Hiring and firing

Self-promotion is a skill, but is that the skill you’re looking for?

Natali Vlatko
Hiring image via Shutterstock

Do you really want to hire somebody that’s good at making themselves look good? Or are you looking for a certain skill-set? Perhaps you need to shape your job spec differently, or recognise non-traditional talent. How do you define expertise?

At this year’s JAX London we were privy to a lot of informative and knowledgable sessions, jam-packed with as much technical know-how as you’d expect from a JVM-themed conference. We were also lucky enough to hear from Jessica Rose, the Developer Relations Manager out of DreamFactory, who shared some insight into the way humans in technology interact with other humans. If your business is hiring developers, then get a load of this.

Self-promotion is a skill, but is that the skill you’re looking for? Perhaps your judgement is clouded by the way your potential new hire has performed in their interview. Rose states that while there’s a wide range of ways that people are selected as ‘experts’ in technological communities, its very rarely tied to output. “It boils down to whether we’re looking for the label of ‘expert’ or if we’re looking for a skill that will fill a certain function”.

How do we define expertise?

Different companies employ different processes for hiring developers, which during Rose’s session at the JAX London was brought up as a potential barrier to recognising talent. Another barrier can be found in our own definitions of needs and objectives.

Jessica Rose @ JAX London – © S&S Media / Katura Jensen

“You need someone to do the thing. What is the thing?” It doesn’t sound like a difficult question. However, when looking deeper into company hiring culture, Rose pointed out that we often put a lot of responsibility on talent to perform well in interviews, when employers should be better at recognising talent instead:

Skilled non-traditional talent is often overlooked, yet has added value. Recognising traditionally undervalued skills will allow you to hire, reward and retain better talent – its not just about being a good developer.

She suggested that other than (or on top of) the traditional interview process, you can have your prospective hire come in and briefly pair-program with a member of the team. A junior member or intern as their partner might be a good way to see how their mentoring prowess stacks up and gives you a lot of insight into their problem-solving skills.

By throwing them into an unfamiliar project or incorporating a language they don’t use, you’d also get a look into how they handle pressure. By incorporating a pair-programming element into the hiring process, you’re not only seeing what they can do, but are also more likely to recognise similar talent in the future.

Rewards and recognition

“Unrewarded talent will leave”. No ifs or buts. If you’re constantly being shuffled into doing low-level work, you’re never going to get into the zone of opportunity where you want to give more to a company. Rose has some very blunt advice for anyone on the receiving end of such treatment: If you’re not being properly valued, leave.

According to Rose, entitlement should be leveraged to get what you deserve in regards to recognition. At the same time, we need to be wary of hero-building, which could be contrary to something like the Java Champions Project. Regardless, her advice also aims to make our communities better serve a more diverse range of talent and experiences.

Recognising “non-beginners” is one of the hardest things about non-traditional talent, according to Rose. Being an advocate for developers tagged as ‘diverse’, including members of the LGBT community and those from minority backgrounds, means supporting a dialogue where goals are shaped in order to eliminate exclusivity in the tech sphere.

Natali Vlatko
An Australian who calls Berlin home, via a two year love affair with Singapore. Natali was an Editorial Assistant for (S&S Media Group).

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