How to Hire Programmers If You’re Not a Programmer Yourself by Mile Živković on Jun 14, 2018

Are you looking to hire a developer? You’re far from alone, as it’s one of the most sought-after positions in the job market at the moment. But how do you even hire a programmer if you’re not a programmer yourself? We have a few tricks that will make the job easier for you.

If you’ve taken a moment to listen to current job trends, you’ll notice that there’s one position that’s always in demand – programmers. If you’re a programmer or on the way to becoming one – great news. If you’re looking to hire one, tough luck. The shortage of good programmers means that you’ll have to put in some proper work to find your new hire.

On the other hand, there’s an even bigger problem. How do you hire without an HR team? And more specifically, how do you hire a programmer if you’re not a programmer yourself? 

If you think that Ruby is a shade of red and that C++ is something you get for an essay in high school, you probably aren’t fit to hire a programmer. However, there are some ways to spot high-quality developers without learning coding and app development. Here’s how to do it.

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Don’t rely on CVs

You’re probably already aware, but people tend not to be so honest on their CVs. According to research, about a quarter of all job applicants lie on their CVs to some extent, and developers are no different.

We’ve written extensively on why CV is not ideal as a hiring tool. First off, you only get to see where the programmer worked, and not how they performed in the position. Unfortunately, to get to the real truth, you have to do a thorough background check and ring up their former employers. With hundreds of applicants to go through, this can be a time-consuming process.

The second part of the problem is education. Many programmers don’t bother attending universities or going through formal education to learn how to code. In fact, two out of three developers in the world are self-taught and have little to no formal education. For this reason alone, education should be on the bottom of your priority list when hiring a programmer.

“CVs focus on the strengths of the candidate, and might leave out important weaknesses. They also require you to trust in the honesty of the applicant, which at this stage in the process is not a given.”

Paul Scharf, Mobile Lead @ Toggl

So, what can you really do, if you can’t trust programmers with their previous work experience or education? What you have to do is…

Challenge programmers with a test

When time tracking software Toggl figured out that hiring programmers using traditional methods was extremely difficult, Hundred5 came to life, as Toggl’s daughter company. In fact, you can even read the story of how they hired 6 world-class programmers in very short time by using skills-based hiring methods.

When hiring programmers, the team at Toggl use an automated screening test in Hundred5 as the first part of the hiring process. Once they finish the test, the hiring manager immediately gets notified if the candidate is fit for the job, and the candidate quickly gets feedback on how they performed. No CVs, no fluff and no time wasted.

The test is usually comprised of 10 short questions, ideally not taking longer than 20 minutes to complete. Depending on the skill set and the programming language being used, you can create different types of questions. 

For example, you could write a function and ask for its runtime complexity. Alternatively, you can write a few lines of code and ask the applicant to choose the result, as in the example below.  

toggl test question

The automated test immediately weeds out unqualified candidates and you know who would be a good fit for the job.

Use pre-built skills tests

If you don’t know how to write code yourself, you can use pre-built skills tests. There are lots of different pre-employment assessment tools to choose from.

For example, at Hundred5 we have a database of tests for different languages as programming roles such as Java developer, PHP developer, Full-stack developer etc. All tests are made by industry experts and are based on real-life hiring tests. 

Simply choose your test and adapt it to your position and you’re good to go. And if you get stuck somewhere – no worries. We have a team of experts standing by, ready to help you at all times.

toggl backend developer

Set up a paid trial period

Say that you’ve found a programmer that looks like they fit the bill. They know how to do the work, they have the proper experience, and after a round or two of interviews, you know they fit into the company culture as well. However, do not bring them on board immediately.

At Toggl and Hundred5, we’re huge fans of trial periods before permanently hiring someone. When hiring our own developers, we first let them go through 3-5 days of paid probation work. This way we can see how they perform, their work ethics and communication skills.

There is one thing to pay close attention to – the paid trial should include a meaningful task that needs to be done, not a textbook example of a few lines of code. If you already have developers on your team, tell them to assign the new hire something that’s not urgent or crucial for your company, but presents enough of a challenge for the new dev to prove themselves. Ensure that you’ve set clear expectations and timelines. Remember, they need to get a glimpse of what you’re working on, and they need to be motivated enough to complete the task.

If they pass the trial period, the advantages are twofold – you have a nice chunk of work done and you’ve found an excellent candidate for the position. If they don’t – you’ll pay them for their time and this will be your only loss. However, you will have gained a lot in the long run, as you eliminated someone who would be a bad hire along the way.

