Developers Are in High Demand. How Do You Recruit the Best?
Software developers are in extreme demand across multiple industries. In many cities, there is major talent starvation. This painful dearth is making it exceedingly difficult to recruit and retain the team you need for success.
Rarely will a business succeed today without a digital presence. If you're a small business, it's often the way a customer will first be introduced to your company. And, for many entrepreneurs, digital is at the core of their products.
Right now, it's very much a seller's market. You need a strategy to recruit, hire and retain the right team. To best position yourself, you need to understand the mindset of a developer and what motivates him or her.
When I was younger, and needed less sleep, I was a web application developer. I would receive at least a call each week from some recruiter trying to lure me away from my stable corporate consulting gig. I’d like to think it was due to my immense talents, but I think it’s safe to say that the lack of developers in the market accounted for most of the aggressive recruiting practices. A lot of money was being thrown around in offers. Everyone wants money, but the best developers aren’t in it for the money.
In speaking with the developers at our top consumer brands -- The Atlantic and Quartz -- they weren’t working long hours on projects for money. After all, a Princeton study a while back proved that there were diminishing marginal returns to each dollar over $75,000. The best and brightest engineers were there because they wanted to solve big problems and have a large, positive impact on well-respected brands.
Developers want to know that their time is being invested in building something that matters. Not every company can have a business model predicated on social good. But you can recruit developers by demonstrating why their work matters to the company. Your product or service wouldn't exist without their efforts, and with the success of your business, more people will be exposed to and using the product of their work.
Many years ago, one job offer that landed in front of me was enticing enough for me to toss aside my comfortable consulting world. I landed in the middle of my career with uncertainty at a political digital agency startup. My salary was pretty much exactly the same as my corporate job, but I had no healthcare, no 401K and really few standard benefits. It was an unpragmatic, borderline foolish decision for a rational person to make.
The company was Blue State Digital, and it was a scrappy startup built from the remains of Howard Dean’s trailblazing digital campaign for president. The audacious objective of bringing nascent digital technology to progressive political campaigns and advocacy was a big challenge. We had no idea that four years later, Barack Obama would raise half a billion dollars online using the technology born from our engineering efforts.
Of equal importance with having an impact is solving a big problem. Doing what's never been done is a highly enticing challenge for talented engineers. If you want to attract dedicated, quality technology talent, you have to give them a really big problem to solve, and demonstrate to them the importance and magnitude of their work’s impact. This is the same motivation driving the technologists who volunteered much of their time to fix the beleaguered HealthCare.gov website.
Why do people want to work at Facebook, Amazon or Google? The work in which they’re involved is changing the world on a daily basis. They feel relevant and important, because their work is redefining how we communicate, shop or find information. The scale of the problems being addressed by these companies is unparalleled. Similarly, developers leave these companies to start their own ventures, spotting an unserved niche.
The last recruitment point is internal relevance and respect. The prospective developer wants to know that they'll be valued by their non-technology peers.
At the companies mentioned above, developers are priority employees, with valued seats at the table, participating in technology, business and strategy decisions. You can demonstrate how critical developers are to your company's success by including them in high-level discussions about strategy and acknowledging that potential for success is largely resting on their shoulders.
In today’s digital economy, good developers largely have the pick of whatever jobs they’d like and competition for those that can code is fierce. You’re not interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing your company to determine whether it’s a good fit.
Tom Cochran is the deputy coordinator for platforms at the U.S. Department of State. In this role, he is responsible for the global infrastructure supporting U.S. embassy web sites and a network of 700 American Spaces for public diplomacy and engaging foreign audiences. His most recent previous positions have included chief technology officer at Atlantic Media and director of new media technologies at the White House.