7 simple rules for hiring great developers

The war for programming talent is full bore. Here's how to hire the best coders when competing with the big boys

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Developer hiring rule No. 4: Cultural fit trumps coding finesse

There's another reason you don't want to hire "rockstars" as part of your team. They can be total jerks.

For most organizations, cultural fit is often as important as coding skills, if not more so. When employees at Famo.us vote on new hires, half of the score is based on coding skills, the other half on how well a person fits in with the rest of the team, says Newcomb.

"So we have rules," he says. "Rule No. 1: No prima donnas and no 'brogrammers.' We don't want people with egos and attitudes, we just want to get work done."

At Cornerstone OnDemand, a cloud-based talent management software company, new developer hires must be able to think through tough issues and resolve them, says CTO Mark Goldin. But they also need to be able to work as part of a team.

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"In hypercompetitive markets where everyone has standup desks and Aeron chairs, tech companies are learning to sell candidates on the only elements that set them apart from their competitors -- their product and their team."

--Bethany Marzewski, segment marketing manager, Stack Overflow Careers 2.0

"There have been a few instances where we've interviewed a candidate that was a great programmer, but didn't have the soft skills to be a team player," Goldin says. "They came off as though they thought their way of doing things is the only way. Or, when asked a tough question, they might shrug it off and say, 'Oh, I can just Google that and figure it out.'"

In fact, the team itself may be your strongest weapon in convincing developers to sign on, because it's what distinguishes you from other potential employers, says Stack Overflow's Marzewski.

"In hypercompetitive markets where everyone has standup desks and Aeron chairs, tech companies are learning to sell candidates on the only elements that set them apart from their competitors -- their product and their team," she says. "To get noticed by candidates, organizations evangelize their developer team by sending them to speak at tech conferences; they host events and functions in their own spaces to bring candidates in the door; they lead with their core mission to find candidates whose values align with theirs."

Developer hiring rule No. 5: Being small can be your secret weapon

Sometimes being a smaller company is more appealing to many top devs.

Coders want to code. They don't want to wade through endless layers of bureaucracy or feel like tiny cogs in a very large impersonal machine. Small to midsize companies can use this to their advantage when going up against the Facebooks and Googles of the world, says Box's Schillace.

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"My single greatest competitive tool is a single word, which I use with people who tell me they want to work for Google. That word is 'Microsoft.' I think Google has had a pretty good run, but it's gotten so massive that it's difficult to be nimble any more."

--Sam Schillace, senior VP of engineering, Box

Schillace says that when the 900-person firm goes head to head for an employee against a certain well-known advertising and search giant, he pulls out his trump card.

"My single greatest competitive tool is a single word, which I use with people who tell me they want to work for Google," he says. "That word is 'Microsoft.' I think Google has had a pretty good run, but it's gotten so massive that it's difficult to be nimble any more. At Box we give developers a different challenge. We're big enough that the problems we have to solve at scale are massive, but still small enough that we can move fast and any one coder can have a big and lasting impact."

Schillace says if someone ultimately chooses Google, it's usually for reasons like comfort and security, which are antithetical to the startup mentality Box likes to foster in its devs.

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