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7 simple rules for hiring great developers

Dan Tynan | Jan. 22, 2014
The war for programming talent is full bore. Here's how to hire the best coders when competing with the big boys

Like everyone else, developers want to feel like they're contributing something useful to the world, even if it's simply a better way to store and share work data, says Tom Carpel, a senior software engineer at Box.

"Implementing a button where 14-year-old girls can like the photos other 14-year-old girls just posted is great, but building a system where hospitals and schools can be more efficient is much more appealing," says Carpel. "I am under no illusion that what I do at work saves lives, but I know I'm doing something useful. I'm not sure how excited I would be about enabling 14-year-old girls to like photos."

Developer hiring rule No. 7: Open source tips the balance
For many developers, the deciding factor often comes down to the opportunity to work with an open source company.

"There are a lot of advantages to being an open source company," notes Tim Clem, who oversees product and corporate strategy for GitHub, the open source collaboration platform. "You can leverage a much larger base of people who are building things just for the love of it. It's nice to have that kind of visibility into a product. Once you understand the advantages of using open source technology, it's hard to do anything different."

Clem adds that GitHub avoids publicly posting new jobs because it gets overwhelmed with applicants. Instead, it uses personal referrals and devs' own history of code commits to filter potential employees. Code doesn't lie.

"The best job applicants build things for me," Clem says. "They redesign part of GitHub and put it on Hackernews, or they take apart an app like GitHub for Windows and tell me what's wrong with it. It's the reverse of the normal hiring process."

There are a lot of places where a talented developer can go, especially in the Bay Area, notes Herb Cunitz, president of Hortonworks, a company that helps enterprises integrate Apache Hadoop. Being an open source company working on big data questions gives Hortonworks a natural advantage for software engineers who want to work on the cutting edge, he says.

"We believe an open source community, if stewarded and led by the right people, can out-innovate any individual technology company at any time," he says. "But developers don't just come to you for the technology. What they're really looking for is whether they can be part of something special -- a real journey into something that's fundamentally changing the market and driving innovation."


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