Recruiting Top Developer Talent

Recruiting Top Developer Talent

Recruiting Top Developer Talent

By Ashu Chatterji, CEO at Caravel Labs

At Caravel Labs, we believe that all technology should contribute to an equitable, just and sustainable world, which is why our mission is to build responsible software for innovators everywhere. Our customers are in the business of solving some of the most intractable problems and so they require not just innovative software solutions, they need them to be efficacious in the shortest possible time, and they need these software solutions to evolve quickly as the problems they are in the business of solving keep changing. This is why we take our responsibility to equip our customers with a high-performing software delivery and operations capability, and not just to build and operate a piece of software (read about how seriously we take software delivery performance in our previous post titled DevOps: Truth and Dare).  

There are many things that we must do as a company to build and retain such a capability in a sustainable manner, perhaps the most important thing that we must do as a company is to invest in very strong and intentional talent management practices. Our opinion has always been that talent management practices influence the software delivery performance of any tech-enabled organization, and as of 2021, McKinsey’s report on Developer Velocity provides the definitive industry evidence of our opinion:

“The world of technology has long been fixated on the idea of rock-star developers: individuals capable of producing at ten times the rate of the average developer. … there is little question that the most talented developers are engines of velocity in their own right. … the challenge is how to attract and retain such talent and create the conditions that ensure their continued success”

The Attributes of “Top Talent” Developers 

Needless to say, the most talented developers are experts at whatever technology stack they are expected to work on. However, in today’s world, where the technologies emerge, evolve, and get deprecated at an unprecedented pace, what is far more important than their expertise is their ability to learn new technologies at great speed and in depth.  

Being expert and nimble technologist makes one a good programmer but not necessarily a good developer. Talented developers differentiate themselves by being able to grasp the customer’s business problem. They routinely build highly efficacious solutions by establishing empathy with the users. They consistently translate these into elegant technical implementations that are simple and robust. As counterintuitive as this may sound, they are lazy in the sense that they hate toil, and they relentlessly embrace automation to reduce unnecessary work for themselves and their work group.  

Finally, the best developers are the ones who feel responsible for all humans impacted by their work, and work tirelessly to maximize that impact. They use this sense of responsibility and their pride of workmanship to drive technical design decisions that increase chances of timely release of working features, rather than simply focusing on completing their assigned work within committed timelines.  

Marcos Ocasio, our CTO and Head of Engineering, shares his thoughts in greater depth about exemplary developers in his article titled The Role of the Engineering Lead.  

Competing for Top Developer Talent 

It should be no surprise that the developers described above are only a small subset of the total developer pool, and therefore there is fierce competition for them. The most respected employers scout for such talent across the world, and such developers have no dearth of options for offering their professional talents. Furthermore, in the post-pandemic environment where remote work has become the norm, employing such talent is no longer restricted by geography.  

At Caravel Labs, we know that the experienced developers that we are hoping to attract to our team are just as sought after by the top product engineering teams at companies such as Microsoft or Google, which is why we must make the employment experience comparable to the best employers in the world.  

There are many aspects to employment experience such as organizational culture and tools for the developers, which are important and broad enough to warrant their own articles. However, the most fundamental contributor to the employment experience is employee compensation, and it is relatively straightforward to address. Any software delivery organization aspiring for increasingly higher performance, cannot afford to ignore to address this or address it incorrectly.   

We are often asked to share our opinion about the “(payroll) cost and (product) quality” tradeoffs for setting up development teams in a certain geography. Our experience building a globally distributed team of high-performing developers at Caravel Labs and previously at Microsoft, has convinced us that there is no correlation between geography and quality of workmanship, rather developer compensation disparity across geographies is what impacts the quality of workmanship. A quick analysis of salary data validates our opinion as any differences in salary levels disappears entirely for top developers at mid-career levels. Lowering compensation based on mean salaries in a specific location either results in inability to attract top talent or high turnover rates for the most talented developers.  

At Caravel Labs, adherence to our fundamental belief that people should get the same pay for the same work anywhere in the world has led us to implementing a compensation philosophy and practices that are favorable towards preventing this fallacy. We advocate to all employers of developers to adopt this principle. Besides the very compelling ethical argument for doing this (putting ourselves in the shoes of our employees, would we consider being paid less for our workmanship simply because we happen to live in a certain place?), it is also the prudent thing to do to maintain an edge in the form of software delivery performance in an increasingly digital world.    

Adam Stoffel, our COO and Head of Operations shares his in-depth thoughts about Caravel Labs’ compensation philosophy and practices in his article Pay Transparency: Coming to a Job Posting Near You.  

Growing the Pool  

The scarcity of experienced developers who are considered top talent can hardly be understated and fighting with or raiding other employers for this limited talent pool is not a viable way to build or maintain a high-performing software delivery capability. The opposite of scarcity is plenty and so it is only logical that the scarcity of top developer talent can be sustainably addressed only by creating a plentiful talent pool. In our experience, information technology professionals, especially early in their careers are very receptive to the right inspiration, training and mentoring that helps them develop the attributes and skills of top developer talent. Therefore, we are very enthusiastic about scouting developer talent directly from colleges, and providing them with the inspiration, tools, peer mentors and work opportunities that help them grow into the most talented developers very quickly.  

“They are that junior? They are achieving more today than 90% of the most senior engineers in the organization”. The above is a near exact quote about Yang Zheng, one of the co-founders of Caravel Labs, relatively early in his career in Microsoft. Yang grew into one of the most respected consultants in Microsoft around the world, with the unblemished reputation of being able to get his team to meet the most arduous goals. Yang would often speak of the importance of the mentorship and work opportunities he received from his more experienced peers towards his growth. Our customers often express similar sentiments about Caravel Labs engineers, some of whom graduated from college and started their first job less than a year ago.  

It is noteworthy that talented entry-level developers in high-performing teams will grow very quickly in their capability, and will require a high promotion velocity, and consequently relatively larger pay increases should be expected in the earlier career stages. Planning for this improves talent attraction and retention rates. Local employers, including multinational companies’ failure to manage this aspect is seen as a major contributor to the unusually high attrition rates of talented engineers in certain geographies.    

At Caravel Labs, our principal vehicle for growing the talent pool for entry-level developers is Project Sunrise, our immersive internship program where a cohort of budding engineers (generally three years into their four-year engineering degree program) develop a software solution to solve a complex problem using not just the latest technologies but also all the processes and tools that Caravel Labs’ teams use to deliver cutting edge solutions to customers. The participants learn by building software and through mistakes they make along the way. They are almost entirely self-directed and self-managing with experienced Caravel Labs serving as mentors and not supervisors. At the end of the internship, they emerge among the top candidates for the best developer jobs that the industry has to offer. Some of these top candidates end up joining the Caravel Labs team. Read the interview with Meghna Bharadwaj, from the Sunrise 2020 cohort and now a consulting engineer at Caravel Labs, to learn about her experience.   

Creating a Diverse Talent Pool  

The underrepresentation and/or stereotyping of various demographic segments in the tech industry are an unquestionable ethical lapse, but also the single greatest threat to the industry achieving its full potential. The most glaring and abominable example here is the underrepresentation of women, undoubtedly. Additionally, the problem is found across any number dimensions of diversity such as ancestry, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation to name just a few. As professionals who hold human-centricity as a core principle of their work, we are acutely aware of the risk to a product design when the opinions of a key user segment being left out, or their opinions misrepresented. Yet as an industry with the power to shape the future of humankind, we seem to be amazingly complacent of the continued lack of diversity within our own workforce.  

At Caravel Labs, we believe that like all employers in the tech industry, we have both the responsibility and the ability to significantly ameliorate the issue of identity-based inequities that contribute to the lack of diversity in the developer talent pool. Now that we have matured the Project Sunrise internship program through pilot executions, we plan to bring it closer to specific communities around the world that are traditionally underrepresented and/or stereotyped in the tech industry. Our experience of scouting talent from colleges has also made us aware that the underrepresentation and the stereotyping start much before college, and therefore investment in earlier interventions is in order. We are exploring ways to help more candidates from underrepresented demographics meet the relatively stringent prerequisites for Project Sunrise. We do not claim to have the answers to the deeply complex question of building a more diverse talent pool in the tech industry, but we are certain that it is a problem that we must continue to tackle as a high priority. 

If you are looking to build a high-performing software delivery organization we would love to talk to you about developer talent management, not just to share our learnings but also to learn from your experience and perspective.  

The core content of Project Sunrise is used for orientation and as a refresher for our team members, and we also provide a similar immersive experience modified for experienced developers as a service offering to our customers. If you think this may be useful in building or improving your team’s software delivery performance, please reach out. 

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