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Who (Doesn’t) Recruit the Best Computer Science graduates? March 26, 2008

Posted by Imran Ghory in Computer Science, recruitment.

While doing some research on how software companies recruit new graduates I came up with a strategy to break firms into separate categories depending on which universities they targeted for recruitment. The results of this research threw up an interesting anomaly – while in general it followed the pattern one might expect (“high-prestige” technical firms going after the best unis, defence and consultancy firms after the next tier, misc business apps the next tier, and so on).

However there was one notable exception to this pattern. Microsoft.

Despite the firms bad reputation among “geeks” Microsoft is still a prestigious technical firm to work for, one which has a number of notable researchers and developers in a number of fields. Yet when it comes to recruiting students Microsoft seems to have given up believing in itself and is now targeting “average” computer science students rather than the best and the brightest.

But before I go further I’d like to explain my methodology. I built up a database recording which universities are targeted by software companies and used the The Times League Table for Computer Science as a benchmark to rank computer science departments.

The actual information about where firms hire most of their graduates is unfortunately not available to the public, however we do have a good proxy measures. We can see the universities that firms target (i.e universities where they run recruitment talks, events, etc.), which due to these activities very nature is public information. Using this information we can cluster firms together based upon the ranks of the universities they target.

To show by example:

Here we show the universities target by three “prestigious” technical firms (Microsoft, Google and Data Connection).

Google is obviously a “hot” destination for Computer Science graduates and is well known for wanting to hire the smartest people. Data Connection is a telecoms software firm with a very strong reputation in the UK for software development excellence, they’re frequently ranked as one of the most desirable firms to work for in the UK.

The average ranking for a Computer Science department targeted by Google is 5.5, for Data Connection a slightly higher 9.6. For Microsoft it’s 36.2. The difference is staggering.

Google and Data Connection are targeting the top-tier of universities, Microsoft are targeting third/fourth/fifth tier unis, it’s as if they’ve given up on getting the best and have settled for the “average” in-order to avoid having to compete at the high-end.

That’s not to say Microsoft don’t recruit students from the top-tier, but I’d be willing to bet they recruit a lot more from the middling unis. And it’s not to say that there aren’t good computer science students at the middling universities, there are. But there are a lot more (possibly a majority of) “top” computer science students in the top-tier than the middle-tiers.

There was a time not that long ago when a number of very smart people came through the graduate recruitment of Microsoft, many of them are prominent in the field today, but it seems now that Microsoft has given up trying to hire the best and develop them into superstars. And I think that’s a shame for both Microsoft and the industry as a whole.

[Incidently if any of the Google recruitment team read this – please sort out your recruitment events calendar – it’s incredibly poorly designed and nearly impossible to use]



1. Adam Marquis - March 26, 2008

Is it possible that Microsoft has simply found it more economical to court, say, the top 5% of a middle tier school’s graduating class, than the above average top-tier school’s student? The competition for the top school students (seemingly even the below average ones) is very fierce, with firms offering great salary and benefits to kids right out of the gate.

2. Pat Morrison - March 26, 2008

Could it be that MSFT is trying to hire a greater number of students than the top tier can supply? Could it be that MSFT is recruiting for roles other than Computer Science? Until you filter your results for these things, I’d shy from drawing conclusions.

3. frank - March 26, 2008

Best and brightest nothing, this article is fubar

4. Damien - March 28, 2008

Could it be that MSFT would rather outsource or bring in H1B developers than pay the salaries that would be required to acquire the top college grads? They (MSFT) often tell Congress, and others, that there are not enough programmers available to fill their ranks within the US, and presumably its colleges. More accurately, they probably mean there are not enough cheap programmers…

5. shiva - March 29, 2008

I think this is basically because quite a bit of the work (in huge software projects) is grunt work. And if smart people are asked to do grunt work, they’ll just give you the finger and leave. Better to get some grunts to do that, and let the smart people do the smart work. Plus, smart people are more likely to get good offers from other companies like Google, etc, while grunts will stick around longer.

