Apple, Google, Microsoft and Meta are poaching each other’s talent

Tech giants are at war. The method of war is talent acquisition. Now that the metaverse is arriving, tech companies are fighting to acquire talent from other companies and retain the talent they have.

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Kaitlyn Mora
January 12, 2022 10:56 am

A story that is a part of tech folklore is the email exchange in 2007 between Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt, the respective CEOs of Apple and Google at the time. Big tech’s war of talent acquisition is far from new. 2007 was the year of the first iPhone release. It was the year that Microsoft purchased a 1.6% stake in Facebook for $240 million, valuing it at $15 billion. And it was the year that Google announced its Android plans.

Poaching from other tech companies was a powerful strategy to gain a competitive advantage in what was an extremely competitive sector, as it is today. It got so bad in the 2000s that Apple and Google agreed not to hire each other’s staff. Although Apple and Google bosses thought this was a good idea, it stifled the careers of staff at these companies because their progression opportunities were hampered. This caused a lot of anger because it meant that big tech was looking out for itself at the expense of the growth of its staff.

Steve Jobs would have known that an anti-poaching agreement wasn’t the right thing to do. When he suggested the idea to Ed Colligan, the CEO of now-defunct Palm Inc, Colligan replied with the following email:

Your proposal that we agree that neither company will hire the other’s employees, regardless of the individual’s desires, is not only wrong, it is likely illegal.

This didn’t stop Jobs from conspiring with Google. As the story goes, a recruiter from Google cold-called an engineer working at Apple, tempting them to make a move to the “Don’t be evil” company. When Jobs found out, he wrote to Schmidt:

Eric, I would be very pleased if your recruiting department would stop doing this. Thanks, Steve

Schmidt quickly sent an email to Google’s HR department to find out what had happened. The HR team replied that “the sourcer who contacted this Apple employee should not have and will be terminated within the hour.” Upon hearing that the Google recruiter had been fired, he replied with a simple smiley, “🙂

Years later, Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe settled an anti-poaching civil lawsuit for $415 million. Knowing that big tech can’t collude with each other to stifle poaching, the poaching war is in full swing. A rumour doing the rounds is Andrea Schubert, Meta’s Communications Director for augmented reality, has been picked up by Apple, however no LinkedIn update yet.

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Parag Khanna
January 13, 2022 5:28 pm

Securing a prize talent from a competitor business is a big win in the never ending game of one-upmanship. Sometimes it gets comical. In India, Coca-Cola and Pepsi have made the news throughout the years, each one accusing the other of poaching employees. At this point I laugh a little bit each time I read news about this. 

In the wrestling business the Monday Night Wars in the 1990s were renowned for ratings wars between WCW and WWE. Each company tried to outdo the other, offering lucrative contracts to talent in other companies, urging them to make the big move. Interestingly a regularly cited reason for WCW’s failure is that it relied too much on acquiring talent. WWE on the other hand continued nurturing new talent and was able to build up superstars over a long period of time. Maybe there is a lesson here for tech companies to build up staff from within. Employees will be more loyal when the company invests in them and provides opportunities for progression.

In GaryVee’s Web3/Metaverse Chat With Mark Zuckerberg, Zuck plays down the poaching war. GaryVee asks if the public commitment Zuck has made to the metaverse will attract the best engineers to Meta. Zuck replies: “I just think that when you plant a flag and say that you’re gonna go do something, you get haters and criticisms, but you also get the people who actually care about that thing and want to make it happen.” 

So although poaching is no doubt happening, there is also self-selection going on, as Zuckerberg puts it. By planting that flag, the right people who want to share in Meta’s vision will come.

Anna Alonso
January 15, 2022 5:52 pm

Is it me or is Microsoft starting to fall behind? This will undoubtedly sound inaccurate if you’re being kind and ludicrous if you’re being honest, given that I’m talking about a company that achieved revenues of $168 billion in 2021. But there’s something about Microsoft I can’t shake off. Maybe it’s that Windows 95 launch video that went viral recently, with Bill Gates not sure what to do on stage and Steve Ballmer mistaking a software launch party for a rock concert. Whatever it is, something tells me Apple, Google and Meta are the big dogs and Microsoft has some catching up to do.

Maybe it comes from my frustrating experience with Bing. How can a search engine backed by one of the most powerful companies in the world be so bad? I know people who have had their websites banned from Bing’s search results despite ranking highly on Google. They can’t for the life of them figure out how they are breaking Bing’s webmaster guidelines.

In the console wars, Xbox remains behind the PS5. Microsoft doesn’t release sales data of the Xbox, however the general estimate is that the PS5 has been outselling the Xbox by a factor of 2:1. And how can we forget Mixer? The streaming platform that Microsoft launched to compete with Twitch, YouTube and Facebook. Microsoft paid big money to get popular streamers onto their platform but shut down in July 2020. The reason for its failure has been attributed to the vast sums of money paid to get established streamers onto the platform, not building up Mixer streamers and a cultural mismatch between Mixer staff and Microsoft’s management.

In the latest round of bad news for Microsoft, it’s been reported that around 100 people from the HoloLens team have moved to Meta. HoloLens is Microsoft’s version of an augmented reality headset. It’s hard to say no when Meta is offering to double your already-high salary. Microsoft has enough resources and talent to bounce back, if bouncing back is something it even needs to do when the company earns $168 billion in revenues. Whatever the case is with Microsoft, falling behind or the new leader in AR, their poaching game is still strong and they won’t be going away anytime soon.

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Devin Graff
January 14, 2022 9:53 am

I used to get annoyed at poaching. One time a recruiter called me at work. I was unfairly curt with him and pretty much explained he was wasting his time because I was happy with my job. At that job I’d also get LinkedIn messages from recruiters every other day, to the point I ignored them. In retrospect, I regret behaving like this. The recruiter was just doing his job and didn’t deserve my gruff attitude. If I could turn back time, I would thank him for the call but reiterate that I was happy at my job. The same goes with LinkedIn recruiters. When I get InMails from them, I always try to respond. I don’t like it when companies ignore my applications, so why should I ignore their reach-outs?

Recruiting from other companies is a sign of a healthy, competitive industry. Why shouldn’t staff consider their options? We all want to advance our careers. , Steve Jobs’ attempt to enter into a non-poaching agreement with competitors is disappointing to read about. I know Steve Jobs is revered as technology genius but he comes across as insecure and quite selfish.

Looks like that insecurity still exists at Apple. They’re giving surprise bonuses of up to $180,000 to stop engineers defecting to Meta. About 100 engineers have switched allegiance from Apple to Meta over the past few months. What’s next? Just like North Korea, maybe Apple needs to place guards at office exits to prevent staff from escaping 😂😂