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What top computer science graduates really want from an employer

Daniel Goodman/Business Insider One of the many perks for those who work at Facebook. Facebook is known for its cool perks, impressive salaries, and great corporate culture. So it’s no surprise that it topped Business Insider’s 2015 list of the 50 Best Companies To Work For In America, based on exclusive data from PayScale. This year, the social-networking site edged out Google (ranked No. 2) and Celgene (No. 6), the biopharmaceutical company that held the No. 1 spot in 2013 and 2014. Since Mark Zuckerberg launched the site as a 19-year-old Harvard sophomore in 2004, Facebook has emerged as the world’s largest social network, shaping how we socialize, communicate, and get our news. It has over a billion active users, 10,082 employees, and a cutting-edge workspace in Menlo Park, California, among several other US-based and international offices. Facebook has long been known for its innovation and creativity, and its office headquarters are no exception. Employee autonomy is key — “We don’t have rules,” the Facebook careers page reads — and employees are encouraged to take ownership over their spaces. In fact, much of the artwork lining the office walls is produced by company employees. Robert Johnson for Business Insider Many of the designs adorning office walls were created by Facebook employees. In the same way that Facebook connects people from all over the world — its mission is to “give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” — the leaders at the company work hard to connect their employees. Every Friday, Zuckerberg hosts a Q&A to update his team and address questions and concerns. “It’s an important part of Facebook’s culture,” Zuckerberg has said of the tradition. “People ask thoughtful questions about why our company is going in certain directions, what I think about things happening in the world, and how we can continue improving our services for everyone. I learn a lot from these Q&As, and the questions people ask help us build better services.” Thanks to these kinds of rituals, PayScale reports that 81% of Facebook employees find their jobs to be meaningful. Another distinguishing feature of the company are its unrivaled perks. Facebook has set the bar high, offering gourmet food courts, an open climbing wall, on-site doctors and chiropractors, laundry and dry-cleaning services, bikes to commute around campus, and four months of paid parental leave (plus $4,000 in baby cash). The idea is to remove stress from employees’ daily lives so employees can thrive while at work. The masterminds at Facebook clearly unlocked a winning formula — PayScale found that 93% of employees are highly satisfied with their work. Facebook also attracts and keeps talent with its competitive salaries. According to PayScale, the median salary of experienced workers is $135,000, and even interns can earn a whopping $6,000 to $7,000 a month. The social-networking site knows how to take care of its employees, and its emphasis on establishing a high-quality work environment makes it the best company to work for in America. NOW WATCH: Facebook’s new virtual reality game will make you feel like you’re in ‘Star Wars’ Please enable Javascript to watch this video Read more stories on Business Insider, Malaysian edition of the world’s fastest-growing business and technology news website.

Palantir, a data analysis and software firm with a far-reaching mission, is the fourth most desirable company to work for among Stanford computer science graduates, according to data compiled by the online student discussion forum Piazza. It even beat out better-known names like Microsoft (MSFT), Netflix (NFLX) and Amazon (AMZN). 
 
So while there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Palantir, Jessica Gilmartin, Chief Business Officer of Piazza, says its popularity among Stanford grads (widely regarded as the best tech hires in the country), is telling of significant trends in the industry.
 
Right now, thanks to the shortage in STEM talent, working in tech is an employee’s market – there are way more jobs than there are degrees. Code.org predicted there would be 1 million more jobs than computer science students by 2020.

Of course, Silicon Valley companies put significant resources toward luring hires with perks like nap pods (Google), dry cleaning services (Facebook) and covering egg freezing costs for female employees (Apple, Facebook). Palantir’s success among A-list hires sheds light on a new priority for young tech workers –  making a positive difference in the world through their job.
 
“Particularly for this generation it’s much less about money and much less about perks,” Gilmartin says. “Actually, what millennials care about is the impact they’re making, how they’re improving their society.”
 
This is why Palintir is so popular among Stanford grads. Their clients include government institutions like the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency, as well as companies like Citibank. And though the firm is pretty secretive about their projects' specifics, it’s rumored that they helped take out Osama Bin Laden in 2011.

Tom Cortina, assistant dean for undergraduate education in the school of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, says good compensation is merely “icing on the cake” for new grads.
 
“Creating new solutions – that’s what’s intriguing to them,” he says.
 
