Great developers are raised, not hired

April 2019 · Riga, Latvia · comments

Every company on the market is looking for the best talent. Companies are waiting when “the talent” will appear from nowhere as if there were some secret talent factory. The ideal candidate will have all necessary technical skills, will be a good “culture fit” and will perform well with little or no supervision.


But there is a problem:

The best developers I hired were far from ideal candidates. They lacked technical skills, didn’t know how to test software and work in an agile team. They didn’t believe in themselves and their ability. They didn’t think they can be good leaders. They didn’t sound convincing during the job interview. Some of them were suffering from impostor syndrome, doubting their actual ability:

Impostor Syndrome
Image from It's Dangerous to Go Alone: Battling the Invisible Monsters in Tech

Today, companies create ridiculously complicated multi-step interview processes that filter out candidates that are “not good enough.” We rarely give an opportunity to candidates spoiled by shitty companies and bad influence. We forget that some candidates weren’t lucky enough to meet an inspiring mentor or work in a supportive team. Broken toys are not welcome:

A broken toy
A broken toy

We prefer hiring self-confident rockstars with a solid track record. The reason is simple – we fail to create environment and work conditions in which people can grow professionally, develop good habits and become rock-stars. Skilled developers do not have time for mentoring, because they are busy with coding and architecture. Mentoring is not part of our hiring and delivery processes. Mentoring is not a buzzword, you can’t learn it on Coursera, and it’s not visible on a tech radar.

Companies spend millions on TA departments, recruiters, promo websites and videos, struggling to find the best talent. We have this crazy talent search problem because companies are searching for the best engineers, instead of raising them. Everyone is fishing, but there is not much fish left. Recruiting more fishers and paying them high commission does not help. The pond is empty.

Fishing
Nowaday's recruiting

In the current market situation, every company needs to build a mentoring capacity. The most experienced developers should find time to grow less experienced colleagues through pair programming, continuous feedback, career advice. We must suggest books, blogs, videos, encourage colleagues to attend meetups, conferences, and workshops.

Mentoring is not easy; it requires a significant time commitment and excellent communication skills. We must encourage developers to build mentoring skills. If you are in doubt whether you should invest time in mentoring, I can assure you that mentoring is the best way to get followers and boost your authority and reputation. Your mentees will support you and promote you for the rest of your life.

Your mentees are your fan club.

By building mentoring capacity at work, you can hire newcomers, broken toys, impostors and turn them into the loyal, high-quality workforce. Shifting focus from assessing to mentoring can simplify your interviewing process. Instead of trying to predict future performance by asking tough questions and sending candidate through nine circles of hell, you can hire candidates with a growth mindset and grow them.

Would you send this stone to a trash can?

Raw
A stone that doesn't look like a diamond

The same stone after careful cutting and polishing:

Polished
Now it's a beautiful diamond.

Someone has to take a raw diamond that looks like a regular stone, cut it, polish it and voila – you have a beautiful shiny diamond. Companies are looking for polished diamonds and create hiring processes that throw raw diamonds in a trash bin.

Instead of throwing diamonds away, we can learn to polish them. We can create environments where people with eagerness and capacity to learn can become great developers.

How?

  • Take some money, energy, time that you spend on recruiting and invest it in teaching your best developers mentoring skills. Give your best developers time for mentoring and free them up from routine tasks. They will build a workforce that will exceed your expectations.

  • Adjust your interview process and give a chance to candidates that are not good enough yet, but are eager to learn and have a growth mindset. They are raw diamonds.

  • Relax “hard requirements” in your job ads to avoid filtering out impostors. Remember that most women apply to positions only where they completely fit the requirements.

  • If you work in a large company and care about our profession, consider creating a Bootcamp for complete beginners.

You can escape this crazy hiring race by creating an environment, where experienced developers mentor less experienced developers. Hire for attitude, and teach technical skills. Great developers are raised, not hired.

Be the company that says: we are hiring mentoring.