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How to attract software developers on a shoe-string budget.

As I’m writing this, I realize that title may be confusing.

I don’t mean software developers that are financially strapped, and living on a shoe-string budget (not that there is anything wrong with these peeps), but rather how to attract software developers without having to spend a lot money.

Just as a preface, I’m not a technical person.

I don’t pretend to understand algorithms, the only Java I am familiar with comes in the form of hot brown water, and as far as I understand, the internet is a magical world run by a wizard hiding behind a giant green curtain.

Having said that, you don’t need to be a technical person to know how to recruit technical people.

As much as we’re all competing for the same people in our relatively small fishbowls that we call life, at the end of the day, we as Human Resources and Talent Acquisition professionals have a wonderful tendency of over engineering and over complicating relatively simple processes.

Attracting technical talent, specifically Software Developers is one of them.

If you’re struggling to attract Software Developers to your organization, here’s a simple 5 step guide to help you remove some of the barriers that you have likely put in front of yourself, and start on-boarding great people that can deliver products that your customers will love (and pay for).

Here goes:

Step 1: Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

If your plan to attract Software Developers includes creating a job posting that starts with either a sanitized boiler plate that describes your organization (that your PR team loves but everyone else* ignores) OR “Reporting to the Manager, Software Development, the Software Developer will be responsible for…”, do yourself a favour and grab a blank sheet of paper and a pen.

Spoiler alert:

The only people that actually pay attention to boilerplate are PR folks (*and lawyers), and Software Developers know what Software Developers are responsible for… developing software.

Step 2: Go have a conversation with your existing development team and try to understand the technical challenge they are actually solving.

We as Human Resources and Talent Acquisition professionals tend to live in a world of policies and processes, but what’s truly important when trying to attract great Software Developers is context, understanding and articulation.

Gaining context and understanding, however, often requires us to walk with our tail between our legs to our teammates and share “I don’t understand what you do”, and that can be scary.

If I’m describing you, do yourself a favour, eat some humble brand Cheerios for breakfast and own the fact that you have no clue what technical challenge the team is actually solving. Your team will welcome your transparency, and when they do, go to school with them until you can explain the technical challenge they are solving to a 6-year old.

I promise, it will be worth your while.

Step 3: Speak their language, not yours.

Now that you have context and understand the technical challenge your ideal future employees will be tasked to help solve, it’s time to grab that pen and paper again and start re-writing a job posting that will actually grab a Software Developer’s attention.

This is the articulation step.

Talk about the complexities of the technical challenge a new hire would be tasked to help solve in a simplified way; not your fluffy, buzz word rich mission statement.

Talk about your tech stack; not the free snacks in your kitchen. Children get excited about snacks, not fully functioning Software Developers.

Talk about what they will learn by joining your team; not all of the assumed nonsense like paid vacation and a remarkably average benefits plan.

Once complete, send a draft to your development team and ask them for their feedback.

Assuming they give you a general thumbs up, proceed to Step 4.

Step 4: Fish where the fish are.

I was a LinkedIn fanboy for years.

I bought every product and service they sold, they gave me a bunch of swag including LinkedIn branded Bose noise cancelling headphones (twice), and I’ve attended and spoken at a number of LinkedIn sponsored events, but the fact of the matter is, LinkedIn is not the be all and end all of attracting Software Developers.

There is nothing wrong with posting Software Development openings on LinkedIn, but there is a whole ecosystem of other options like GitHub, StackOverflow, AngelList, Reddit, Meetups, etc, that Software Developers pay attention to, and you should consider them.

On top of that, your best resource to attract great Software Developers is right under your nose – your existing team of them.

Now that you have made a number of deposits into the relationship bank account with your team, it’s perfectly OK (and wildly effective) to make a withdrawal and ask your team to help promote your openings via the networks of their choosing.

No Software Developer has ever said “I really hope my manager hires a real loser to join our team”, so by giving your team the opportunity to help influence your hiring, you’d be amazed to see how impactful having a credible source (your Developers, not you) share your job posting is at magnetizing your company to other Developers.

And, finally…

Step 5: Take little steps every day to be a great place for Software Developers to work.

Step 5 is without a doubt the most important step any software related organization can take to attract Software Developers, but it is a long play and requires commitment from the top down.

I’m not going to go into a detailed diatribe about why this is important, because it should be obvious.

In terms of how to accomplish this feat, as a gross generalization, treat your Developers like people, give them access to the tools and resources that they need in order to move the mountains that you are asking them to, provide them with leaders and managers that care, and listen to their feedback.

Software at the root level may just be a bunch of one’s and zero’s, but Developers are living, breathing, and remarkably intelligent human beings.

Treat them well and they will reciprocate.

A friend of mine – Robert St-Jacques – once said “The war for talent is over… talent won” and I completely agree with him.

Yes, we’re in a candidate’s market right now.

Yes, you’re competing for highly skilled and highly sought-after talent against bigger, better and more funded organizations.

Yes, you’re behind the 8-ball.

Fear not.

Use this guide as your yellow brick road.

By pivoting your approach to how you present your organization, your job postings, and how you leverage your internal resources, you can tip the scales in your favour, and then all you have to do is skip down the path and click your heels together.

After all, there’s no place like home.


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