What Separates the Good From the Great Tech Talent

This year, there will be an estimated one million unfilled software developer jobs in the U.S., with developer employment expected to grow by 21% by 2028. Competition is fierce, and tech recruiters know just how costly it can be to hire an average developer when greatness is needed. Yet finding that box-ticking criteria is notoriously difficult, especially with many programming jobs involving just as many soft skills as tangible coding talent.

Having spent over 17 years in the tech world, I have come to understand some aspects that separate standard programmers from those that truly help businesses innovate and drive results. Ultimately, a combination of passion, talent, and personal ambition are fundamental to success. Here’s what to look out for when sourcing that star developer candidate.

Great developers know how they fit into the business

Good coders will be able to comply with the remit of their role, and complete tasks directly related to programming or product-building. But how many of those developers understand comprehensively why they are writing that code? How many know how the product they are working towards fits into wider business goals?

Excellent developers will be able to demonstrate that they understand the big picture. They will have taken the time to learn about the foundations of how businesses work, including revenue, profit, strategies of other departments, and the bottlenecks that can arise.

Using this expertise alongside their logical approach that’s born from learning to code, top-notch developers propose solutions to company-wide problems and work with other departments to drive business results. They have an excellent understanding of the role of their own duties within the organization and how they contribute towards overall strategy.

Software developer candidates should provide evidence of how they have done this in past roles and deliver detailed answers when put in potential scenarios involving wider business operations.

The best techies are constantly learning

Software development is constantly evolving and growing as a field, and coders need to make conscious efforts to keep up with it. Neglecting the need to continuously study can result in a serious slowing down – or even halt – to career progression.

Whether it’s a new coding language, framework, or technique, top developers make further education a special focus and dedicate time to learning more about the technologies they work with. Quality programmers display a sense of curiosity to gain new skills and aren’t afraid to use them to confront new challenges. This drive to learn more is demonstrated when candidates complete online courses, read blogs (or write their own), and take part in community events such as hackathons.

This desire to learn also spreads to other non-coding hobbies. There are plenty of activities that allow developers to apply a logical mindset and enrich both their professional and personal life at the same time. For example, many excellent coders also play an instrument, speak other languages, practice martial arts, and even develop their cooking skills. While these hobbies might not be directly related to their jobs, they allow coders to exercise and challenge the brain while taking a break from programming.

Top-notch programmers have side projects

While they might not always be successful, a programmer that has launched one (or many) of their own projects not only shows ambition and initiative, but will have also learned vital lessons from the process.

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Ultimately, the best way to learn how to build great products is through practice. Even if the project fails, the knowledge and skills gained from being the only person in the driving seat sets many developers up for success: With personal projects, they are forced to independently solve problems and develop solutions, without the help of a team.

These could range from anything from building a personal tool, adding to open-source libraries, building a startup idea, or working on a freelance project. Side projects also mean developers can explore the new languages and frameworks that they learn during self-education.

Quality coders break the 25/8 stereotype

It’s no secret that coders are known for caffeine-fueled all-nighters and poor lifestyle choices. For many developers, staying up and programming during all hours of the night means surviving on fast food and energy drinks – with little to no daily movement.

However, the best developers know that such choices can be counterproductive to the work itself. Research shows that as soon as you pass 50 hours of work a week, not only are you no longer productive, but you’re also putting your health at risk. Not to mention, tiredness can easily result in making crucial mistakes in the code.

Candidates that prioritize health, wellbeing, and downtime are sure to perform better than their overworked counterparts. Spending time with friends and family, enjoying nature, and eating a healthy meal all contribute towards going back to work refreshed and ready to take on challenges with a rested mind. Consider the ways in which a developer job applicant unwinds and recharges – this will give you an important indication as to how they prioritize their own well-being and how this translates into a more productive employee.

Sourcing a quality candidate in any sector is tough. Given the ongoing talent shortage in tech, hiring is even more difficult. But that doesn’t mean companies should take what they can find – the best developers are out there, it’s just a matter of using the above criteria to recognize them against the rest.

Phil is the founder and CEO of DevSquad, a software development firm that helps entrepreneurs launch new SaaS products and growing companies plug in a ready-to-go dev team. In 12 years, he has led the build of more than 75 SaaS products.

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