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HubSpot tries to encourage software developers at big companies to make a 'prison break'

Posted by Scott Kirsner  August 1, 2011 08:14 AM

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Is there an untapped reserve of great software developers trapped inside big companies?

Dharmesh Shah, chief technology officer of HubSpot, thinks so. The Cambridge digital marketing start-up is launching a new recruitment campaign this week, "Prison Break," that attempts to persuade experienced engineers to escape from their bureaucratic Bastilles. It offers a signing bonus that escalates by $1,000 for every year that a new HubSpot hire has worked at a big company. A 15-year IBM employee who worked at Digital Equipment for five years prior to joining Big Blue, for instance, would get a $20,000 signing bonus.

"The challenge we face in recruiting," says Shah, "is finding people with a lot of flight hours, who have deployed big systems. And that tends to be people who've spent five, ten, or fifteen years at bigger companies." Shah also thinks that many start-ups wind up competing directly with other start-ups for the software developers who know they want to work at a start-up. By focusing on employees working at larger companies — which he defines as having 1,000-plus employees — Shah believes that "we can bring new blood into the start-up community, without having to fight other start-ups for the best people."

What about people who believe that big company jobs are inherently more secure than working at a start-up? Shah says, "I think we're about as safe as working at a Cisco or a Borders." (Last month, Cisco announced it would cut 6500 jobs, and Borders said it would lay off all of its employees as part of its liquidation.) HubSpot has raised about $65 million in venture capital funding; the company focuses on helping businesses "get found" on the Internet by prospective customers, using social media like blogs and strategies that increase visibility on search engines.

I was also curious whether the Prison Break campaign might bring HubSpot the employees least likely to succeed as a start-up: comfy old-timers used to their reserved parking spots and days that end at five. "We think we can filter those people out," says Shah. "I think there are gems to be found — people who are tired of working on projects that don't get released, or are frustrated by the bureaucracy they have to deal with."

Shah said he'd consider the program a "big win" if it brought his company just four or five senior engineers. HubSpot has about 265 employees.

And HubSpot isn't the only local company developing attention-getting recruiting programs. FlipKey is a division of the Newton-based travel site TripAdvisor that enables people to rent vacation homes and condos. Founder T.J. Mahony tells me that any new junior or senior engineer hired by the company will get a week's free stay in the home of their choice — anything listed on the site, including the Hawaiian home that President Obama has stayed in, or a "Hobbit"-inspired hut in Montana.

FlipKey's culture — an independent team inside a fast-growing company, with a kegerator in its kitchen — "used to attract great hires," Mahony writes via e-mail, "but that doesn't seem to be enough anymore."

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Innovation and technology news that matters, on a new website from the Boston Globe, featuring Scott Kirsner and other original reporting.

About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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