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Why you’re getting tech recruitment wrong

8 Feb 2019 By Joe Drumgoole

Amid increasing demand for tech skills, the pressure is on HR to attract, retain and motivate this specialist workforce. Joe Drumgoole explains how to unearth and secure talent when competition is fierce

If you go back 20 years, tech employees like programmers, database administrators or engineers were solely the concern of tech companies. Not any more. First ecommerce, mobile and online communication transformed how we did business. Now AI, automation and virtual reality are making their way into workplaces in every corner of industry. We have reached a crunch point where demand for tech skills far outstrips supply.

The frustrating reality is that in those two decades of technological upheaval, not much has changed in how organisations recruit technically skilled employees. That’s bad for business. 

Today there are more than 20,000 vacancies for software engineers on indeed.co.uk – but there will always be 20,000 vacancies. The UK produces a similar number of computer science graduates each year, but not all of them go into software engineering as a discipline. In addition, recruiters for most of those roles are not looking for fresh graduates – they want experienced professionals.

A recent report by software platform Stripe found that a lack of software engineers is a massive constraint on company growth. In fact, the report found it was a bigger issue than having access to capital, finding a product-market fit or the challenges that come with legacy IT infrastructure. Leaders are crying out for capable tech employees.

Something needs to be done. But what?

I’ve been working in product development  for more than 30 years, which meant I got started two years before Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. In all those years, I’ve experienced the good, the bad and the horrendous in recruitment practices. Now, in my role as a developer advocate for MongoDB, I spend my time working with thousands of developers, at all sorts of different companies – from massive banks to small start-ups – and at all stages of their careers. From all of those conversations, here are the three things that I think will make a big difference in how your company finds and successfully recruits the tech talent you need:

Focus on tools rather than talent

Technical tools are changing so fast, that it is absolutely crucial to find technicians who can adapt and learn. You're looking for someone to join a team that programs in the ‘Go’ programming language, so you have to hire a Go expert, right? Wrong. Companies need to hire a skilled programmer that can adapt and learn. Work from the philosophy that this person will be at your company for five or more years and will learn many new skills while they're with you. Looking only for specific knowledge of a language or type of software is (usually) a terrible way of finding the best people. 

Don’t limit by location

The best people in tech aren’t hired through recruitment teams – they’re offered jobs because people know who they are and have seen their work. The tech industry is built on an open source ethos – a sharing of ideas, code and technologies. If companies can understand and tap into this community, they will go a long way towards identifying the right target candidates and securing the person they want. Recruitment teams can look close to home – speak to the tech specialists already in-house to get hold of the recommendations and relationships that can give your brand a leg-up in the recruitment process.

Tech community platforms, such as code-sharing and open source programming site Github, also offer a door into the world of developers and a better idea of what they are really passionate about. 

Try before you buy

In such a competitive recruitment space, there is huge power in the hands of candidates who will often be in demand from a number of suitors at any one stage. In-depth recruitment processes can sometimes be a turn-off for this sought-after cohort, which means that both employer and candidate may miss out on an appointment that could be perfect from both sides. Sometimes, a lightweight recruitment process, followed by a short fixed-term contract (say, three months), is the best way to discover whether a candidate is a good fit for the team.

If you think hiring great developers is hard now – hold onto your wireless mouse – it’s only going to get harder. In the UK, there is a booming tech industry that is fast becoming the envy of the world. The rate of change and adoption in this field will only increase and it will touch every conceivable industry. The need for HR professionals to be comfortable hiring this type of employee in the future is going to be more important than ever for business success. 

Joe Drumgoole is director of developer advocacy at MongoDB EMEA

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