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Are these the hottest startups around, or the next billion-dollar exits?

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LinkedIn (s lnkd) has released its second-annual ranking of the startups that Silicon Valley engineers most want to work for, and enterprise IT carried the day. Hadoop and flash storage seem especially hot, with Cloudera topping the list. However, the rankings (assuming they really do say what they purport to say) might suggest more about where seasoned engineers think they can cash in on an acquisition or IPO than they do about what technologies engineers really want to work on.

Here’s the list in its entirety, along with anecdotal evidence to support my claim:

  1. Cloudera (hired new CEO, has raised boatloads of money and talking IPO)
  2. Dropbox (has raised boatloads of money and is talking IPO)
  3. Violin Memory (has raised boatloads of money and talking IPO)
  4. Nimble Storage (has raised boatloads of money and talking IPO)
  5. Hortonworks (has raised quite a bit of money; always the subject of acquisition rumors)
  6. GoPro (raised boatloads of money and planning IPO)
  7. Jawbone (14-year-old company that has been on IPO watch for years)
  8. Big Switch Networks (SDN is H-O-T, and we saw what happened with Nicira)
  9. Pinterest (Instagram and Tumlbr come to mind, only Pinterest might have more value)
  10. Nutanix (has raised lots of money and is growing like crazy — and look at the flash buying spree EMC has been on lately)

LinkedIn’s startup list is really just a pared down version of the InDemand ranking algorithm the company developed last year to gauge interest across the entire landscape of employers. Here’s how the company describes that algorithm:

“We analyzed billions of data points between members and companies and compared the data with surveys of thousands of members to determine a company’s familiarity and engagement score. Our analysis also weighted member actions like viewing employee profiles, visiting Company Pages and following companies.”

If you take a look at the Top 10 startup list from 2012, you’ll notice four companies are the same as this year’s, while the remaining six either outgrew its parameters (fewer than 500 employees and valuations less than $1 billion) or went public. VMware bought Nicira for more than $1 billion. Splunk went public and is doing very well in the public market. I suspect shareholders in Box (especially), Arista, Palantir (see disclosure) and Square can bank on successful exits in the near to mid-term, too.

lnkd 2012I’d be curious to seen the entire list to get a sense of where some other well-known enterprise startups that are also talking IPO rank. I’m thinking of companies such as 10gen, New Relic and, last year, Tableau. LinkedIn did note a trio of consumer hardware startups that cracked the top 20, including Fitbit (see disclosure), Nest Labs and Lytro.

Not that looking for a new gig in a soon-to-IPO startup is a bad thing. As Box VP of Engineering Sam Schillace told me earlier this year about his new employer, it’s kind of the perfect mix between the scrappy startup experience and the layers of bureaucracy that can come along with large public vendors.

And if they pay well and hand over a few shares, well, who can complain?

Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of GigaOM/paidContent. Om Malik, founder of GigaOM, is also a venture partner at True. Reed Elsevier, the parent company of science publisher Elsevier, is an investor in Giga Omni Media, the company that publishes GigaOM, as well as Palantir.

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