5 tips for finding and keeping top developer talent

If you want to hire the best software developers, you may need to rethink how you recruit — and how you work

5 tips for finding and keeping top developer talent
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Whenever talk of the technology skills gap comes up, software developers are likely to be part of the discussion. In fact, people who are experienced at creating and maintaining high-quality business applications are among those most in demand.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor, which is the principal federal agency responsible for measuring labor market activity, said employment of software developers is projected to grow 21 percent from 2018 to 2028. That’s a much faster rate than the average for all occupations the bureau tracks.

Employment of application developers is projected to grow 26 percent, BLS says, and employment of systems developers is expected to increase by 10 percent. The main reason for the growth in both application developers and systems developers is a large increase in the demand for computer software, according to the report.

The need for new applications on smartphones and tablets will help boost demand for application software developers during the coming years. Systems developers are likely to see new career opportunities because of an increase in the number of products that use software, BLS notes. For example, more systems are being built into consumer electronics and other products.

The rapid expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT) and industrial IoT are sure to further increase the need for skilled developers.

Given the increasing demand for developers and the limited supply of talent, organizations need to create a strategy for finding, hiring, and retaining these professionals. For this article, we asked a number of companies that rely heavily on software engineering about their best practices for building a team of talented developers.

Create a stimulating work environment

Developers, like other technology professionals, want to work at organizations that present appealing, innovative projects that can have a tangible impact on the organizations and the market in general.

“I believe the most important thing is to create opportunities for our technology workforces to participate in interesting projects,” says Mark Goldin, CTO at Cornerstone OnDemand, a learning and talent management software provider. Goldin is involved in hiring developers for an engineering team that works from locations around the world.

“Developers, which we now call software engineers, are some of our most important talent,” Goldin says. “They are the foundation of Cornerstone, and together with the product management team build the products we sell to our clients.”

The company’s developers are responsible for building and maintaining its entire suite of learning, talent management, and talent experience applications. “Without a well-staffed team, we would not be able to fully maintain our applications and it would be more difficult to innovate at an acceptable pace,” Goldin says.

And without a work environment that challenges the developers and makes them feel as if they’re an integral part of the process, it would be far more difficult to staff teams.

Offer developers the latest technology tools

In addition to assigning projects that use developers’ skill sets to their full potential and that keep them motivated, Cornerstone provides developers with access to emerging technology tools and training in how to use them. If an employer has an older technology portfolio, it needs to upgrade in order to attract younger workers.

It’s important to stay up-to-date by leveraging public cloud services from leading providers such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, which are typically at the forefront of new development technologies.

Saggezza, a global IT consultancy, likes to hire developers who are not only IT specialists but also have an entrepreneurial mindset, and the company offers them the opportunity to use newer technologies to get their work done, says Arvind Kapur, co-founder and CEO. “In the wrong environment, entrepreneurs can feel bored, stifled, or distracted, which crushes what made them successful in other roles,” he says.

“Our developers work to leverage emerging technologies [including machine learning, artificial intelligence, and cloud-based tools] to create personalized solutions that deliver real, measurable value for client businesses,” Kapur says. “If we couldn’t find enough developers, we wouldn’t be able to deliver these solutions at the velocity and scale our clients expect, which would limit our effectiveness.”

One of the ways Saggezza keeps the spirit of entrepreneurship alive is through “intrapreneurship,” giving highly-motivated, proactive developers the freedom to act like entrepreneurs within the organization. “That’s how our UX [user experience] practice started,” Kapur says. “One developer’s interest in the subject eventually grew into an important, profitable business unit.”

Companies that fail to invest in their people and culture “will have trouble attracting, retaining, and motivating talented developers, who are in high demand,” Cornerstone’s Goldin says. “In order to differentiate [themselves] from other options out there, employers should be defining clear career paths, fostering an environment for challenging and creative work, and helping their teams feel appreciated and valued.”

Rely heavily on employee referrals and social media

Developers are more apt to consider opportunities presented to them by friends and colleagues, because there is trust built-in, says Mary Patry, an IT executive advisor and coach and former hiring manager.

“Employers are grossly discounting their reputation and brand, especially with millennials,” Patry says. “Those referrals must come from engaged and happy employees who will tell the story of interesting and challenging work, along with great team culture, leadership, and a strong corporate mission.”

Companies should also actively search for developers using social media sites such as LinkedIn. “It is a seller’s market, and it is not expected to let up soon,” Patry says. “Gone are the days of passive recruiting.”

Research shows that a growing number of employers have successfully hired candidates through social media, Patry says.

Human resources (HR) staffers need to be well versed in how to leverage social media sites to find people who will be a good fit for their organization as well as have the right skills.

“HR must grow savvier in mapping the requirements of the job role to the talent,” Patry says. “When they do find the ideal candidate they must actively engage them. One of the biggest frustrations I hear from candidates is disrespect from HR and the hiring managers.”

“LinkedIn provides one of the best platforms around for not only professional recruiters but also personal recruiters,” adds Scott Caschette, CIO at Schellman & Co., a global independent security and privacy compliance assessor. “Advertise the position in detail and explain the more unusual aspect of your culture to pique interest in the position.”

Use an on-demand talent service

When organizations are not able to generate their own internal development skills they can turn to a service provider that offers talent on demand.

That’s what ConsenSys Diligence/MythX, a provider of cryptography and blockchain technologies, is doing. The company is relying on an offering from service provider Topcoder called Talent-as-a-Service (TaaS), which is a workforce model that provides skilled technology talent on a flexible basis.

“Since we build analysis tools and also provide a subscription service, we are a very developer heavy organization,” says Tom Lindeman, co-founder and CEO of ConsenSys Diligence/MythX. “We create very specific types of security tools and run a 24-by-7 service, and it can be disastrous when we run short on people who can build out or fix the API [application programming interface], enable blockchain features, or manage our back-end infrastructure.”

MythX’s development projects are highly specific and require specialized skills that are hard to find.

“Topcoder has a huge pool of talent to pull from—well over a million developers—and finding developers with the exact skills we needed was actually sort of automatic,” Lindeman says. “We specified exactly what we needed, defined challenges, and before long we were reviewing high-quality work results.”

Aside from the high costs of hiring full-time developers, going through the process of finding, interviewing, hiring, and managing contract developers is resource intensive. “And by the time that is done oftentimes the window of getting specific work included in a development sprint is closed,” Lindeman says.

Companies today can easily reach beyond their traditional hiring practices to create truly global teams of talented people, Lindeman says. “I am not talking about hiring an outsourcing firm based oversees to do work,” he says. “I am talking about being able to directly work with the 25-year-old genius developer that lives in Berlin that I would have never had a chance to meet traditionally.”

Figuring out how to best leverage a global pool of skilled developers is a must for companies that don’t have the internal resources, Lindeman says.

Expand the external search network

It’s a big world out there, and there are talented, experienced developers to find if companies know where to look. They can tap a multitude of resources—within both the business and academic communities—for potential developer hires.

"Build pipelines to the major universities, exploit your network, leverage gig economy platforms,” says Scott Caschette, CIO at Schellman & Co., a global independent security and privacy compliance assessor.

“Many schools seek to establish degree-to-career [paths] for their students,” Caschette says. “Take advantage of the resources these schools have in your particular region.”

In addition, companies can attend technology conferences, forums, and other events that allow them to meet and greet the best talent. In some cases, less experienced but eager professionals might be the optimum fit.

“Keep in mind that the best talent may be the most ambitious person just waiting for the right company to make their mark,” Caschette says. “Don’t mistake years of experience for the best candidate. A better measure may be passion for the work.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.