How hard is it to hire a good developer?

Posted by | June 28, 2017 | Uncategorized

CEOs and founders, cards on the table please! How hard do you have to work to get a good developer on your team (in silicon valley, for example)? “Good” means good enough to make a good hire that you won’t regret. How much time does it take? Does it get frustrating? Do you feel there’s a shortage of talent? An abundance?

Very hard, and if you’re a startup in Silicon Valley, they can’t just be “good”. You must have a 10x developer or engineer join your team. Anything less and your already long odds of success fry faster than a snowflake in hell. Let me repeat: You don’t want only good developers.

The 2013 Source of Hire Report indicated that the best source of qualified candidates is referrals, as high quality individuals tend to find each other. However, it could take you forever if you’re new in town, as demand and competition for these developers is exceptionally intense, leaving the supply scarce. Even if you do manage to identify such a developer, convincing them to join you and share your vision is a non-trivial problem. They may already be well-paid and comfortable in their current role.

The hiring strategy you are looking for is called “topsourcing”, a rigorous process that tests natural work abilities, does not make compromises on quality of talent, and incorporates candidate reviews by industry experts.

First, you must test for technical acumen. You can screen candidates using available testing interfaces such as Codility, or give them challenging interview questions in the language you will be developing in (e.g., Python, JavaScript, Java, PHP, Node.js). If they pass, you can give them a small test to do something that isn’t time-sensitive or mission critical. The small task, should include an optional opportunity to go above and beyond. This is a good test to see if they take initiative and see how well they do at the bonus task(s). In organizations I’ve led, after technical acumen, I’ve looked for dedication, initiative, and ethics. You can also try putting them in a compromising situation (a safe one) to see how they handle real-life interpersonal difficulties. If they are recommended from a trusted source and have a portfolio to show, it helps even more.

At the same time, as swiftly and decisively as you should bring top talent in, you should just as quickly remove them if they do not hold themselves to a high standard professionally or personally. Elon Musk just days ago stated at SXSW that the biggest mistake he’s ever made had to do with hiring the wrong people (related to only hiring for technical acumen and not balancing for kindness).

A shortage of these top developers exists since they are quickly snatched up as soon as they’re identified and often offered incredible sums of money to jump between companies (sometimes multipliers of their previous salaries for the best and brightest). The best developers will contribute ideas, communicate seamlessly and effectively, add value 10x their cost (or more), and constantly make you glad you decided to hire them. Topsourcing isn’t easy, but companies like Toptal specialize in doing it for you (disclosure: I will be working with them when I graduate). They solve the talent shortage problem in Silicon Valley by rigorously screening thousands of freelance developers each month, accepting just 3% of candidates. That may be your best place to start.

So, don’t just hire someone good. Topsource and hire a 10x developer.

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