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! ¬†ūüėČ

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.

I’m Not Looking, But These Job Posts Just Suck

BEWARE: ¬†This is the beginning of a rant. ¬†If you’re temperamental it might piss you off. ¬†You’ve been warned, prepare to have a bit of rant with reality thrown on top for good measure.

I’m not looking for another gig. ¬†I’m extremely happy with what I’m doing right now. ¬†The Russell Team I’m working with absolutely rocks! ¬†On our worst days we kick ass and on our best we kick ass, take names, and build lots of software with value for the company and users. ¬†We produce software, with reasonable timelines, timelines that we have input into, with good business proponents, solid technology, quality code, and generally sound process. ¬†All this with strong overtones of Scrum influence ala from the Agile Manifesto. ¬†People on the team actually KNOW and have READ the Agile Manifesto – which is AWESOME!!!! ¬†ūüôā

So now that I’ve got that declaration out of the way I want to write a very serious rant to managers who have never read the manifesto and claim they use an “Agile Process” or “agile” or whatever. ¬†This is a statement and rant to those companies that go recruiting for top tier people (and rarely get them) with horribly written job descriptions and practices. ¬†So let’s get started, and the developers out there, let me know if you are annoyed by these practices too! ¬†I’d love to get an ear full form anyone from any side of this equation.

If you use an Agile influenced process (notice I said influenced, because really there is no such thing as an Agile Process – it’s an ideal, kind of like freedom and liberty) nobody should be reading or printing things like;

  • Agile = Agile Principles U Agile Best Practice
    Agile = Agile Principles U Agile Best Practice

    This project is being run using agile methodology.< Really? Which one? That isn’t very descriptive. It’s kind of like me saying, “I like to eat food, the cooked kind, sometimes, cuz it’s good!” ¬†Yeah, really! Dear oh dear. Translation: “I went to a management conference and somebody said that I HAVE to use agile methodologies or I’d be a failure.”

  • Yeah, It's In There Somewhere, The Piece That Will Bind the Meaning of this Description Request!!
    Yeah, It’s In There Somewhere, The Piece That Will Bind the Meaning of this Description Request!!

    “Good understanding of software design and concepts and patterns.” < ¬†First things first, there are way to many ands in that sentence. Second, Which design, concept, and patterns? ¬†Microsoft’s, Computer Science, or Agile Manifesto related concepts. This again is a very vague statement. ¬†Kind of like stating, “We want someone to write software that can write software”. For real! ¬†ūüėģ

  • “Experience using Visual Studio 2008 and the .NET Framework V4 with experience using Framework 3.5 with SQL Server.” WTF?!?! ¬†Ok, you state you’re using the “agile process” but the first thing this does is prove you’ve probably broken the first manifesto point, people over tools. You’ve just declared tools, and in addition to that the tools are correlated incorrectly. Using SQL Server has ZERO to do with what .NET Framework you’re using. Using .NET 4 is almost identical to 3.5. ¬†Declaring the version really isn’t necessary. ¬†In addition, declaring a framework version with SQL Server would lead any decent developer to think that the project is already messed up since the tools description is correlating .NET 3.5 to SQL Server – which should make absolutely no difference. ¬†Zero, Zilch, Nada!!!
  • “Familirarity with the basics of WPF, Silverlight, WCF, and Azure.” <- So every application in the universe is getting built? ¬†This just adds to the confusion already generated by the oddball¬†descriptions¬†above. At this point a GOOD software developer would either stop reading and ignore the posting or be so curious as to why its screwed up they’d contact the recruiter or posting company. I know some developers that have literally contacted a company to ask, “what is being stated” in a job description.
  • “Awareness of Microsoft TSQL and database design principles.” <- Again, ok, but you already said SQL Server. ¬†Maybe you mean some magical mystical unicorn generating SQL Server in that previous request and this is for just the SQL in the magical mystical unicorn SQL Service generating Unicorn TSQL Microsft TSQL Database Widget! Yeah, that’s it.
  • “Demonstrated ability to follow through with all tasks, promises, and committments.” <- Ok, I’ll admit, some places probably need to post this. ¬†But when I see this, I’m putting my money on the idea the management probably sucks, and not a little bit but a whole lot. The other possibility is that the hiring staff have no idea how to communicate or infer if a person has basic abilities A company demanding the basic fealty of honesty and integrity in their employees in the job description something is SERIOUSLY wrong already.
  • Bad Communication Happening
    Bad Communication Happening

    “Ability to communicate and work effectively within priorities” <- Ok, with that previous demand of fealty and competence, this request right after is a HUGE read flag screaming that communication is most like NOT good in the environment the job is in.

  • Yeah, Do It, Do it RIGHT NOW!!!
    Yeah, Do It, Do it RIGHT NOW!!!

    “Ability to work under tight timelines in a fast-paced environment” <- Again, this completely throws out any concept of maintained velocity, a good agile understanding, or any hope that someone actually read or understands the Agile Manifesto and Principles. It also provides the hint that maybe, with a high likely hood, management is grasping at straws trying to keep things going in the right direction.

I wouldn’t be very likely to respond to this job entry if I was looking. Matter of fact I’d warn people (kind of like I’m doing with this blog entry). In my next entry I’ll provide some actual GOOD job descriptions and things that I would look for, if I were looking (which I’m not, as I’ve pointed out).

Frustrated...   looks like it.
Frustrated… looks like it.

…and don’t get confused, I’m not being a prima donna¬†or demanding blue M & Ms only. I’m merely asking that people get their shit together and treat their prospective employees with some honesty and integrity also. Hiring practices leave a LOT to be desired in the world of the tech industry. They’re horribly inefficient from both perspectives. ¬†It is hard to find people and hard to find good gigs that one can truly be happy with. I honestly feel though that getting this straightened out, if it is to be straightened out, is a better understanding on the hiring side and on maintaining a healthy, functional, and productive work environment.

Stay tuned, and I’ll have the “much closer to ideal” job posting ideas up here in the near future. ¬†For now, I’m done ranting about this.

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.