Search for Programmers Leads Agency Down Road to ‘Diablo’ Hell

Photograph by H. Armstrong Roberts/Everett Collection

A programmer in the 1950s works in a data processing room with a Remington Rand UNIVAC computer and tape drives.

In Silicon Valley, Google, Facebook and others try to court in-demand programmers by offering high salaries, stock and office perks such as free lunches. At one Israeli advertising agency, they’re attracting job candidates by offering demons.

When BBR Saatchi & Saatchi tried to hire its last three programmers, the agency received fewer than five applications in each round, said Chief Executive Officer Yossi Lubaton. So about a month and a half ago, a junior employee suggested using the popular computer game “Diablo III” to find candidates. The game, which involves battling creatures from hell, sold 3.5 million copies during its first 24 hours in stores in May.

Two days after posting details about the Hell of a Job campaign, the agency received about 50 applications, Lubaton said. During the initial round of interviews Wednesday night, 60 players logged into “Diablo III” ready to play. Six of them were chosen based on their resume to be interviewed while they played alongside the CEO, who was controlling a burly barbarian. Three of them, including a former member of the Israeli army intelligence unit, were invited to another round of interviews, he said.

“It’s far beyond what we expected because it’s very, very hard to find programmers these days,” said Lubaton, by phone from Israel, who had the junior employee spend work hours to reach the game’s highest level for him. “Many of them are trying to find themselves in the startup industry and try to find their way to a dream.”

Despite the possibility of a big payday, the startup world can be grueling. BBR’s campaign implies that programmers can have a stable job and fun playing their favorite games with coworkers who are also hardcore gamers, said Nick Nguyen, who has worked at Yahoo and Mozilla, and recently co-founded a startup called Tasty Labs.

“Hiring is hard,” said Nguyen, who had heard about the campaign from friends in the industry. “I knew they would get a lot of applications. From a marketing perspective, it’s a great play.”

This isn’t the first time employers have gone digital with the interview process. Recruiters tried a similar approach several years ago using the virtual world of “Second Life.”

Lubaton, who is looking for a software developer to build apps for the iPhone and Android devices, plans to interview another group of players next week.

“We knew it would create a buzz,” he said. “We might find ourselves with a 12-year-old guy.”

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