Hiring Great Software Developers Is Really Hard, What We Learned

Hiring Great Software Developers Is Really Hard, What We Learned

Some really surprising outcomes during our hiring adventures. Starting a company is a learning process, you have to challenge your own beliefs regularly and not be afraid to try new things. For a young company, hiring is critical, the wrong developers can cost not only money but months of time.

Starting a company is a learning process, you have to challenge your own beliefs regularly and not be afraid to try new things. For a young company, hiring is critical, the wrong developers can cost not only money but months of time.

One decision I made quite early on was that I didn’t like code tests. As a developer, I had previously had a few poor experiences during interviews for developer jobs including people not explaining the problem they wanted me to solve, leaving out key details or challenges that are easy if you learned the trick (hint: they aren’t a real test). I thought they could be patronising and demoralising.

Though our CTO is an advocate of code testing, we agreed that on-the-spot code tests during an interview were not a natural way to code. So we did not do them, even though that fails the Joel Test: https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2000/08/09/the-joel-test-12-steps-to-better-code/

This month has totally changed my perception of that, we’re in the process of hiring more developers at the moment but we had a time crunch. Generally, we follow the same process with all hires, initial call with the CTO, wider interview with three of us, meet the team and if everything works out then we’ll make an offer.

The challenge this time around is that we had four open roles, two frontend and two backend but on the frontend side neither our CTO nor I really knew the technology in depth. We had a time crunch, so our Agile Coach suggested that we try implementing a code test, his rationale is that it acts as an initial filter for candidates so we can focus our time on the best candidates and streamline the process.

We agreed on some key attributes of this code screening test:

  • It should be short — no more than 30 minutes for the typical developer to solve. Their time is valuable as well.

  • The tests should be simple. We were far more interested in considering a problem with a few edge cases and producing an accurate solution quickly. Rather than solving hard algorithmic challenges.

  • The candidate should be able to complete it in their own time, without someone watching them. This is far closer to your normal development environment.

    The results were nothing short of stunning and disappointing at the same time. More than 50% of the candidates we put through the test could not complete it in the time given, there was a direct inverse correlation between salary expectations and code results (more expensive candidates did worse!) and over 60% of the candidates did not meet the minimum standard.

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