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Hiring Developers Without Technical Know-How

You don't have to gamble on an important hire

11 February 2017

Intro

As someone who’s been working on the web for close to a decade, I’ve been in the position of hiring developers off and on throughout my career. Even in large-market cities, it can be a challenge. I was recently talking to a friend who leads a development team for a mid-sized agency in a large city; and he was lementing the process too.

“There just aren’t any good developers out there looking for work!” - Friend

It certainly seems that way at times. I often compare the job-market for developers to professional sports.

Pro-Developers as Pro-Athletes

If someone is a proven star, they’re generally in such demand that they get to choose their next job before they’re ever available for hire; “asking for a trade” in sports lingo.

In that case, your best chance at snagging them is generally to already know them, or have a friend who does. Alternatively, you can take a risk on a “draft pick”.

In this case, a “draft pick” is a new dev, either recently out of school/a bootcamp. Like a rookie talent in the sports world, a young developer’s success is largely based on the system in which s/he is placed. If there isn’t a good mentor, culture for learning, and other support systems available, this young talent will likely grow frustrated and look elsewhere before their potential is realized.

Generally, I don’t recommend small dev shops to heavily invest in “draft picks”. In my experience these types of organizations don’t have the resources or time to really help transition a young dev into a professional role.

Find a Resource to Help

These are the conditions at play for the most knowledgable hiring managers/team leads. Just finding candidates to evaluate can be difficult. For those without the technical expertise to decipher talent from talk, things get exponentially more difficult.

I’ve been in numerous hiring meetings where folks on the business/marketing side felt that a candidate was “technically strong” based on their resume or even their interview skills; but for those of us in the trenches, there were glaring red-flags.

Note: I’m not talking about the difference of opinion either. There are lots of different styles and approaches to software development that all have their merits.

People have been exposed to different technologies and processes for various reasons; none of which are as important as someone putting themselves in a position to be cognizant of where the industry is, and where it’s going.

What’s that? You don’t have a technical resource you trust to help with hiring? Go find one. Heck, give me a shout. I’d be happy to make myself available to a team who is committed to making a good hire, and who needs someone to help vet candidates. Furthermore, it’s likely that having an experienced technical lead as part of the process will help you evaluate exactly what type of resources you need to right-fit your organizational goals.

If you don’t want to pay me to do it, find someone else who you respect and make them an offer. Spending a few hundred dollars to make a strategic hire can save you tens of thousands of dollars in the following 12 months.

Are you transitioning away from an agency who did great work? Ask them to help you hire! The folks who worked tirelessly to build you a great digital experience will jump at the chance to have a hand in selecting who will be the torch-bearer moving forward.

Conclusion

I’m reluctant to write a list of “here’s the questions to ask” because the answers are nuanced. But I think I’ve made my point.

Partner with someone who knows this space and let them guide you through the process. It’s a tough market out there – the skills gap is wide, and talented developers are hard to come by.

But they are out there, you just need someone who speaks the language.

Questions? Ideas? Connect with me on Twitter @joshmobley.

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