Universum, an employer-branding firm, published a ranking of the most attractive employers based on responses from more than 80,000 undergraduates from 366 universities last month. It found that a majority (56%) of computer science students listed innovation as an important quality in an employer, making it the most-cited attribute on the survey.
 
Below is a breakdown of some of the other desirable attributes of tech employers, and how much they actually matter: 
 
Work environment
“A creative and dynamic work environment” followed close behind “innovation,” on the Universum survey.
 
The two are tied in many ways, of course. That’s why Google (GOOGL) consistently tops employer-ranking lists (it’s been No. 1 on the Piazza and Universum insights for years) – their “dynamic” workplace is tied to their mission of innovation. For instance, Google’s “20 percent time” policy allows employees 20% of the week (or about one day) to work on something completely unrelated to their main projects. It’s proved wildly successful: 20% time led to innovations like Gmail, Google Earth and Google Glass.
 
In addition to a creative workplace, fit is a significant draw for young employees. Amy Zhang, a recent MIT grad who works as a software engineer at Facebook says that “fitting in” was one of the most important factors in her job decision (she also had an offer from a startup in San Francisco). She asked herself questions like “will I make friends?” and “how many women will be on my team?” to decide which workplace was right for her.
 
Employer reputation and image
Google’s reputation as the best company to work is self-perpetuating, says Camille Kelly, a senior account manager at Universum. It attracts the best engineers, who then in turn, maintain its stellar reputation.
 
“If you’re a top tech talent you just view that as the top place to be globally,” she says. Zhang, the MIT grad, explains her decision: “In the end, there are a lot of startups, and only one Facebook.”
 
An incident in May known as “rescindgate" highlighted the importance of reputation to young grads. A software engineer posted on Quora soliciting advice as whether to work for Uber, or a lesser-known tech company called Zenefits. The CEO of Zenefits saw the post and rescinded the young man’s offer, offended by the fact that the engineer was so concerned with his company’s reputation (or lack thereof).
 
Compensation
Financial compensation ranked relatively low on computer science students’ list of priorities. But that’s likely because they know high pay is a given, says Kelly.
 
“They know how sought-after they are, so I don’t think they feel the need to request good compensation,” she says.
 
The payout for new employees is certainly generous, especially at top-tier companies. According to PayScale, the median starting salary for an entry-level software engineer at Google is $104,742, at Microsoft is $100,828 and at Facebook is $105,179. 
 
Even if students choose to work at an early-phase startup, they’re often compensated with generous stock options. Though a little riskier than a salary, there’s huge payoff potential if the company takes off.
 
“Today with the amount of venture capital that’s being put into some of these startups, it’s a much more secure risk than it was 20 years ago,” Kelly says.
 
When you take signing bonuses and stock options into account (which the Payscale figures above do not), comp sci graduates can easily make six figures straight out of college – undoubtedly a huge perk whether they prioritize it or not.
 
Advancement opportunities
Less than 40% of computer science students desired leadership opportunities at a company, putting it last on Universum’s list of top 10 employer attributes.
 
Kelly says what surprised her most about the Universum survey results was the lack of value placed on continuous learning. She says the definition of “continuous learning” was left open-ended, but she thought of it as acquiring new technical skills through your job—say, a new language of code.
 
Cortina noticed a similar theme, and says that many students don’t consider graduate school because they’re so eager to participate in today’s “hot” job market.  “They don’t necessarily look at the long term,” he says.
 
Some tech companies – like Adobe, for instance – will subsidize graduate-level courses.
 
Changing the hiring process
“If I had to look at students on any campus today, I would say anyone who’s in technology is holding the reins,” Kelly says.
 
So how’s a tech firm supposed to attract hires? It seems pushing crazy perks may not be the best way to appeal to college grads.
 
Gilmartin says the key is making the job search process less transactional, shifting it away from money and more towards experience.
 
“The human element is so incredibly important,” she says. “These companies have to think about how you build relationships one-on-one with students during the recruiting process.”

And Gilmartin’s right: Zhang says her decision was a tough one but people were the ultimate deciding factor. Every recruiter she talked to pushed perks like stocked kitchens and game rooms, but Facebook stood out  in the end not because of the sweet extras, but because of the team she would eventually work with.