How to Hire Awesome Software Engineers and Developers

By Mark Dillon on April 05, 2021

Building software teams that produce amazing outcomes is hard. There is plenty of competition, many different areas of expertise, and in this “remote-first” world we now live in, there are few opportunities to meet someone face to face, whiteboard or socialize with them, and get a sense of their personality and whether they would be a good fit for your team.

At Zype, we know a thing or two about developers and engineers. We've hired our own fair share of super talented ones, plus we build tools for them to use everyday. So here are some tips for executives and management teams that want to build a culture of awesome hiring in engineering:

As we wrote back in 2018, I still believe that two of the most important qualities of a software engineer are:

  1. The ability to learn. And learn quickly.
  2. The ability to problem solve.

However, when committing yourself or your People Ops team or Engineering leadership to hiring, there is more to be done to prepare, execute, and ensure long term success for your company, your management, and the team member.  

Values, values, values

It is so important to discuss values early in the hiring process. From the job description, through the content of every interview, you should make sure your hiring team knows that values matter, especially when hiring highly skilled employees like engineers.  Ultimately, you are doing the candidate a big favor by focusing on values. If they are aligned, it will likely be a great relationship. If they are not, they will likely not proceed in your process (either they’ll opt-out or you will). Focusing on values upfront saves you and potential candidates so much time and energy in the long run.

For example, one of Zype’s core values is Courage. We might ask in an interview, “Did you ever have a situation in which you knew that the software you were shipping was going to be substantially late, and there were many other team members and customers depending on its delivery?  How did you deal with that? Can you tell me a real story where that happened in your career?”

The answers to this sort of question - the theoretical and the actual real story - will tell you so much about how the individual aligns with your values.  No wrong answers - just insight.  

Aptitude over Acronyms

Engineers love technology. Your engineering team probably has many amazing acronyms and codewords - SQL, API, Scrum, Terraform, JQuery etc - that they are super proud to be experts in.  That said, managers need to look beyond the acronyms and into the aptitude.  

At Zype, we ask ourselves:

Is this engineer dogmatic or open to new technologies?

Is there corollary experience that relates to our needs that we can coach up on?  Maybe someone has Oracle experience, but not PostgresQL. Is that okay? Probably.

More importantly, is he/she an amazing problem solver? We make sure to ask about problem-solving in our interviews and dig in for stories about real challenges candidates have faced and overcome in their careers.

Finding a candidate with experience that exactly matches your current team and technologies, is incredible, but unlikely, so it’s important to get a sense of whether or not this person is eager and willing to learn and adapt. 

Engineer Branding

If you don’t look like a company that has an awesome engineering culture (even if you do), you’ll miss out on so many great opportunities to work with talented engineers. 

Does your team publish anything in open source communities or in Github (publicly)?

Are you talking about engineering at your company outside of your own four walls?

Is your company participating in any industry forums that have engineering communities? If not, give your engineers the tools and support to show off their work and engage in these community discussions. This type of organic discovery is priceless when it comes to finding new talent. 

Once you have a candidate, are they meeting other great engineers at your company to give them a sense of “home” that they can buy into? 

Lastly, but possibly the most important: are you asking everyone you speak with - “can you recommend a great engineer?” I’m sure a large percentage of your contacts probably know someone that is looking for a new challenge. Just ask.

Finding and hiring software engineers and developers is difficult, but there’s no need to over complicate the process. If you lead with company values, search for aptitude, and build an engineer friendly brand that is welcoming to new team members, you will find awesome individuals to join your company. 

Bonus tip: if you haven’t already, ask your own engineers--why did they join your company? How did they find you? What about the product or team attracted them? No one knows better than your own people, so be sure to tap into these resources as well.

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