Read on: 10 Methods for Screening Candidates – Which Is The Most Efficient

Provide clear requirements and a good onboarding experience

The problem with non-programmers who hire programmers is that they often have very unclear expectations on what they want the programmer to do. For this reason, it’s necessary to know what you want done, and provide as much detail as you possibly can.

By providing them with clear instructions, you will help your developers immensely before the project starts. They will know the necessary techniques and whether they need to learn some new skills to tackle the job.

At the same time, ensure that they have a proper onboarding. This relates both to standard procedures of welcoming a new team member, but there are some elements specific to developers only. If they’re replacing a programmer that worked for you before or joining a team that’s already deep into a project, they will need some time to adapt before being able to do proper work. Provide them with the existing code and give them the necessary information so that they can give their best work from the very start.

Check out their portfolio

Even if you don’t have a clue about coding, you should ask to see a programmer’s portfolio before making any hiring decisions. Every developer worth hiring will have some sort of display of what they’ve done so far. This can be a code repository, GitHub or Stack Overflow profile, a personal website or blog – anything goes. You’ll get a good feel of how the programmer thinks and if it matches what you want them to do for you – even if it’s just based on appearance.

Browse specialized freelancing websites

If you want someone else to do the heavy lifting for you, there are freelancing websites with developers for hire. However, before deciding on one source, make sure to know:

  • The time commitment (part-time, full-time, project-based)
  • Your budget
  • The language they will be working in

Sites like Upwork allow for a wide pool of freelancers from all over the world. You can choose according to skill set, rates and availability. However, you still have to spend hours wading through applicants and finding a good fit.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is Toptal. Designed as the platform for the top three percent of freelance developers worldwide, Toptal is one of the best sources for hiring developers. There are two reasons for this: one, their selection process is very strict; two, they help you with finding the right person for the job. Candidates go through rigorous testing, in terms of both skills and personality. Once you describe your needs to Toptal staff, they will be able to recommend you the exact type of programmers you need, in terms of skills and culture.

Ask around with programmer friends

If you’re lucky, you’ll know a couple of people who are professional developers and know this line of work. You can sit down with them and bribe them with coffee or beers in exchange for help with hiring developers for your team. It’s even better if you have a chance to talk to someone leading a developer team as they will know exactly what skill set to look for, as well as the character traits of a good developer.

You can ask them to help you set up a test or simply decide between candidates that are an equally good match for the job. Unfortunately, this is not always an option for those looking to hire new developers.

Ask about their time commitments

Before venturing out to hire a programmer, you need to know the hours you want them to put in. Should they work full- or part-time? It’s essential that you express this as soon as possible during the hiring process because the developer will be better able to position themselves. Many developers work on multiple projects at once and if you need them present 8 hours per day, you need to let them know up front.

The second issue is the time frame you want the programmer to be working in. As it’s now common practice to hire remotely from all over the globe, your new dev may not be able to be present in your working hours. This is yet another aspect of work that needs to be established early on in order to hire more efficiently.

Motivate programmers with work challenges, not money

As we’ve written before, it’s kind of difficult to hire developers, even if you know exactly who you’re looking for. There are plenty of people out there looking to hire a programmer, just like you. The demand is higher than the supply and it’s only going to get tougher in the years to come.

If you’re a good developer, you won’t have any trouble finding work – it will find you. Developers get spammed daily with emails and calls about new job opportunities – up to 20 calls per day. At the same time, there are nice lumps of money given out to those who refer new developers to a company that’s looking to hire. A couple of years back, HubSpot offered $30,000 to the person who refers a new developer.

Money simply no longer works as an incentive for developers to join your team. They can find well-paid positions anywhere they look and it will take more than cash to get them on board. We suggest motivating them with meaningful work and challenges they can solve, as we outlined above.

You can solve one part of the problem with putting up a performance-based job description. Instead of listing your ideal developers’ skills and work experience, focus on the tasks they need to solve in this position. What defines success as a developer? What kind of tasks should they be able to effectively handle? By outlining the challenges lying ahead instead of just listing their skills, you’re much more likely to get developers interested in working with you. Finally, as part of the performance-based hiring strategy, do not mention the salary until the end of the negotiating process.

As you can see, it’s not impossible to hire a programmer if you’re not a programmer yourself. Set clear expectations, test before you hire, provide proper motivation, and you’ll have a new developer on your team in no time.

Get help with hiring today

Do you want to hire top of the line developers like Toggl? You too can automate and revolutionize your hiring processes using Hundred5. Give us a try today and find your new all-star programmer. 

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