There are three types of recruiters out there – those who can count, and those who can’t. OK, it’s an old joke, but I’m a programmer, and my jokes are usually either old or lame (and often both). My point is, I get contacted by recruiters who fall in to two groups: clueful and in-need-of-a-cluestick. The latter are easy to spot – they ask for my resume in Word format. Lets not go there – I’d like to converse, not rant.

So instead we’ll talk about the clueful recruiters. I got an email from one tonight, and thought I’d share, since I might be off base in my reply, and folks seemed to like my post on entrepreneurial pitches. Responses to clueful recruiters is something I really do chew on, as I think anyone would who gets regular offers of good money from reasonable folks.

Here’s what I received:

Subject: Java J2EE Agile dev positions, any interest?

Hi,
I am looking for Java J2EE Agile mentors who are hands on developers who want to work with teams to get a smooth oiled Scrum team in place, what I call Agile Advocates. Usually these folks are all the same ‘archetype’—very strong with XP (TDD, Pairing), usually working on open source projects and have been on a Scrum team for 6+ months. Usually someone who prefers not to have a title. Our clients are starting to request direct-hire candidates because they have stronger willingness for knowledge transfer, the ones who understand what they are getting themselves into understand that these transitions take years. I am constantly looking for this type of person. Right now we have openings for Agile Java developers in [3 locations].

Please feel free to send your resume and to share your thoughts with me and thank you!

Of course, this poor lady’s first mistake was to ask me for my thoughts… so I gave them to her:

<name withheld>,

Everyone I know who fits your description is fed up with big company politics and is fed up with the mess that is J2EE. I’m very glad that I’m flush with Ruby and Rails consulting work and don’t ever foresee doing Java again. I’m also glad to be working on small, entrepreneurial pursuits, and I don’t foresee being an employee ever again. I wish you the best of luck in finding the people you need, but while I easily know a dozen qualified candidates, I don’t know of one that would be interested. If you want to, you can tell your clients for me that if they want to succeed, they’re going to have to start changing faster.

Sorry to be so negative, but I’ve decided to be blunt with recruiters that contact me – you need to know what you’re really up against.

I really respect recruiters like this – this was obviously not a mass-mail, keyword based spamming – she has definitely looked at my credentials a bit. She also gets my respect for trying to find people against these odds – J2EE (blech), multi-year agile adoption process (ick), and full-time employment to a company with the same (gag). I’ll tell you one reason small, innovative companies are in right now – because by and large, the kind of people you want working for you aren’t going to work for anything else!

Now, maybe I’m way off base – if this sounds like your cup of tea, drop me an email and I’ll put you in touch with her. Of course, I know that some of what we’re seeing right now is cyclical – I can buy that there’ll be a few less one-man Rails consulting shops and a few less “web 2.0” startups when the tech economy retreats a bit. But still, I think we’re seeing something fundamentally different – a whole generation of the best designers and developers is realizing that they don’t have to work places they don’t like, that the security of a big company is no security, and that it is possible to build something small and successful.

So, best of luck my clueful recruiting friends, but you’ve got a tough row to hoe. Maybe it’s time for you, too, to think about how to serve the Fortune 5,000,000 and stop beating your head against the wall of the Fortune 5000. If you want my thoughts on that, I’d love to talk with you about it.

Posted by Nathaniel on Sep 27th, 2006

You can still contact Nathaniel at nathaniel@terralien.com