Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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Hiring Passionate Developers

Published: 23 Jun 2011

I’m passionate. A lot of developers are. When I hear people say they struggle to find passionate developers I get annoyed. It’s trivially easy to find passionate developers.

First, find out where passionate developers hang out. It’s really not changing rapidly. When it does change, there are usually big names involved. Find some developers on Google through generic queries for open source software or just really good companies. See what they’re talking about and look at the community. This shouldn’t take more than 15-30 minutes. If it takes more than that, it’s a good idea to put someone in charge of technology.

Second, spend an hour browsing whatever social coding site is liked the most. Maybe StackOverflow or GitHub, it doesn’t matter. Spend at least an hour on the site just exploring people (not projects). Clicking around to find something interesting but always be moving. See what names pop out. It is usually very apparent who is active and what their demeanor is. Look at the bug reports on their projects. How they respond to bugs is very important to how they will be in a job.

Finally, don’t email asking if they want a job. This is perceived as spam. Period. Passionate developers get job opportunities frequently. Most passionate developers know other passionate developers. There are always jobs for quality developers and there is competition for these developers. Don’t ask if they want an interview, they don’t need an interview. Instead, ask for a phone call. If they’re local ask them to meet at their favorite coffee shop. If not, pay them for their time in the form of a wishlist purchase.

Make it worth their while and show appreciation. This is money that would go to a recruiter that would only find some inadequately screened candidates and blindly forward resumes. It’s worth the time and the money. Get to know developers. Be known as someone who understands, not as someone who pays recruiters. I’ve taken head hunter skill tests. They are inadequate and in no way measures how well someone will actually perform on the job.

For anybody wanting to hire a passionate developer the advice above is mandatory. A passionate developer won’t want to work with someone who can’t be bothered to be at least partially engaged in the culture. The culture of passionate software development means a lot of things, but being aware there is a culture goes a long way to finding proper talent. Things like Open Source, using Git, using good tools.

These things are important to a passionate developer. More important though is the commitment to a company. Work is a big commitment and it is to a company. However, it breaks down to two people: the employee and the supervisor. If a developer is too eager to join, be wary. Someone who rushes into making any important decision will exercise that same hasty judgement in their daily work, or they just don’t understand what importance really is.

I generalized above about recruiters. Not all recruiters are bad and not all resumes from them are garbage. However, in my experience the only passionate developers that use recruiters fit one (or more) of the categories:

  1. Very young or inexperienced. This isn’t a bad thing, they just don’t have a network.
  2. Very specific in their career. They may use a recruiter to find them opportunities they are specific about (not just, “Get me a job” but “Get me a job where I can work from the summit of a mountain, in Perl and pays over $100,000”).
  3. Getting out of being “just a developer”. Hanging the gloves up and going into management. Their network may not have enough high level positions available but they’re ready to make the leap.

If the above is too long, developers have an expression. Too long; didn’t read. tl;dr. Here’s the tl;dr version:

  1. Browse the websites programmers hang out on.
  2. Get a short list of people who are active and have a suitable personality, sourced from bugs, commits, messages, etc.
  3. Inspect their projects.
  4. Engage them in a neutral fashion seeking advice and opinions. Not to hire them.
  5. Pay them for their time in the form of gifts. Most developers have Amazon Wishlists (don’t give outright cash, that’s tacky).
  6. Become known in the community as someone who “gets it”
  7. Really do “get it” and get the best developers around.
  8. Get more developers because people want to work where the cool kids are.
  9. Succeed but protect your culture and grow with a good business and better environment.