Recruiters -> Software Developer Referrals, I Know Em’, Here’s How You Know Them

This is a public letter to all recruiters, human resources or other professionals that are in a *hiring department* that would like to garner referrals from me. I like to categorize my referrals into junior and senior software developers. This is not my interaction process with startups & early round companies, I know you and you know me, things work differently, so if you’re in a startup and looking for people this doesn’t apply to you. This is a letter to help guide how I can help all parties involved in the best way possible.

NOTE: I’m not a recruiter, not intending to be, nor do I work for any recruitment agencies or groups. This is something I do because I enjoy being involved with the tech scene of Portland and have great sympathy for people looking to join good teams. I fought years to find good teams and have enjoyed working with these teams. Matter of fact, I’d say a good team is orders of magnitude more enjoyable to work with than the not good teams. In other words, I try to make things not suck for everybody involved!  😉

For junior developer referrals, I have a few basic requirements and information that I’d like to know if there is a specific job in mind. If you’d just like to talk, I’ll also put you in touch with a junior developer based on this criteria.

  1. For the junior developer the positions should be of reasonable commutes, especially in the current software development market. This means that the commute, one way, should not be anymore than 10-15 minutes either by biking, walking or taking transit. If they want to drive, that’s their concern, but I don’t want to condemn anyone to ever being stuck with a forced auto-dependent commute.
  2. Is there opportunity that the junior dev will be working with other senior developers who will pair code, do code review and otherwise support the individual in a positive and enthusiastic way?
  3. Is the company active in the local community and supportive of new employees and existing employees being involved? Will the encourage and allow the junior developer to get involved and possibly attend workshops, courses, meetups and even conferences that may be during business hours (but likely most are not)?

For senior software developers this gets to be even more particular, especially in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, New York or Vancouver BC. If I’m going to refer anybody the following items are a baseline.

  1. Does the job offer remote work or some remote work days? How does the team currently communicate with remote employees and what is the split of remote employees vs. in office employees?
  2. Not just is there opportunity to, but is there active pairing, continuous integration or delivery setup and being used?
  3. What is the current management paradigm around architecture decisions, user experience (UX) and other items that are often peripheral to the software development that occurs?

If these questions can be answered in the affirmative then I have some referrals for you. Even if they aren’t, these questions and this information should become standard on any job description, in MANY ways more so than the technology list of skills that are all to common. This last part is something to note for people hiring, not just recruiters.

I’ve also talked more about this far in the past (in tech years). I’ve spent many solid years hiring, firing and generally building teams of people. The following has inadvertently become kind of a series about suggestions to fix the job posts, and where and what the baseline is for building a A-game Team. Much of these suggestions hold true still today.

Top Tier, A-Game Talent – How to Land em’

Recently the question came up from a close friend of mine, “will my PhD help me attain a higher income in the north west?”  I had to tell him, that it might get him a little more, but it won’t get him in the top income brackets for the occupation.  Another time, a few days later, someone else asked this too.  Then again, I see a job posting that requires a Bachelors Degree and some other nonsense.  The job posting even states they want “A-Game” talent.

I am almost shocked at how poorly part of this industry doesn’t realize how unimportant a degree (bachelor, doctorate, etc) is to getting real top tier, a-game talent.  (and yes, I get a little riled up about this matter)

You Can’t Make Good Software Developers.  No college out there is going to train someone to be in the top 10%, and absolutely not to be in the top 5% of skill levels.  Colleges can NOT do this.  It is up to the individual, and the individual alone.  If top tier talent seems to come from a college, one should check their premise and look at the motivations the individuals have to go to that school.  There is most likely a reason that top tier talent appears to be made there.  The college however, can only guide or assist, but I repeat that “top tier talent is a very individualistic endeavor“.

Some might say, well a group is needed, support is needed, this and that are needed.  True, an individual needs a support system and a college can provide that, but it generally ends there.  The support group helps, provides a sounding wall, and provides correlation to good ideas for the a-game top tier geek.  But again, the endeavor is the individuals desire.

top tier talent is a very individualistic endeavor – Me

Hiring Top Tier, A-Game Talent

There are a few things when trying to hire this level of game player.

  1. The first thing is to not require a degree of any sort.  Sure, it looks good, but it won’t dictate anything other than the individual was able to go through the regimented steps of college.
  2. List the skills and ideas that you would like to find in an individual.  Think of two people meeting for the first time, what do you want to know about the other individual.  Team fit is absolutely fundamental for top tier talent.  That support group that I mentioned above, top tier talent works best with a solid group of players.
  3. Keep your technology up to date, moving forward, and don’t bore your top talent if you manage to get it.  If the company slows down, they will leave.  The more valuable they find out they are, the lower tolerance they’ll have for this.  For managers, directors, and leaders in an organization this is THE challenge for them.
  4. Provide opportunities not just for advancement, but ways for them to advance their knowledge such as training, a book budget, or other means.  Even if some software they want to use isn’t used ton the project, get it for them (within reason of course ? couple $100 or even a few $1000 for a good software license to MSDN, Tellerik, or other suite of software is ideal).
  5. Don’t push them to, and don’t let them overwork themselves into burnout.  This, as a leader in an organization is easy to do if one finds themselves actually hiring top talent.  Because top talent just provides results and more results.  But they are human, they will break, don’t be the cause of that or you’ll lose your talent.

For now, that is it from me on this topic, back to the revenue, code, projects, and pushing things forward.