Break Rooms, not Job Fairs: How to hire the perfect junior developer


Support, customer service, project management, administration, interns — almost everyone in a thriving tech company is looking for opportunities for career advancement, but one method for building a software-development team that managers sometimes overlook is to recruit and train employees from departments like these in their own organization. A fraction of the time that managers have had to spend at job fairs and assessing online portfolios to find talent — then beginning the resource-draining recruitment process once they’ve found it — could have been spent chatting in their own employee lounges and #general Slack channels to cultivate candidates for careerpathing.

Coding languages are easier to learn than customer empathy and product insight

Here at Treehouse, we chat with a lot of leaders and visionaries in the fields of tech management and development. One of the recurring motifs in these conversations is the surprising power of training non-tech staff who are interested in coding to become junior developers. They’re often gifted with unique outside perspectives, in terms of a more diverse population [gender, race, ability, age, etc.] compared to many engineering departments, having best-practices experience with using a product, and knowing ways that customers are using a product that the engineers may not have anticipated, much less intended.

Resisting the resistance to hiring outside of traditionally trained engineers

Even if a dev team leader acknowledges that coworkers in other departments have insight-forged instincts that their engineers don’t, it’s understandable that there’s still resistance and unease about careerpathing. As Mark Laplante [Senior Director of Product Development at ConnectWise] recently told us, “I think we maybe get a little bit of a mindset that you have to have this engineering training to be a good developer and a good technical person. Our typical impression of engineers is they’re introverted. They’re not customer people. So, when you see someone that’s great with customers it’s, ‘Oh, they must not be an engineer. They have different skills.’”

Onboarding new hires who are already onboard

Besides those different skills, another easily missed benefit of internal recruitment is the dramatically shorter onboarding needed. For example, Engineering and Support departments must stay in constant contact to best complete their work, so an upskilled Support member already knows more about the personalities and team dynamics in Engineering than a new hire straight out of Computer Science studies. Paul Hepworth, Vice President of Engineering at UserTesting, described to us a dev-hiring environment that his company’s rapid growth demanded “where your mind is very open about who can do it. One of the places that we looked to was Support. … They’re really in tune with the needs of customers, the complaints, the concerns. Their empathy is totally heightened. … To be honest, some of our support people know more about our product than engineers do.”

Customized training to make a job-ready junior developer out of Pat from Customer Service

Careerpathed devs can be trained in the specific languages/frameworks a team needs; they know the people, the culture and the product; and the cost of training that employee is significantly less than the price of finding and then hiring jr. developers from outside. They’re the perfect candidate for the position and they may be in the break room right now, waiting for the opportunity to trade in their job for a career while they’re waiting for their turn to use the staff microwave.

If you’re interested in providing resources for careerpathing, cross-training or upskilling employees at your organization — or setting up a private stream of freshly trained junior developers drawn from diverse backgrounds outside of Techbroliva — our TalentPath specialists would love to talk with you about the best practices we’ve refined and improved thanks to our partnerships with companies like Adobe, Nike, Mailchimp, Airbnb, MINDBODY, Checkmate and more.


td;dr:

  • Hiring outside talent is expensive and time-consuming
  • Nobody enjoys tabling at job fairs or reviewing online portfolios to find talent
  • Onboarding is time-consuming and personality clashes hurt retention
  • Engineering managers often overlook careerpathing
  • Everyone wants to advance up the company ladder
  • Careerpathed developers can be the perfect hire
  • Careerpathing is less expensive and time-consuming
  • Devs can be trained in specific languages/frameworks needed
  • Coworkers in non-tech departments might be interested in learning to code
  • They have unique outside perspectives via
    • diversity [gender, race, ability, age, etc.]
    • best-practices experience using a product
    • customer needs, concerns and/or complaints
    • Learning unexpected and unintended ways customers use a product
  • Engineers don’t have these non-engineer insights
  • Another easily missed benefit: dramatically shorter onboarding
    • Engineering and other departments already in contact
    • Upskilled non-tech coworker knows more than a new hire about
      • member personalities
      • team dynamics
      • company product
      • company culture
      • Better engagement and retention because they’re already invested
  • Engineering managers should spend more time in their break rooms



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