Where are the Developers?

The amazing recruiting team at Vend have hired a few awesome software developers to add to our already incredible team. But it is hard work. Really, really bloody hard. So hard that I sometimes wonder what we’re doing wrong. Are we looking for the right people? Are we sending the right messages to attract those people? I’ve been thinking hard about what we’re looking for, and what we have to offer, and wondering if those things match up.

I think back to classic hiring articles like Joel Spolsky’s Smart and Gets Things Done for example. Are we asking the right questions in interviews? I’m pretty sure we are, but we could do better. I think about the concept of the 10x developer. Are we looking for unattainable unicorns instead of incredibly good racehorses? Maybe, but our current unicorns would get pretty lonely if we didn’t hire more.

What about our tooling? Should we be looking for a direct match there? There are plenty of opinions on PHP, but that’s only one part of our stack, and a part that we do as well as any modern dev shop, with unit tests, dependency injection, MVC, and – quite seriously – the most robust code review and continuous delivery culture I’ve ever been involved in. I could mumble about HHVM and PHPNG, but that’s just noise. Of course we’re looking at those: we continually evolve our platform just as we also include other tools where it makes sense. I’d list all the bits but honestly you’re better off coming in for a coffee to chat through it all with our crazy-talented devops crew.

It’s particularly interesting to me, coming from a Microsoft dev background, that your average PHP developer has less in common with what we build than does a high-end C# or Java dev. Emphasis on the average in that last sentence, because we all know VB6 caused the Microsoft world just as much pain as PHP; but you could argue .NET and Java have supported good, testable OO coding for longer than PHP has.

Coming back to Spolsky’s post, there’s a quote that highlights my point on tooling:

In software, things change so often and so rapidly that you need people that can succeed at just about any programming task that you throw at them. If for some reason you find an idiot savant that is really, really, really good at SQL but completely incapable of ever learning any other topic, No Hire. You’ll solve some short term pain in exchange for a lot of long term pain.

If I’m brutally honest, I think we’ve boxed ourselves in a little by advertising hard for PHP developers, when what we really need are great developers. 10x developers. Smart and Gets Things Done developers. Developers who thrive on massive growth and solving crunchy problems in a supportive team environment built on Trust and Focus.

Maybe those developers know a bit of PHP, but it’s more likely that they’re dabbling in Node or Go or some godforsaken JVM variant. All I care is that they’re passionate and intelligent, and want to share those talents with a team of like-minded individuals.

Is that so hard? In the famous words of Delia Smith: Where are you? Let’s be avvin’ you! I’d love to chat over this stuff with anyone. Or just.. you know.



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  1. IMO, you’re spiralling in on the key point toward the end of the post. Sure, the stack (e.g. PHP) is important because devs want to learn certain things and work is a nice place to do gain mastery in that thing. But as you’ve noted, there are other equally – or even more – important things … like colleagues, the vibe, the impact they can have, the level of challenge. I don’t know whether you’ve boxed yourself in, but I don’t think coming out of the gate with “you get to work on PHP” isn’t going to get you the talent you seek as much as saying “we nurture bad-ass devs, building bad-ass solutions, with bad-ass software, in a bad-ass environment, using bad-ass processes. you a bad-ass?”

  2. You have zombies on your careers page. why? are you saying come work and Vendhq and be a zombie? don’t get me wrong, I like zombies, some of my best friends are zombies, and I have to admit I too have been a zombie once or twice in the past. Perhaps the way you advertise may also have a limiting effect, you could be missing out devs simply because they may think they are too old to work there?

    1. Developers tend to be introverts, NZ’ers in general tend to be introverts. The adult baby, ‘aren’t we all wild and carazzee guys’ schtick might play well in Silicon Valley, but it will actively put off a large number of older (but no less talented) developers who know enforced fun isn’t actually much fun.

    2. I’m interested in this viewpoint too. It’s a bit of a startup tradition to advertise yourself as a fun/relaxed place to work. While it’s definitely true that we’re a much more relaxed in terms of dress code, music choice, and office layout than your average NZ software shop, I’d say we’re way more intense in terms of pace and problems to solve.

      Our zombie days and jokey attitude come about more as a pressure release from the regular intensity of startup work. Does that make any sense?

      1. “I’d say we’re way more intense in terms of pace and problems to solve.”

        Advertising that might attract more development talent maybe?

        I’m not a developer (do work in tech), but the officer joker stuff actively turns me off.

        1. Then you’re really not the type of employee Vend are looking for. Ben – it’s better hiring the right people slowly than the wrong people fast.

          1. Bravo! It’s really important to get the right people. Chasing growth for the sake of growth and the expense of quality workers is not the recipe for long term success.

  3. For a start everybody in this city looking for a developer seems to have a serious problem with what they are asking for. Any developer who has been cutting code for more than 5 years should be able to walk in and pick up the tools and frameworks being used in a fairly short time. People are getting all hung up on the acronyms and not thinking about the quality of an experienced coder.
    Seriously, getting down to basics, if you are doing web development, you are talking about a tool that does some form of HTML templating and/or dynamic HTML generation, with some data services tossed in there for server or client side.
    Get over searching for somebody with X years of experience with your specific set of tools, its HTML and database interface, which any decent developer should be able to pick up and run with reasonably quickly.
    Decades of experience in a variety of databases, user interface and presentation environments should be valuable to employers, and yet I am getting fed up with the nonsense I encounter in job interviews and am still searching for a new job with people who appear to have a clue.
    Maybe less HR involvement and more technical people getting involved is the answer.

