Idealpeople Blog: Where are all Those Great Developers?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Where are all Those Great Developers?

This blog was supposed to be the first in our series of Book Reviews. The plan was, and still is, relatively simple: Read a book about Technology Recruiting or Technology itself and write a review.

However, the first book on our hitlist was so good that we haven't even got to the end yet and we still want to talk about it. Smart & Gets Things Done, by Joel Spolsky is a presentation of the Author's view on how to run a successful software company. Part of this is an interesting take on hiring Software Developers.

As a bit of background, Joel is the Founder of Fog Creek Software (, and the Author of a very popular blog on the Software Development Process ( He's been responsible for hiring many, many developers over the years, but is not and never has been a Recruiter.

Rather than tell you all about it, let's show you what he says in his own words (kind thanks to Joel and Julie at Apress for their permission to use this):

Where Are All Those Great Developers?

The first time you try to fill an open position, if you're like most people, you place some ads, maybe browse around the large online boards, and get a ton of resumes.

As you go through them, you think, "Hmm, this might work" or, "No way!", or, "I wonder if this person could be convinced to move to Buffalo." What doesn't happen, and I guarantee this, what never happens is that you say "Wow, this person is brilliant! We must have them!" In fact, you can go through thousands of resumes, assuming you know how to read resumes, which is not easy...but you can go through thousands of job applications and quite frankly never see a great software developer. Not a one.

Here is why this happens.

The great software developers, indeed the best people in every field, are quite simply never on the market.

The average great software developer will apply for, total, maybe, four jobs in their entire career.

The great college graduates get pulled into an internship by a professor with a connection to industry, then they get early offers from that company and never bother applying for other jobs. If they leave that company, it's often to go to a startup with a friend, or to follow a great boss to another company, or because they decided they really want to work on, say Eclipse, because Eclipse is cool, so they look for an Eclipse job at BEA or IBM and then of course they get it because they're brilliant.

If you're lucky, if you're really lucky, they show up on the job market once, when, say, their spouse decides to accept a medical internship in Anchorage and they actually send their resume out to what they think are the few places they'd like to work in Achorage.

But, for the most part, great developers are, uh, great, and, usually, prospective employers realise their greatness quickly, which means, basically, they get to work wherever they want, so they honestly don't send out a lot of resumes or apply for a lot of jobs. Does this sound like the kind of person you want to hire? It should.

The corollary of that rule - the rule that the great people are never on the market - is that the bad people - the seriosuly unqualified - are on the market quite a lot. They get fired all the time, because they can't do their job. Their companies fail - sometimes because any company that would hire them would also hire a lot of unqualified programmers, so it all adds up to failure - but sometimes because they actually are so unqualified that they runied the company. Yep, it happens.

These morbidly unqualified people rarely get jobs, thankfully, but they do keep applying, and when they apply, they go to an on-line job board and check off 300 or 1000 jobs at once trying to win the lottery.

Numerically, great people are pretty rare, and they're never on the job market, while incompetent people, even though they are just as rare, apply to thousands of jobs throughout their career. So now, Sparky, back to that big pile of resumes you've got. Is it any surprise that most of them are people you don't want to hire?

Astute readers, I expect, will point out that I'm leaving out the largest group yet: the solid, competent people. They're on the market more than the great people, but less that the incompetent, and all in all they will show up in small numbers in your 1000 resume pile, but for the most part, almost every hiring manager in Palo Alto right now with 1000 resumes on their desk has the exact same minority of 970 incompetent people that are applying for every job in Palo Alto, and probably will be for life, and only 30 resumes even worth considering, of which maybe, rarely, one is a great programmer. OK, maybe not even one.

It's clear to us that focussing your search purely on active candidates is an ineffective tool. And it's fantastic to find such a well reasoned explanation from someone at the sharp end of recruitment.

Readers interested in the title can find it here.

And we promise to post a full review soon...

1 comment: said...

IT recruitment is really a challenging job.

Good Article.