At a recent Technology Association of Oregon CTO Roundtable, the hottest topic of the day was the talent shortage. As CTOs of companies ranging from 100-2000+ employees, the software executives in the room agreed they were all facing the same problem: the lack of quality developers constraining their growth.
Is there really a talent shortage? Or do companies need to rethink what skills and qualities make a strong developer?
In terms of hiring practices, most execs in the group said that if job applicants didn’t have 5+ years of experience and a computer science degree, their resumes were tossed out. Yet they also admitted that employees they did hire seemed entrenched in their approach, struggled to adapt to new technologies, and weren’t delivering on innovation. Five Talent CTO Ryan Comingdeer left the meeting wondering if there really was a talent shortage. Or if it was the traditional, old school hiring policies that were keeping them from finding good candidates.
“Today, having five years of experience as a developer means you’re more likely to be fossilized around how you do things,” says Comingdeer. “That just isn’t going to fly given how fast technology is changing. What companies need to start looking for in employees is flexibility. Your hiring process needs to be as agile as your developers.”
Your hiring process needs to be as agile as your developers.
It’s a philosophy that Comingdeer and CEO Preston Callicott embrace at Five Talent. Their approach has helped them build a team that can adapt and respond to a pipeline of fast-paced, diverse projects with cloud solutions that are in a state of constant evolution. As an Amazon Web Services (AWS) partner, the company has a unique perspective on how the rapid innovation of cloud services has changed both software development and the role of the developer.
“Before you’d give developers requirements for coding and they would dive into the project without having to spend much time considering the bigger picture,” says Comingdeer. “That has all changed. How many coding languages you know or how much tech stack experience you have is almost irrelevant if you don’t understand how to build solutions optimized for security, performance, operations, reliability, and cost. Those fundamental pillars of the Amazon Web
Services Well-Architected™ Framework are becoming industry best practices and your developers need to know how to apply them.”
So what skills should you look for when hiring? Comingdeer and Callicott break it down to three
three key qualities: aptitude for learning, business savvy, and problem solving ability. Focusing on these attributes has helped them hire flexible, multi-faceted employees who are significant contributors to their success:
1. Aptitude for learning
Staying on top of new technologies and solutions launching every day requires employees who know how to adapt, respond, and innovate through constant learning and inquiry. Developers who have a natural interest in trends and cutting edge tools bring them back into your business and seek out ways to improve what you’re doing without reinventing the wheel. They’ll need to be able to experiment, to try new approaches, and they’ll need room to fail. Creating a culture that accepts failure as a learning opportunity mirrors the agile process, invites creativity, and encourages breakthrough thinking. Understand how they learn, how they explore and what inspires them.
2. Business savvy
Today, developers are stakeholders at the table who need to understand business goals and objectives. They are sitting on cross-functional teams, uncovering assumptions, evaluating strategies, and ushering projects through ongoing iterations – all of which demand a much broader skill set. For developers who spent years in large corporations working with one code stack or new software engineer graduates who weren’t exposed to business principles in their programs, this perspective may feel daunting. Their reluctance to expand their role can show up in the hiring process. “When a programmer says they just want to be a developer, that they don’t care about what’s going on with the business, it’s a red flag,” says Comingdeer. “You can’t ‘just be a developer’ anymore. You have to know the purpose of your programming.”
3. Problem Solving Ability
Last, we’re living in an era increasingly defined by Internet of Things (IoT), Voice activated internet, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). To leverage these bleeding edge technologies, companies need development teams who can break down, process, and rework outdated frameworks and infrastructures. Hiring employees who know how to apply creative problem solving skills in the larger context of these innovations is vital. They’re also better at estimating worksize, prioritizing tasks, managing time, and determining which bleeding edge solutions will launch your business to the next level.
Beyond recruiting outside talent with these skills, Five Talent has also made a big investment in growing its own future employees with an extensive internship program. “Internships do take a lot of work, but they can really pay off in the long term,” explains Comingdeer. “If they’re going to do it, companies need to take the time to educate, guide and mentor interns and structure those programs so they benefit everyone.” The program has created a dynamic learning environment for the company’s development team and has resulted in numerous hires.
Opportunities for up and coming developers who are not yet candidates for full time employment include:
- Mentorships (1 to 1 mentoring and guidance)
- Job shadows (12 hours, opportunity to pair with a senior developer and ask questions)
- Unpaid internships (for college credit)
- Paid internships (focused projects in collaboration with senior developers)
Thus the question remains: Is there really a talent shortage? Or is it time to rethink what skills and qualities make a good developer? In order to keep up with innovation and leverage new technologies, you need a development team that wants to learn, understands how business works, and knows how to solve complex problems. Changing the rules for hiring talent may require a shift in perspective, but it’s imperative if you’re going to take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead.