Corporate Confusion

Is your company having trouble finding and keeping talented developers? This article explains how you might be unintentionally insulting them.

Surprise You’re a Software Company
If you are in business today with a website where you sell products and/or services, you are a software company. It is the central hub upon which the rest of your business revolves.

The confusion most business have these days is they try to apply “Old School” thinking to 21st century business. These old-school companies are leaving money on the table and repelling the talent they need.

They think that technology is a tool they use as an add-on to their core business. Which is completely backwards to how their customers and partners view them.

Flip Your Focus
In this modern world of business your website is your company. It is the platform which serves your customer’s needs, and sells your products and/or services. Everything else is secondary.

So the talent that builds and maintains a company’s online identity and customer portal should be given respect. Yet most non-technical executives think “All code is equal” and treat developers like replaceable fast-food or retail employees. This insults the very talent they are seeking, without realizing it.

These same non-technical executives like to use buzz words to describe talented developers as, “Masters, Ninjas, or Rock Stars”.

Talent is Valuable
So, let’s look at this situation using the analogy of a rock band. For a band of musicians to play music and become successful each member must master their instrument, understand how to play with their specific band mates, and understand the ins and outs of the music business.

Anyone who’s watched documentaries about how music works behind the scenes knows that even the beginning musicians have a basic understanding of what they are worth. Compare this situation with how a team of developers, like a band of musicians, must work together to create web applications to serve their companies customers.

Each member must know their specialized skill set, how to work within project requirements, interact with other team members, and be mindful of the larger scope of their industry and the business side of software development. Any developer with at least a year of experience knows what they are worth.

Transparent Insult
Companies have adopted a shady practice called “Low-balling” which, as the name suggests, means to expect high value skills for a low salary. Developers pick up on this practice quickly. Its insulting and repels them from even applying.

Take a moment and go on any job search site: Monster, Dice, CareerBuilder, or Indeed. Search for “Front-End Development”. You’ll see low-balling in 9 out of every 10 job postings.

Companies are trying to save money by cramming two or more highly skilled jobs under a title that has a lower average salary. Who are they trying to fool?

Rock Band Job Post
Let’s compare our team of developers to the members of a rock band.

  • Graphic Designer would be the Singer / Song Writer
  • UX/UI would be the Guitar Players
  • Back-End Developer would be the Bass Player
  • Database would be the Drummer

How absurd would it sound if a company posted this job offer:

Guitar player wanted for contract or contract-to-hire role. Needs a positive “Can-Do” attitude. Must be a team player. Will be expected to play guitar, bass, drums, and write songs. Must be familiar with all the latest trendy songs and styles. Expect long hours, indecision from leaders, and last minute song changes that you cannot possibly adapt to. Salary will be for Guitar playing only.

This is how a developer sees these “Low-Ball” job offers. Which is why companies who engage in this shady low-balling practice cannot find talent to fill the role. They have started from the wrong premise to begin with.

Whomever is influencing non-technical executives to assume developers are smart enough to build websites and software but not business smart (or street smart) enough to know when they are being lied too and taken advantage of, is seriously not in touch with reality.

Unicorn Dreams
These non-technical executives have watched too many unrealistic Hollywood movies about hackers and rock star developers. They are looking for a “Full Stack” developer who can do everything on time and under budget for one low salary.

They wrongly assume there exists a group of developers in their area who are talented enough to build websites and software but lack any creativity or business skills to come up with their own ideas. And, they are willing to work for less than they are worth doing twice the amount of work.

The reality is Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg are extremely rare “Full Stack” developers. People with that level of talent are snatched up by large companies in Silicon Valley that will pay them $150k to $200K a year because those companies understand how valuable that level of talent is.

They also provide these developers with the benefits and flexibility they want which keeps them happy and so they stay with the company longer. Midwest companies are insane to think they will find “Silicon Valley” level Full-Stack Developer who would accept a salary of $50k or less a year. It will never happen.

Recruiter Reactions
Most recruiters are non-technical. They take whatever listing a company sends them and try to fill it like an order from a menu. They spend 60 seconds keyword scanning resumes and comparing it to the job posting. When they see 50% or more matching keywords or acronyms they send out email blasts saying, “This looks like a great fit for you.” Hoping that one of the 50 candidates they reach will get hired and earn them a bonus.

However, without a deeper understanding of technology or the context of how the developer applied it, the poor recruiter is left spinning their wheels in the dark. They find it hard, if not impossible, to fill roles that are unreasonable to begin with.

Honesty is the Answer
Corporate companies view honesty like vampires view sunlight. A burning fiery death. Not knowing something is the beginning of wisdom. Not an admittance of weakness. Accepting you don’t know something is the first step to finding out what works.

The pain and frustration companies and recruiters feel when trying to fill developer roles comes from their lack of understanding. Being honest about being non-technical is not the same thing as being honest about not understanding the technology or how it works.

The good news is they don’t have to become developers or learn how to write complicate code to understand the broad strokes of how it all works. Understanding that “All Code is Not Equal” and that low-balling is insulting to developers will help companies rewrite their job postings to attract the talent they need.

The key is to be honest about the skills you are looking for. If you need someone who can do everything then post the job as a “Full Stack Developer”. Full Stack Developers are extremely rare. So, your company might have to break the position into separate Front-End and Back-End Developer roles.

If the role is being offered within the current salary range. With intangible benefits that some developers want more than money. Those companies who “Get It” will attract and retain talent longer, which with their help, will earn them higher profits.

It is a matter of deciding if your company wants a short-term bonus versus a long-term profit growth. Keep in mind that talented developers will see through low-ball charades and won’t apply for unrealistic job offers.