Why You Have To Meet Shannon Callahan—She Can Make Your Silicon Valley Career

Shannon CallahanShannon Callahan is a Silicon Valley talent agent.

Photo: Flickr/Fortune Live Media

If you work in the tech industry, you ought to know Shannon Callahan.The Andreessen Horowitz partner has the power to change your career—not just once, but repeatedly.

And as Business Insider found out from talking to Callahan, if you are a talented engineer, even one still in college, chances are she wants to meet you, too.

Callahan runs the talent network for Andreessen Horowitz, a venture-capital firm. Those who are in the talent network get first dibs at jobs at some of the Valley’s hottest startups.

The network was a novel idea when it was started some 2.5 years ago, when Callahan joined Andreessen Horowitz, or A16z. (That’s the geeky shorthand for the number of characters between “A” and “z”.)

She knew cofounder Marc Andreessen because she lead HR at his previous company, Opsware, which HP bought for $1.6 billion in 2007. 

Venture-capital firms have long played a matchmaking role between the startups they back and top talent. But they’ve typically focused on placing executives in top-level roles.

That focus on the C-suite ignored the chronic shortage of engineers and product managers in the Valley. Andreessen Horowitz believed that if you could find out a person’s passions and match it with a startup working in that area, its startups would win the talent war.

But that meant getting to know thousands of Valley stars and college students.

The idea “actually works very well,” Callahan reports.

“I wasn’t sure that it would,” she laughs.

But as a result of careful groundwork—not just casual interviews, but diligent research like scrutinizing engineers’ code—the network is in full effect. A person in the network will call her team first when they start looking around, she says.

BI caught up with Callahan to talk about the Talent Network. Here’s the upshot of what she told us.

  • The talent wars are hotter than ever. Today, a good engineer with a track record can nab between 6 and 12 job offers within 21 days of poking around.
  • Callahan now has 10 people reporting to her. These include someone who validates a person’s technical skills by checking code and “talent agents” that specialize in certain fields. (For example, Eric Thomas specialises in designers while Marilyn Martin specialises in mobile.)
  • This isn’t recruiting. Callahan’s team handles introductions between people and startups. The startups make the job offers.
  • Once employees are working at a portfolio company, it can be delicate to move to another one. Callahan will make those introductions, but only if the employer knows the employee is leaving.

Here’s a lightly edited transcript of the conversation:

BI: Why did A16z get involved in the talent search for their portfolio companies in the first place?

There’s always been a shortage of engineers and access to engineers in Silicon Valley. We had this theory, let’s build a network of engineers, at all levels, product managers and designers. Those are always the top roles when people are building a company and always the hardest to find. We wanted to build a long-term relationship with these individuals … from college grad up to a senior architect.

What do you mean by “build a relationship?

Having a conversation with the engineers and really understanding what they are passionate about, what they want to do with their future, where they see their career going and also making sure that they are technically qualified. Those folks all get technically qualified through a gentlemen on my team who goes through coding exercises with them. The second piece is building out a network of college talent. The folks who will be starting the next companies.

How is this different from what other VC companies are doing?

Up until recently, most VC firms focused only on executive talent. There was never really any focus on the technical talent and engineers. But we do not recruit for our companies. There’s no way we can scale to do that for 150 portfolio companies. We’re building relationships with engineers. We’re not trying to do a transaction. We’re trying to understand what’s important to them.

How many people do you have in your database?

We have over 5,000 people in our system.

How do they get into your database?

Different ways. The big volume is college networks. We also have talent agents on our team, like Eric Thomas. He has built incredible relationships with different design communities. I have someone who focuses just in mobile, doing mentorship, meetups, helping get connected to our build team. I have someone focused on back-end system engineers, core technologies. We hosts meetups and pep talks to get people into our networks.

In doing this for a couple of years now, what most surprised you?

It actually works very well. I wasn’t sure that it would. We’ll talk to someone 2.5 years ago and they aren’t moving. And we are the first person that they call. Maybe they’ve read about something we’ve invested in.
They are part of the network. If they want to go into a portfolio company, we’ll help them.

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