Experience or Potential? Mix-and-Match in the Recruitment of Software Developers

A young, self-taught but inexperienced candidate can have the potential to outdo another with years of hands-on experience, and some companies are harnessing both, according to their immediate needs.

With more and more software developers autodidacts and companies often hiring to meet deadlines, fill a vacancy quickly or take on new projects, a debate has emerged on whether a young candidate’s potential can outdo another’s years of hands-on experience.

The difficulty of funding studies while still having not found regular, full-time employment, coupled with the impracticality of studying to enhance one’s skills once installed in the workforce full-time means that many software developers are taking the initiative to study at home, to bring their skills set to a higher level and enhance their chances of getting hired.

Such a do-it-yourself approach is common in Latin America, for example, where a student’s access to a costly course may be limited, or courses may not be available in their location, and which can result in a candidate for a position within a software company being well qualified, but without necessarily having the required coursework on their CV.

This DIY approach can help to feed the talent pool, particularly in cities or regions where there is a shortage, and at a time when increasing numbers of US developers are outsourcing machine learning, UX/UI design and discovery phase to Latin America.

However, when applying for jobs, such candidates will find themselves competing against more experienced, even veteran, developers, and while years of experience and a long CV were traditionally seen as the requirements for employment, that is not always the case, with some companies opting to pay developers for the value they bring, rather than for their experience.

‘Interesting new trends’

“The majority of companies continue to hire for certain skills, coupled with years of experience, but there are some interesting new trends,” Enrique Cortés Rello, CEO of HealthCube, which provides digital healthcare solutions, told Nearshore Americas.

“There is beginning to be a significant number of self-taught techies who learned online and at hackathons, and by participating in open software projects, and there are some companies that will conduct more technical interviews, asking candidates to solve algorithm or data issues, and which require programming skills, as their main criterion.”

“And there are also companies that don’t care what you studied, or where, and don’t even care if you studied or not,” he said.

Enrique Cortés Rello, CEO of HealthCube

“But the problem there, frankly, is the US visa system, where a person must have studied in their field of work [in order to obtain a visa].”

“The truth is that a good software developer is educated by building software, and the more practice they have the better,” Cortés Rello said.

He also warned that, by rewarding new talent that walks in the door and not valuing experience, companies risk alienating current employees, and that new talent has a lot to learn in the business world as a developer with years of experience.

However, while there are certain skills that can only be learned over time, the new talent emerging continually, means that even seasoned developers have to stay current, such as learning new languages for writing code and being up to date with the latest technology.

“If you do not study and stay current, you become a dead weight,” Cortés Rello said.

‘A willingness to learn on the fly’

But whether new talent can trump years pf experience mostly depends on the company doing the hiring, according to Mike Miklavic, a partner at Dev Shop Advisors, a US-based company that helps companies build offshore software teams.

Mike Miklavic, a partner at Dev Shop Advisors

“For many startups we work with, they are willing to hire candidates with less experience but more creativity and willingness to learn quickly, on the fly,” he told Nearshore Americas.

“For the private equity firms we work with, we tend to see a desire for more architecture and longer term experience. But both models can make sense in my opinion.”

And there are other factors that can influence a company’s choice of candidate, according to Cary Peele, CEO of Apriori Nearshore, which has two development centers in Colombia.

“If you are hiring a developer who may be the only developer on the team, which can often be the case with startups, you need someone with experience,” he told Nearshore Americas. “But if you are rounding out a larger team, you may have a mix of more senior people and bring on some more junior folks who can learn on the job.”

Anurag Kumar, CEO and co-founder, Itexico

And according to Anurag Kumar, CEO and co-founder at software development company Itexico, hiring is often a mixture of experienced staff and talented newcomers, depending on a company’s immediate and long-term needs.

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“A company may want to quickly fill an open position with almost a decent match because someone just left and needs to be replaced, and for that they would pay above the market rate, as well as to meet staffing numbers due to recent funding, or because a new initiative needs to be launched, and in those cases the company would pay above market rate for senior talent, and market rate for the rest of the team,” he said.

He added that a company will pay market rate when it is hiring proactively, in anticipation of demand, but above market rate when competitively poaching, making a leadership hire, or when talent is in short supply, as a means of retaining it.

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