Tido Carriero, CPO at Segment, joined the FirstMark’s CTO & CPO Guilds to share his tactical content strategy for building an employer brand that's a magnet for engineering and product talent. Prior to Segment, he managed the Product Engineering team at Dropbox (~170 engineers) and before that was a product engineer and eng manager on Facebook Ads/Pages.
Step 1: Identify Your Gold Standard & Find Your Champion
The first step towards improving your engineering hiring brand through content is to understand what is currently resonating out in the real world. Tido spent time asking recently-hired Segment engineers how they’d heard about the company and why they joined. The answer? They’d read one of Segment’s posts on the top of Hacker News (HN) or had contributed to an open-source project that Segment had put out. Armed with the knowledge that reaching the top of HN would be their gold-standard for content success, Tido’s next move was to identify Segment’s content champion (e.g. the external-facing author of these posts). Calvin French-Owen, Segment’s technical co-founder, fit the bill as someone with both storytelling skills and the right level of technical expertise.
Bonus: Calvin spends roughly 40 hrs per post, with multiple reviewed drafts. Perhaps most interestingly, the majority of editing time is spent optimizing “the hook”, which is the post’s title and first sentence.
Step 2: Don’t Be Afraid of Being Edgy or Controversial
To reach the top of Hacker News, Tido and his team have realized that it pays to be slightly edgy or controversial with your post title & topic. For example, one of their most popular pieces—that drove nearly 50,000 pageviews on HN—was called “The $10M Dollar Engineering Problem” all about AWS hidden costs and how to reduce them.
Step 3: Always Tie Back To Your Departmental Brand
The third step is simple: always tie the content (both title and topic) back to your desired engineering brand. To do this, you’ll obviously need to articulate the 3-4 characteristics you want engineers to get excited about.
Note that different departments within your org will likely have different hiring brands. For example, in Segment’s product org., what resonates externally is that - after several years of “wandering through the desert” - Segment not only has product-market fit with its first product… but with its second and third products. So, for a product manager, it’s an opportunity to step into an org with multiple products that are scaling rapidly.
Returning to the engineering hiring brand specifically, here are the three characteristics that their posts exemplify:
1. We tackle exciting, hardcore engineering problems
2. We deal in highly distributed systems
3. We work on a truly massive-scale
Step 4: Invite Candidates To Contribute To Upcoming Posts
One non-obvious trick for using this content strategy to excite and engage potential hires is to involve them in the creation process of an upcoming post. It can be as straightforward as asking them for their input on an unpublished, technical piece. Not only does this help improve the overall piece, but it can also lead to a great hire faster.
So, does this strategy work?
Segment’s engineer close rate went from 40% to north of 90%
Helped engage all all steps of the funnel:
1. Reach-outs (“check out these blog posts”)
2. Mid-stage (“check out/contribute to this thing we’re working on”)
3. Closing (“I came because of the awesome team”)
Hours spent per engineer to hire an engineer*: Then: 100+ | Now: ~30
*(including failed interviews)
#1: Don’t overthink your post experimentation strategy—just ship. You’ll surely have a handful of dud posts, but in the end, it’s better to have 5 duds and 1 viral hit, than only 2-3 mediocre live posts.
#2: Don’t try to force engineers to write technical posts if they’re not interested or able to. Tido tried to broaden the circle of writers within Segment and eventually returned to only having 2-3 writers + the technical cofounder focus on these posts.