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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Identifying Talent....literally half the battle

So got a lot of positive feedback about last week's post which is great. Thank you all for the feedback and emails. All very much appreciated.

So I wanted to continue following through on last week's post and talk about how to develop great developers for your team. But to do that the very first thing we need to talk about is hiring. Let's face it, if who you chose sent matter the NFL draft wouldn't be that big a deal.

Over the past few years, a decent part of my job has become doing technical interviews for not just my own development teams, but for other teams as well.  Its something that I've done quite a bit of for a while now.  I've probably done upwards of 100 technical interviews in the past 3-4 years or so.  This is one of those topics that many developers write off, and that fact alone proves to continually come back to bite people in the butt when they end up hiring a bad resource.  There are lots of developers out there, and finding a good one can be like trying to divine water.  

If you want to build something you need that strong foundation to build off of. And that foundation isn't something you get to create. Think about it this way, I can have plans to build the most amazing house. But if the property I choose is the Sahara it is just going to keep sinking. It's why the three most important things in real estate are location, location, location.

So how do you make sure that the candidates you choose to hire have that foundation?  The most important thing I've found, isn't necessarily a background in the technologies you are looking to use, but instead a passion to learn.

It's worth noting here, that I'm talking strictly about hiring Jr. Developers, not necessarily mid-level or senior developers.  There are very different types of things that I recommend you look for there.

If my time as a college professor has taught me anything, its that you can teach anyone to program.  Absolutely anyone can learn.  All it takes is drive, and hard work and anyone can learn this stuff.  And that's where passion truly enters the picture.  Without passion that drive to learn, and work ethic quickly evaporate.  You can teach anyone to code, provided that they want to learn.  

So that being said I recommend looking for the following items when identifying a junior developer:
  1. Broad Experience:  Most people look for people who have had an extensive computer science background, or a background in a single language to be on their team.  In my experience this turns out to be a mistake.  Look for people who have a variety of skills.  Like someone who's experiments with HTML, CSS, Javascript, and Java.  This shows that the candidate has a drive to learn, and is willing to pursue new things that might be outside the scope of their current learning.  This shows that they have passion but might need a little guidance to point them in a direction to pursue.  That's something that will occur naturally when you assign them work.  
  2. Personal Projects:  A big bonus that you should definitely look for is personal projects.  These show that the candidate has a drive to apply their skills in new and different ways.  If they have a GitHub link on their resume, go check it out before the interview, or ask them about those projects and that types of things they are trying to do and how far they go.  Any experience on a personal project is absolutely worth its weight in gold.  This also shows that they are a self starter who seeks out ways to make the things they are working on better without needing a senior dev to do so.  
  3. Don't Discriminate on platform:  As much as I recommend not being concerned with the background in the sense that if you are working on a .net project, don't eliminate someone for not having .net on their resume.  Its not their fault if their school only taught Java, and truth be told you are going to make them learn to write code the way you want anyway.  The hardest programming language you'll ever learn is your first.  After that they are pretty much the same.
  4. Make them talk about their skills:  Even if you don't need those skills on the project, don't be afraid to ask them to talk about them.  This makes them give you a context for how deep their skills go.  You don't want someone who lists things on their resume they heard about in class, you want actual skills.  So asking them to explain a project they used java on, or what kind of work they did with MySQL is a good way to gauge the depth of those skills.  
  5. Ask general software development questions:  All programming languages are essentially the same, and because of that you can ask generic questions.  I usually do a "lightning round" with these, and ask questions like "Explain inheritance to me?", or "What are access modifiers?" or "Explain the difference between Primary and Foreign Keys?"  Any program worth your time should have covered these concepts and these make up the foundation for how someone will approach their next language.  If they don't have a strong background here, they aren't worth your time.  
  6. Ask about their process if they run into a problem they can't solve:  Nobody likes a needy developer.  And the last thing you as a senior dev needs is to have someone hovering over your desk every time they get an error message.  So you want to know what their plan is, listen for the basic debugging process and see if they have a process they mentally go through.  
  7. Pay Attention to the non technical:  Its easy as a developer to focus in on the technical part of the interview.  But remember, you have to work with this person...So pay attention to things like whether or not they are client facing (Can I take them to a client meeting?), or can I communicate with this person?  Do they seem like they would be a personality fit for my team?  Do I think they will crack under pressure?  These are important things to keep in mind when looking at a new candidate.
Many developers look at these interviews as a hassle and something they can show up to without any preparation.  But honestly these are like the NFL draft, and your the coach.  Are you prepared to live with the decision you make in 5 minutes?  Getting a good developer can make all the difference and can give you someone you can grow into a fantastic resource.