I’ve hired a bunch of technology folks, and been acquainted with a hundred more. They all tend to have something in common, and it’s fairly easy to spot in a job interview.
What I look for are people that live and breathe technology. With a few simple questions you can sort the posers from the real thing. Here are some examples:
Do you have your own home network?
Bonus points for having a server. Double bonus points for knowing what “flashing the firmware” on a router means (a geek will know, even if they’ve never actually done it themselves). Anyone that’s flashed the firmware on a router is definitely in geek territory. (It has to do with customizing the router to do special “tricks.”)
What kind of backup plan do you have at home?
Backups should be scheduled and run automatically. Bonus points for cloud backups.
Have you built your own computer?
A lot of technical people tinker with building their own equipment, customizing their systems just they way they like it. Users get more for their money with a custom-built box, with desirable high-performance components.
If they’re PC oriented, ask them if they’ve played with Mac. Or if they’re a Mac person, ask them how much they know about Linux.
True computer people typically have some experience with multiple operating systems.
Do you develop for the fun of it? Any side projects?
Often their hobbies and their vocation meld together.
When did you get started as a developer/IT person?
Many, if not all, talented developers and tech people started early on. I’m not saying it’s impossible to get started later in life, but an early start is very common.
Do you run your own website? What’s your email address?
WordPress and other content management systems make it fairly easy to set up and manage a personal site for photos, hobbies, or other interests.
For email, bonus points for a custom/vanity address with their own domain. Zero points for gmail addresses. Negative points for AOL and addresses from cable providers (which aren’t portable, and therefore, not a great idea for a tech person).
What To Avoid
Here’s what I like to avoid: there’s a certain category of technical people that really aren’t all that interested in their line of work; rather, they heard “computers” were a lucrative field, and went to school for it. Their sole knowledge comes from coursework, and not their own personal hands-on training. Generally speaking, you’re often better off with a young person with a high school diploma that started programming in second grade, versus a guy with a college degree that has never touched a computer outside of coursework. Also, college coursework tends to be years behind state-of-the-art.
For a startup, a well-rounded computer geek is pretty handy to have. If you aren’t technically proficient yourself, it’s often useful to have a guy that can make changes to a website, do basic Photoshop work, and manage email accounts. As you grow, you can pick up specialists that handle just networking, or just developers—until then, someone with a broad understanding of real-world technology is extremely helpful.