How to get developers excited about working on digital transformation

If your company is going through a digital transformation, you know you need a special kind of developer who is able to work in both legacies and cutting edge technologies. Transforming legacy tech is a challenge, so how do you make sure you get the people up for the task of updating them to the technology demands of 2020 and beyond?

When it comes to finding the right developer, look beyond just the technology.

Write a “Who I Want to Hire” brief

Meet with the hiring manager and have them describe the soft and hard skills they need in a developer. Soft skills will be incredibly important for someone working on digital transformation because it’s forging new territory - knowing a technology isn’t enough.  

It’s useful to have the hiring manager explain to you what they are looking for in an ideal candidate, beyond what’s listed in the job ad. Recruiters don’t have ESP, so it’s helpful for the hiring manager to spell out their needs. This can become a document you can refer back to as a reference. 

For example, a manager at Stack Overflow provided this to our recruiters.

For a junior position, here is what to look for:

I don’t expect the person to have years of experience, but I want them to be a fast learner.  Look for experiences where they had to help themselves. Did they get stuck and give up (bad) or google for answers and reach out to friends (good)?  Did they escalate to peers after a certain amount of time (good) or just spin on the same problem with no progress for days (bad)?

Is their background just answering ticket after ticket, or more project focused?  I don’t prefer one over the other; asking this will give me a sense of how they are used to working.

Do they show signs of leadership?  Did they fix a problem they were told to fix, or did they see opportunities and go after them (self-directed)?  Did any of their examples include crowdsourcing the solution, I especially want to know if they  (officially or unofficially) lead the process to gather the crowd?

For a senior position, here is what to look for:

The #1 thing I'm looking for is leadership: someone that can take a project from start (possibly even identifying there is a problem, gathering requirements) to the end. They do this both solo or with others.

I’m looking for someone who gives examples like this…

  • Examples where they took a project from start to finish, detailing which steps they conducted themselves, which they assigned/passed over to teammates, and how long it took them before the project was considered 100%. 

The next thing I’m looking for is the ability to break complex projects into smaller chunks.

I’m looking for someone who gives examples like this…

  • They take a big project and break it down into 10 steps. They do the first step, which requires building all the scaffolding required just to get started. Everyone can see the basic structure and how the remaining 9 steps will fill in the gaps. They encourage people to take on one or more of the remaining pieces. Because the scaffolding exists, people don't have to think about the big decisions... they can just follow the path built so far and fill in their part. The leader went first and made it easy for others to follow.

The final thing I’m looking for is the ability to close the loop by providing documentation and making sure all bits are finished.

I’m looking for someone who gives examples like this…

  • They created a working system. They provided documentation and made an effort to maintain it as things updated/changed. They QA’d the system to discover any missing bits and when others identified pieces that were missing, they went back and corrected those. They took ownership of the system and made sure it wasn’t half finished.

Bonus characteristic - excited about learning new technologies.

I would like to have someone who gives examples like this…

  • They work on a project because they want to learn a new technology and see an opportunity. They may hit some roadblocks but they do their own research and/or reach out to people for help as appropriate.

This example by a Stack Overflow hiring manager shows what to look for in a candidate.

Next, let’s focus on your job description.

Focus on the opportunity to learn

Developers love to learn. In fact, almost 90% of all developers say they have taught themselves a new language, framework, or tool outside of their formal education. 

In the job description:

  1. Describe the new frameworks or languages that they’ll be working with. At the same time, describe working with legacy code as a benefit - it’s a new and different experience and an opportunity for the developer to expand their skills.
  2. Describe the exciting challenge that comes from learning how to blend legacy systems and new technologies. 
  3. Describe your onboarding process and how developers will be set up to be productive from the start.   

Finally, tell your story through your employer brand.

Create content that speaks to the excitement of digital transformation

Give developers a behind the scenes view of what it means to work on digital transformation. Encourage your team to blog, talk and tweet about the interesting problems they are solving. This kind of content allows interested candidates to get to know the teams and people they may be working with.

Digital transformation is an exciting challenge for developers. By highlighting opportunities to learn in your job descriptions, creating a “who I want to hire” brief to identify soft skills, and by building your employer brand to give developers a behind the scenes view of projects, you should have no problems recruiting.

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