Meet the woman who connects MIT’s software smarties with their futures

MIT administrator Anne Hunter (center) in 2012, with MIT students Irena Huang (left) and Elaina Chai (right.)  Photo by Patricia Sampson, MIT.
MIT administrator Anne Hunter (center) in 2012, with MIT students Irena Huang (left) and Elaina Chai (right.) Photo by Patricia Sampson, MIT.

Over the past decade and a half, I’ve heard MIT students and grads regularly mention something called the “Anne Hunter list” — sometimes referred to more generically as “the jobs list.”

It’s how they land jobs at Google and Dropbox, or at startups that will become the next Google or Dropbox. It’s also how they score free pizza and t-shirts at company recruiting events on campus.

So I started to wonder: exactly who was this Anne Hunter?

Here’s how MIT alum Michael McGraw-Herdeg describes the list:

The “jobs list” is an MIT institution, a mailing list that any student can ask to get onto; once you’re on the list, you get what seems like a bewildering amount of job ads daily, mostly a combination of (1) faculty looking for grad students to do research for them, (2) instructors looking for [teaching assistants], (3) big companies announcing on-campus recruiting events, (4) startups soliciting possible cofounders and offering an iPad to anyone who gets to the interview stage, (5) random “one-off freelancing coding opportunities” that “will take 20 hours” and are actually a Harvard student asking you to build their entire startup, etc. All kinds of fun, clearly sheer torture to moderate. Anne is a saint for having set the list up — I am sure it has changed lives.

I spoke to Hunter, an administrator for MIT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department, earlier this month. She told me that last year was her 40th anniversary of coming to MIT. But she didn’t create the list until the mid-1990s.

“At the very beginning of the dot-com boom, there suddenly was just a really fierce desire of MIT students to get together with each other, and to find people here who were brilliant coders and web designers and builders,” she says. “Students said to me, ‘Can you help?’ So I started out with the full e-mail list of all the undergrad and master’s of engineering students — about 1200 students.” Only MIT students and alums are allowed on the list, and the focus is predominantly entry-level positions. “I don’t like to send out ads that require more than one or two years of experience,” she says.

The Anne Hunter List is pretty active: each opportunity goes out as its own message, so when there are career fairs happening on campus, list members may get 30 or more messages a day. In addition to publicizing gigs at companies like Microsoft, Palantir, or Athenahealth, Hunter says she also “gets a lot of contacts from Harvard Business School and MIT’s Sloan School of Management.” The MBA students there “want to find people to code their brilliant ideas.” Often, the entrepreneurs can be cagey about what they’re working on. “They’re in stealth mode, and they can’t say much about it,” Hunter says. “I don’t think the mystery factor is that appealing for most of our students.”

Over the years, Hunter’s e-mail list “grew and grew,” she says. “Alumni go out and are working for some company. When the company says to them, ‘How can we find more people at MIT just like you?’ the student says, ‘Oh, just get in touch with Anne Hunter.’ I probably hear from 400 or 500 companies or startups every year.” Hunter’s list isn’t connected with the university’s career development office, but she says they’re supportive of her work.

There are now about 2,700 people on the list. Hunter says she knows of MIT graduates who “have said they’ve never had a job they didn’t get through the jobs list.”

Hunter is a bit of a stickler when it comes to the subject line of her dispatches. She likes to explain whether a job is full-time, part-time, a temporary contractor position, or an internal MIT research role. And you won’t get an e-mail from her titled, “Ninjas Needed”; Hunter isn’t a fan of terms like “rock star” or “ninja,” since they don’t really describe what the job entails.

Hunter says she has had business school students show up in person to pitch her on an idea, so that they could promote their startup on the list. But pretty much everything that reaches her ends up on the list, she says. What doesn’t get distributed? “I’m reluctant to send out unpaid job ads, except when they’re for nonprofits,” she says.

And in addition to the Anne Hunter List, there is also an Anne Hunter Blacklist. Who’s on it? A very small number of scofflaw companies that haven’t paid students for their work, Hunter says.

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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