6. Rob Moir - March 29, 2008

Maybe Microsoft have realised that what university you go to is not the be-all and end-all of how good an employee you might be. Or even how good your degree is?

7. An experienced mid-teir develop - March 29, 2008

My rant:

The justification of hiring on the top tier is flawed. Bill Gate said he will surround himself with the best as he got older. If so, I wonder why Microsoft is not number one is Internet software, financial software nor does it have the best software in areas that does not leverage off Windows and/or Office. It is so bad that they hire people like Ray Ozzie who’s view of the world is old school and who’s company was crushed by Microsoft in the past. Hiring the losers is not the best idea even if they are smart.

In terms of money, Google and Microsoft only offer a job not a means become rich like the past. Their stock prices are so high that their stock option packages are not worth it. When Google was $700+ USD a share, how much higher could it have gone. At one time it was the worth more then companies that make over $100 billion in revenue with less then a 5th of that in revenue. Personally I feel Google is worth less then $100 USD per share. I would hate to have a gotten employee Google stock options with an exercise price of $600+ USD. It is far better for a developer to join a startup or create their own company.

About Google and their Ph D’s, besides their ad platform search, what else have they developed that will make them money as a company. Not much in sight.

All large and growing companies will eventually hire from all tiers. They will start with the top tiers but practically it has to go downhill from there as smart people have multiple choices and the great companies don’t really look that great to work for. Unless I just want a safe job and stay a wage slave.

8. links for 2008-03-30 - March 30, 2008

[…] Who (Doesn’t) Recruit the Best Computer Science graduates? « Imran On Tech “I think this is basically because quite a bit of the work (in huge software projects) is grunt work. And if smart people are asked to do grunt work, they’ll just give you the finger and leave.” (tags: programming recruiting work management) […]

9. mike - April 3, 2008

It looks (from the data you linked to) like this only applies to the UK. What kind of development does Microsoft do in the UK? It might be that the jobs in the UK are, indeed, mid-level jobs, and that the interesting development work is being done in the US (or India, or nowhere, but you see my point).

And, you mentioned this, but targeted != hired. The best students in many programs will have more drive and be more productive than middling students at top schools. It’s not only about raw smarts.

10. Markus - April 15, 2008

I come from and work part-time at one of the top university in Germany, so I see a lot of these best-performers. And, I have to say, I would not hire any of them. It seems that there is a strong correlation between “being the best” and “having social deficits”.
In my opinion a company can be much more successful having a “real” team that can put their strengths together than to have high-performers that can only work alone.

11. Farhan Thawar - April 16, 2008

I don’t agree (disclaimer: I used to work for Microsoft). Microsoft always has recruited from the best schools in the world. Google and Data Connection may have many false-negatives at many schools and hence are missing out on great people.

12. BrownWhackJob - March 17, 2009

Okay, looky here, just because MS doesn’t take people from the top 10 universities in the world doesn’t mean that they hire middle brows for their “grunt work”. Bill Gates hires from universities that as a whole are borderline mediocre but their specfic programs are stellar, such as University of Waterloo for example. It’s in the world’s top 500, def not in the 100 and its engineering program is only rank 30, but people in UW have higher averages going in and coming out as compared to other stellar schools. Its rank comes from the relatively new conception of the university, but in terms of reputation for its engineering program, its no #1 in Canada. He’s found a couple of jewels in a pile of shit and it’s working out well for him. Look up UW, BG personally hires ppl from there.

13. Murfreesboro Homes For Sale - April 23, 2009

It seems to me they would go where the right people for the job are and not just hit up certain schools because its on their list…

14. name withheld - November 1, 2010

I can’t believe the suggestion that unless you went to a top-ten school, you are only capable of grunt work. What an elitist attitude.

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Google got some extra publicity with the movie The Internship
they are taking the lead now, I think 🙂

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