By Katie Paxson
Everyone has a different definition of what makes a good developer, but for many hiring managers today, there’s growing consensus that technical knowledge will only get you so far. A combination of both IQ and EQ is what truly makes a 10x impact on a developer team, not the # of lines of code they can write in a given time.
7CTOs, a San Diego-based community of technologists, gathered a panel of engineering leaders made up of April Wensel, founder of Compassionate Coding, Chris Nikkel, Director of Development at GoDaddy, and Manijeh Noori, Director of Engineering at The Zebra to discuss the myth of the 10x developer. Here are some insights from the discussion, moderated by Andela’s VP of Marketing, Alexa Scordato.
Some companies claim to only have “world-class developers”, while other hiring managers will only bring on “the best full-stack engineers”. As Alexa mentions, though, there isn’t a canonical definition for what makes a good developer. She asked the group how each of them defines a good developer, and to reinforce the point further, each had a different answer.
For Manijeh and her team, it’s not about a specific skill set, language or framework. She says, “it’s about being a problem solver, coming up with creative solutions, and doing so collaboratively, with great communication and empathy.”
Chris thinks about the term “‘good developer’” in three buckets – passion, team dynamics, and alignment.” Passion describes people who love tech, and what they’re doing at the company. Team dynamics refers to a person will make a positive contribution not just technically, but personally. Alignment relates to his desire to hire engineers who are in the right place to grow in their careers while serving the team in their current state.
April challenges the question itself by saying, “I don’t see a need for there to be a rank. Our culture puts too much emphasis on competition – to me, it’s much more about finding people who are excited to work with you and who you’re excited to work with – not because they’re the same, but because they’re going to add something that is not already on your team.”
April and Manijeh both start with what they don’t do. April is adamant about not requiring a Github or a Stack Overflow profile. That reinforces the ideal developer profile as an engineer who is constantly working on side projects and spends all of their free time writing code, and excludes many other types of competent and high-performing engineers.
As for MJ, she mentions that The Zebra does not have a traditional Computer Science requirement on their job specs – 50% of The Zebra’s engineering team comes from a non-traditional background, which makes their team incredibly diverse.
April also brings up the sometimes-touchy subject of a culture fit versus her preferred phrase, a “culture add”. She encourages hiring managers to think critically when they find themselves deciding that someone isn’t a culture fit – what is it that makes them not fit? A different way of thinking could, and often does, lead to a stronger team – it is often worth it to bring in this person that will push the limits, rather than a team of clones.
We discussed the importance of collaboration when building an empathic and communicative team, which is hard enough when everyone is in the same office. What about when you introduce an additional level of complexity – remote team members?
Both MJ and Chris agreed that incorporating the use of video is incredibly important. It took a lot of encouragement for MJ’s team to get on board with doing stand-ups over video every day, but for her, that is what it meant to treat everyone, remote or in-person, equally. For her, the best part of working with the 16 Andela developers at The Zebra, who are based in Nigeria and Kenya, is meeting in person, whether that is in Lagos, Nigeria or Austin, Texas. She now incorporates that in-person visit into the beginning of working relationships with any remote developers.
April brings up the importance of communication and ensuring that everyone understands not only the words but the tone of everyone on the team. Sarcasm – “Developers love to be sarcastic,” she mentions – is much harder to detect over text than it is through voice, so she encourages all team members to be careful when communicating with remote team members over email, Slack, or other text-based mediums.
While there is no official definition of “the best” developer, HackerRank reports that problem-solving skills are almost unanimously the most important qualification that employers look for – more than programming proficiency, debugging and system design. This group of engineering leaders confirmed that for them, hiring problem solvers along with collaborative, passionate, and empathetic coders has helped them build the high-performing teams that they run today.
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