Is it hard to find good developers?

Following on from my friend’s post about Why is it so hard to recruit good developers? I had written a lengthy comment which I thought I may as well just blog instead for further discussion. This post isn’t necessarily a direct response, but some of my opinions on the problems around recruiting good people.



I think this talk from Daniel Pink (author of Drive, a pretty good book) about a study on motivation sums it up pretty well (and the transcript is here)

People want autonomy, mastery, and purpose; so essentially “don’t micro-manage me”, “let me learn”, and a good reason for doing something. (e.g. profit alone is not a good enough reason)

So being told what to do and not think for yourself is demotivating, as is not being given the opportunity to learn and improve yourself.

Candidates : finding people you want to hire

The salary doesn’t need to be massive, it just needs to be enough that it’s no longer a concern. Usually people who are experienced in the industry and spend time bettering themselves through user groups, conferences, and general researching will know what the average salary is for someone with their skillset and abilities.

They’ll put this on their CV as an expectation. Recruiters will use this to match candidates to roles; if the role offers 35k they won’t bother putting forward candidates with current salary/expected salary as 50k. The people they will put forwards instead are those who have a similar salary now or expect to have something similar; usually those people are not as experienced (i.e., recent grads. Although I’ve hired some absolutely amazing grads – the most recent one is giving the seniors a run for their money). not as motivated/less willing to progress (not trying to learn or grow within the company, nor take on more responsibility in a higher paid role), or don’t get involved in their industry/field to improve themselves.

The Position : having a role good people want to apply for

Company attitude to autonomy

Look at Github or Google or Atlassian as examples of companies people would love to work for. Don’t know why Github is so great? Check out Zach Holman’s blog and read some of the posts about what it’s like to work there. They have titles like “Hours are Bullshit”, “Creativity is Important”, “From “Hack” to ‘Popular Project'”, and “Why GitHub Hacks on Side Projects”. Hubot is an incredible side-project success.

Google famously have the 20% rule, where 20% of your work time is dedicated to non-project work. Be creative. 1 whole day a week.

If you saw the Daniel Pink presentation I mentioned at the start you’ll see Atlassian do a day a quarter (or every couple of quarters) for something similar, except they make a big deal of it and provide beers and cake and stuff; the only rule is that you have to present your project back at the end of the day.

Company attitude to mastery

Sending people on courses is one thing, but having – for example – each month of a year dedicated to learning a bit more of a particular technology or language or feature of a language or design pattern or something, shows that you aren’t just focussed on the company profit, but that you love what you do and wan to make sure everyone else does too!

Company purpose

Probably not coming from the company, but from the department or at least the potential boss of the candidate: I, for example, have an aim to get my team members presenting at user groups, conferences/seminars, and the department getting recognition for cleverness in our particular sector. I want them – and by extension our company – to be known as professional developers who know their stuff, who are passionate about learning more stuff, love to share what they know, and ultimately are recognised for it.

Sure, the purpose from above me is to deliver company profit, but that shouldn’t affect their happiness and motivation (just mine!)

There’s the rub

In my humble opinion, if you’re a large company with a large development team and a hierarchy of developers and architects who ultimately prescribe what is to be built by the highly skilled development team, then that company is removing a level of autonomy.

If the focus is always on one specific technology stack and there’s no drive to assess alternatives (or the assessment is entirely outside of the development team), and the team aren’t being pushed to learn things and apply that knowledge, then that company is removing a level of mastery.

However, in my experience, not getting good candidates is usually down to being stuck with rubbish recruiters not having good contacts. Not being allowed to talk to whichever recruiters you like (so long as they can agree terms your company can accept) and evaluate the best ones for certain roles (for example I use different preferred agencies for permanent .Net vs contract UX vs QA, and this is based on good and bad experiences and initially lengthy recruitment processes to allow us to separate those who consistently send good candidates).

So, in summary

If you’re not getting good candidates applying for the role, re-evaluate the salary and the recruiters.

If you’re getting good applicants but no-one wants the job, take a look at what the company offers over others. Maybe it’s actually good but is being marketed to them badly!

This is just one guy’s opinion – I’m certainly not saying it’s working perfectly for me now – but it’s based on several years experience of both good and bad, and being on both sides of the recruitment fence!

Discuss 😉