  4. I know lots of developers unhappy at their job. The were unhappy at the last job and probably will be unhappy at the next job so why change.

    NZ Companies are stuck in the 80’s; “Architects” are ex DBAs etc.

    Explain why you are going to be good to work for? testimonials from staff, show people the work environment.

    If you really are a company that’s going to be fun to work with/for then you have to show that you are… PHP Really?… with Java being the No 1. skill in demand/about…

    Anyhow; a lot of good developers know they ARE good and have gone off contracting and/or are working on open source. If you really want good developers then be prepared to pay them or consider sharing part of the company with them; you will get Engagement and Loyalty…

    In silicon valley these days your pitch has to include the Snr. Developers to even get a look in.

    GOOD Coding is hard… is it me are nearly all of the good developers now over 30!

  5. indeed, don’t look for php programmers, but great programmers.
    i just applied for a project where they were looking for php programmers too. i was just curious because i don’t actually like php that much for all that baggage it has. but the project is done on a modern framework, as you say, as well as any modern dev shop, so i was interested, being confident that i can pick up whatever details i need to learn about the framework in a matter of days.

    greetings, eMBee.

  6. Well I think there is nothing particularly wrong with PHP. A lot of great companies use it – Etsy, Facebook, Flickr just to name a few. So it’s not a bad choice if you need to Move Fast and Get Things Done.

    The real question IMHO is to what extent you’re ready to compromise on developers and their background. I mean are you ready to work with someone who may not know or knows a little about PHP or Web technologies? Are you ready to invest in training people even in the beginning?
    When I was working at my previous company, the demand for developers was just huge. We were 40-50 people short and job market couldn’t give us more than 10-20 people so we started to look for other opportunities. For us it was to train fresh graduates, anyone with a degree, with some Java courses and anyone who completed the final assignment was given a job. It definitely took some time to get them up to speed and we let go 20% of people we hired but it was our compromise as after 1 year we had 30 solid developers. What can be yours?

  7. This is an interesting point in an ever shrinking candidate pool, and the candidate pool today is enormous compared to what it will be come the end of this year

    Next year will be worse

    Firstly , regarless of whether you are cool and hip or formal and corporate – you will never appeal to the whole candidate pool – wouldn’t matter if you rolled your self in honey and $100 bills and went to every technology based conference – some will say yay, and others nay, so one cannot lament they are not getting to talk to as many as they would like to to – in short those actually don’t want to be spoken to and it is a wasted energy trying to reach them – someone who enjoys a corporate environment with clear career paths isn’t going to see the funny side of a “Batshit Crazy CEO” ( his words not mine – was in an article earlier this year )

    Secondly, I’m always interested to hear how “experience” should be considered over technology as “experience” is worth something – on this point I have generally found those who suggest this want to be trained by someone else and maintain their income – also suggests a fairly self serving point of view as the employer shoulders the investment and the risk with no way of binding the individual in for a long term return and the individual walks away with training and experience, often to sell themselves to the highest bidder – I can hear them howling now, but, in my “experience” over 18 years in technology in Auckland, I would conservatively say thats the result at least 80% of the time.

    Thirdly – If building teams and recruiting people can be done without heavyweight advertising, why are people like Seek seeing their share price up near as high as it has ever been – how does one access the once in a career happening of almost negative migration from Oz, UK etc without advertising the hell out of your roles
    Personally, advertise all roles every 3 days, but stagger them so you have fresh vacancies every day on all job boards – especially if you do not want to utilise Recruiters networks and Databases , you are going to have to spend somewhere
    I am picking you spend a fair whack on rent, travel, IT Infrastructure, but try and minimise your spend on attracting Talent, but then ( as everyone does ) profess people are your most important assett ( so you want to spend the least you can on aquiring the most important thing your business has – doesn’t really sound quite right does it? )

    If you are “saving” $6000-10000 a placement by direct sourcing, at least direct some of that to advertising. It is a misnomer that agencies have people “on their books” they sometimes do but when you release a role to 3 agencies and they put 2 ads on each job board , 6 advertisements have hit the web and just through working the numbers someone is going to get at least 1 person of interest. –

    We have all heard how Social Media will annihilate Seek and Trademe jobs, and it is so old school and etc etc etc – funnily enough waitch all those who profess such statements are all now not only advertising , but increasing their spend month on month – why? Because it works and you cannot access someone returning from overseas via social media – they quitely keep an eye on job boards, until they see something that sparks them into action and applying – the move home then follows the securing of a role – social media is way too intimate and it is damn hard to remain on the fringes when people are hammering you via Social Media – probably why we don’t give Real Estate agents and Car dealers our numbers willingly – we prefer to peruse what is advertisied and move on our terms rather than being hassled and forced

    Lastly – unfortunately with the numbers you are seeking along with other high profile heavyweight software houses in NZ, you won’t be hiring out of New Zealand – just not enough in the cookie jar to go around
    This is where you probably need to get a bit more creative and in your travels advertise locally at your destination and secure people from overseas – NZ has never been as attractive as it is now and if you can secure people from abroad, sign them up over there, you will remove yourself from a competitive situation when you get here with the other software houses going at it as hard as they can

    So, thats where the developers are – they are actually not here at all and flipping the same stone over 25 times and lamenting the fact there are none there is eventually going to leave you with a bunch of stone flippers who forget what it is like to find something

    Thats where the wild things are….

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