By Mike Green July 25, 2018

Hiring Devs? Us Too. Here's How We Built Our Best Team

“Amazon is buying up all the best engineering talent.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that comment. Sometimes it’s Google or Facebook instead of Amazon, but it’s the same thing. I’m not a blogger—in fact this is my first one—but I need a venue to shout out my opinion: “You’re doing it wrong!”

Technology leaders in most companies face one of the greatest organizational evolutions in our lifetime. The paradigm of siloed roles is shifting to holistic ownership (thank goodness); there are more tools and methodologies than anyone can count; and the pace of releasing new code and seeing a return is compressing to the blink of an eye. It makes sense that these sweeping changes would affect our ability to create and foster productive teams.

The reason I’m writing this is that I’ve been a first-hand witness to the solution to building high-performing teams and it’s not only simple, it’s also feel-good:

Reduce the number of senior developer job postings and start hiring junior talent that demonstrates aptitude and ambition.

Sure, you need a foundation of experienced engineers to drive architecture, decision-making, and mentorship. But it should be a small numerator. Open up opportunities for people who are starting their careers and looking for their chance to prove themselves. Give them that chance and magic will happen.

The traditional hiring mindset has been to recruit based on experience. We look at how many years someone has spent working in the field, their CS degree, and the specifics of the technologies they have used in real-world situations. We interview them by asking technical questions in the form of quizzes and whiteboard exercises and sprinkle in some generic soft-skills investigations: “What would you say is your biggest weakness?” or “Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a team member.”

Those hiring techniques are outdated. Most of the technologies we are migrating to are brand new. How long has React been around? How about Docker? Even Golang is only a decade old and much more recently a sought-after skill.

Instead of hiring based on experience, we should be hiring based on aptitude. Instead of formulated interviews, we should be engaging in conversations that dig deep into the technical potential of our candidates.

Moving away from the institutional norms of hiring, especially in larger companies, is difficult. For many of us who took years to progress through engineering careers, the idea that a junior developer can make a rapid impact and fast-track their way to rockstar status is a blow to the ego. But that’s the world we live in and I, for one, am glad. It meritocratizes opportunity and puts it in the hands of anyone with the passion and willingness to learn.

As an employer, I’m doing everything in my power to drink the Kool Aid, and it’s paying off. I’m surrounded by the most impressive team I’ve ever worked with and they’re delivering more product faster than I thought possible.

This article is very high-level, so if you need detailed ideas on how to forge your own talent from raw material, please reach out! Better yet, if you disagree with my approach and are trying to grow your team, please reach out. I’d leap at the opportunity to change your mind. My email address is mike@sirrus7.com. Aside from sharing what has worked and not worked for me, I’d love to hear your experiences and strategies and learn something new. Thanks for reading!


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