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Hiring to Fill Technical Roles? Here’s What to Look For

by Jeff Pierce

Before my current role as COO of a development agency, I worked in technical recruiting for over a decade. During that period there were times when 25 well-qualified candidates were vying for 1 open spot, all the way to the current climate where there is a shortage of talent for the amount of technical positions available.

But not everyone has the resources or budget to hire a recruiter to fill those technical roles. So, what makes someone a good fit for a technical position at your company? Outside of aptitude, passion, and ownership, here are a few key pieces of the individual’s makeup that will help you to build the technical team that can take you to the next level.

Nimbleness

This attribute should be high on your list, as it’s an aptitude that every developer needs to have in spades. We have developers and designers with an array of platform and language experience, from Java to Rails to Swift and Angular. Having a diverse and nimble team can help you navigate technical challenges or changes to your platform.

Seek candidates with a strong foundation in a particular discipline, but, more importantly, hire individuals that are quick to learn and can make a determination on the fly. While interviewing, try to gauge how quickly a candidate could pick up new skills and languages. A collection of one-trick ponies could end up being a disaster if the market shifts or you need to pivot.

Full-Stack vs. Front-End/Back-End

One challenge when hiring for a startup is whether to hire full-stack engineers or split up the front and back-end development. This really depends on the technical stack and needs of your startup.

We lean towards hiring developers that have at least dipped their toe in the other end of the pool, so some back-end development and database experience or front-end with some strong JavaScript, which gives you some overlap when things need to get done. If you are working through scaling issues and you have a person on your team who only knows HTML/CSS styling, they could be burning a hole in your startup’s pocket. It goes without saying that true full-stack developers are in high demand and command greater salaries, so take that into account when looking for new hires.

Problem Solvers

Rather than a white-board coding session, we have candidates complete a short coding assignment on their own in a language of their choosing. If they choose a language that they claim to be an expert in we grade on a much higher level on the speed and extra details; whereas if they choose a newer skill, we see if they have the basics down to build a foundation upon.

In the in-person interview, we will go through the candidate’s thought process on why they made certain choices and try to get an understanding for how they solve problems. If I’m certain of one thing, it’s that problems will arise when first building a product or app. Having developers who have the mindset to solve for those problems — before they arise — is worth its weight in gold.

User-First

We’re talking developers, but having someone that is always thinking user-first is a great asset. Too often we are so comfortable and familiar with our product or service that we forget to consider first-time users who aren’t looking at the screen 8 hours a day. Developers who know that the user(s) come first will help you build something that people love to interact with. Sometimes, that can even overcome a superior competitor with a bad user interface.


Jeff Pierce is the COO of Make & Build, an Atlanta-based creative and technical agency.

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