The Forgotten Soul

4 Questions To Ask Before Hiring A Developer

One of the most impactful decisions any business owner will ever make is whom they choose to hire. Will that employee or contractor help them meet their goals? Or will they cost them more in time and resources fixing their mistakes? Hiring a developer is challenging, especially for non tech savvy people, Asking yourself these 4 questions before choosing to hire someone will save your sanity. It has for me many times over.

Often, I get asked about things that applicants could do to stand out from the crowd (sitting on a school advisory board, it comes up a lot). If you are looking for a job, these questions may give you an added edge over the competition.

Question #1 – What Have They Done?

I’m not talking about their education, or companies they list on their résumé having worked for. If you are truly interested in finding the best candidate you need to go out there and start googling the person yourself.  Remember to append the city where the applicant is currently living as there are always people with same name. You need to find their online aliases and start expanding your search. Think of this as internet sleuthing; what can you find out?

Sometimes these sorts of searches show more interesting details about an applicant: Affiliations to groups, associations to people you may have contact with. Being able to leverage your network to get other people’s comments on an individual can offer much-needed vetting about an applicant. Wouldn’t it be cool to hire someone who volunteers saving baby seals? Little details like that can – and should – affect your judgement. A person’s character is important to involve in your decision.

Question #2 – What Sort Of Online Presence Do They Have?

If the applicant is involved in the tech sector, having some sort of internet presence is unavoidable. It might be difficult to find among all the SEO riddled pages, but it should still be there. Whether its social media, blogs (like this one!), or a simple GitHub profile (for developers), there should be something that shows that they actively engage with the tech community around them, or at least try to.  Be careful, as some people have figured out to create ‘fake’ content on the internet for these very purposes. That’s where having a tech consultant comes into play, but I’ll talk about that later.

Not having an online presence throws up an immediate red flag for me when looking at potential applicants. If I can’t find information related to the applicant, whether it’s a personal blog, or something that connects them with the expected roles of the job, they shouldn’t on the short list.

Why So Brutal? Proof.

Think of it this way; imagine you are a school and you are hiring a new instructor. Internally you have your own hiring practices, including a system of balances and checks meant to vet applicants. Yet, for some reason, Jim slips through the net.

Your new employee Jim gets hired on to teach game development (easier to pick on my industry). The first day of class, students start googling their instructor and find nothing linking him to game development, no social presence, etc.  The modern student has access to the internet at their fingertips, and if it doesn’t support their instructors authority on a subject, they will not respect them. Students are now asking schools offering game development programs for their instructors games list before even registering.

This is a real problem that is occurring in post-secondary education now.

We turn to experts or the internet when we need answers. Preferably experts, but let’s be honest with ourselves, Google is the first stop for most people. When you are in legal trouble, your first stop is a lawyer. Having tax issues? You go to an accountant. When something is important, the source of the information should be scrutinized. If you were starting a business? Would you want the advice of someone who has started one before? or someone who hasn’t. Think about it.

What About LinkedIn?

There is no doubt that LinkedIn is a great platform for finding applicants. From a recruiters standpoint it is phenomenal. However, the premise of LinkedIn is just that, presenting a résumé to attract employers. Always remember that information gained through LinkedIn is biased. Investigating past colleagues for connections that you can leverage for vetting is a useful application of LinkedIn.

If the only online presence someone in tech has is their LinkedIn profile, red flag.

Now, as I was writing this post, a friend and colleague (we’ll call him “Phil”) presented an interesting metric that he uses at times when evaluating applicants. This is his thunder, it is smart, assuming the data is there. He evaluates how many coworkers from their previous employer liked the applicant’s last job change compared to the size of the company. If the data is there, it is an interesting metric to see how well socially the applicant could fit in with a company.

Exception

There are some amazing people in and around tech that have zero online presence, with one major exception. EVERYONE knows about them.  Those sorts of people are pseudo celebrities. If you are looking into one of those type people, you should just hire them now. Assuming what you’ve read is good, stop reading and get hiring!

