviera's latest experiment in disrupting the recruiting industry is a partnership with teaching startup Code Path to give free bootcamp classes in Android and iOS to mid-level engineers. The first class kicked off last week, hosted in Riviera's offices.

The program itself isn't a particularly revolutionary idea. Coding bootcamps are en vogue internally at tech companies -- just see the hype around the new Twitter University. But it's certainly a unique step for a headhunting company.

By sponsoring students' tuitions, Riviera is building a holistic approach to recruiting -- one that focuses on giving back to the engineering community. The hope is that doing so will be better both for the ecosystem and for Riviera's brand. It's akin to the "consumer first" approach of many Web 2.0 startups.

Of course, the firm is banking it will make money later by placing some of the mid-level engineers in new jobs. Riviera's in a unique position to make a coding bootcamp come full circle, since it has connections with the very startups and companies that will be looking to hire mid-level developers with the right skill sets.

That said, engineers accepted into the program won't be required to let Riviera place them.  "The mobile bootcamp is the culmination of...exploring new ways to essentially drive the sector higher," Simonelli says. "Because obviously to the extent there's more people with more skills, that's to everyone's benefit."

The Code Path bootcamp will address one of the biggest problems mid level developers face: not knowing new coding trends like iOS and Android. As a result, they get overlooked for jobs they might be interested in.

Code Path co-founder Tim Lee said he faced the painful experience of hiring in his last startup. "I realized that one of the reasons hiring is so hard is because of the risk it entails... There was tons of resumes I was frankly not even accessing -- literally tens of thousands of engineers that I don't feel like I can take a risk on, because they're working on something so different from what our platform is built on."

There are plenty of other bootcamps out there capitalizing on this problem, like App Academy or Hack Reactor, but for the most part they charge a whopping 10-20K tuition for classes. When Lee started Code Path, he had a very personal reason for wanting to offer education for free to engineers. "I'm in my 30s now, and me and my wife will be paying back student loans until we're dead," Lee says.

Unfortunately for engineers, competition to get into the program is stiffer than Ivy league acceptance. Code Path got 350 applications for the first class and only accepted 17. Plus, the bootcamp is still in its experimental phase. "The first class started last week," Simonelli pointed out. "So we have a long way to go before this proves itself out."

[Image courtesy: Rupert Ganzer]