Question #3 – Community Centric?

Someone’s disposition to help others is a quality that cannot be overlooked. That is why I often can be found checking out people’s GitHub pages (or similar), looking at what sorts of things they have put into the public domain. I use GitHub as an example for programmers, but there are other similar type places for artists, etc. The takeaway is that, employers should be looking at what sort of things you give back to the community. If I was looking for a software developer/engineer, it would almost be a must for them to have a track record on GitHub (or similar). Now, not all are going to look like this:

My GitHub Timeline

However, they should look similar in that they are actively contributing and doing stuff for the greater good.  GitHub, and other sites like it, allow for employers to also get a glimpse at the programming style of an applicant. A lot can be learned by looking at someones code.

Question #4 – Are They Real?

When I first wrote this post, I had intended not to include this topic.

I use the analogy that some potential employees are beautiful, they check all the boxes, and have all right answers, but that beauty is only surface deep.

There is always people who pretend to be something they are not. Lying is  a concern, and with the internet as a backdrop of information that an applicant can manipulate, weeding out those people presents its own unique challenges. The depths which you, as an employer,  can ask an applicants references is very limited. Many services have popped up, again a simple google search for “hire vetting service” will find you many solutions. Sometimes, the lies are so poorly laid out that with a little time, you can see right through them.

The Virtual Resume

A useful tactic is to build a virtual resume for an applicant based on all verifiable information you can find online.

If the applicant indicated that they worked for Big Oil Company A from 2002 through to 2008, look for anything online that would prove that story. Be it pictures of them from the company newsletter, to a company promotional video, the company liking a tweet of theirs. These types of things indirectly verify their story, and can help you put together a timeline of events to vet someone’s history or raise concerns.

Another example I like to use when talking about virtual resumes is a play I have dubbed the “the missing years” .  Some applicants, when they know there is no way to verify it, inflate their role and/or years at a company. At the start of this summer I was handed the résumé of someone applying for an exec role at a friend’s company. He had asked me what I thought about the person, and if I had any concerns. The applicant had listed previous experience at a company that no longer existed. Nor were there any traces of it that could be found on the internet. I advised my friend that my gut said something was wrong. He responded back that the applicant failed a criminal record check. Maybe the applicant was lying?

Use Of Language

I catch myself saying that I have “worked with” a variety of game studios. Implying that we (dotBunny) have developed code or assets for them. Given the role dotBunny takes, it is only natural to make that connection. A correct assumption to make. That being said, others use that connection to their advantage. I have seen someone say “I have worked with” Google. The implication being that they have been paid by Google to perform a service. Where in reality, they were purchasing ads from Google’s AdSense. Hence they were working with Google in a very loose sense. Knowing that information would change their standing in my evaluation process. The manipulation and misuse of language is fairly common unfortunately, and is a trap employers fall into.

When in doubt, listen to your gut.

You Mentioned A Consultant?

Recognizing ones own limitations should almost be at the top of this post. Knowing when you and your staff are over your head, or out of your depth of knowledge is critical when hiring someone. There could be amazing stuff on their résumé, pertinent to their employment, but you just don’t understand the terminology enough to grasp it. Having someone able to interact with applicants at a level of competency in their specific field is critical when assessing potential applicants. There are many hiring agencies now that offer this service, often guaranteeing the applicant’s ability to perform the outlined job roles. Using one of these services can save you time and money, should you not have the technical expertise in-house.

I have been known to consult and check applicants for tech jobs, send me a message.

A consultant or consulting firm should be able to wade through the normal posturing that is done when applying for a job, and a good one will be able to separate out the bullshit  mentioned earlier. Spending a bit of money on a hiring firm upfront, could save you many times that amount on the back-end when things go south with an employee.

Pulling The Trigger

After you ask these questions, the decision you make at least for the most part will be an educated one. There are always going to be better applicants out there; get over it. Not making a decision, even if it is to not hire anyone, costs you time and resources that could be directed elsewhere. Hopefully some of the process I’ve described above helps someone with making a decision, or even getting a job.