Industry Trends & Research


Takeaways from my appearance in LeadDev’s webinar on hiring software engineers in 2023

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Jason Wodicka

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While the tech landscape continues to shift during this time of economic uncertainty, current conditions present a unique opportunity to revamp software engineering hiring strategies. I explored them with an incredible panel of technologists during a LeadDev Deep Dive Webinar about hiring engineers in 2023.

The virtual event featured panel moderator Sonal Mehta, Director of Engineering at MailChimp, as well as Olga Arbitman, Director of Engineering at The New York Times, and Sebastian Nilsson, Chief Technology Officer at Nordiska Galleriet Group. We discussed the importance of how to optimize the hiring process, address biases, and adapt to the changing landscape of remote and hybrid work. Click here to watch the full webinar recording or read on for my recap of the major takeaways:

Aligning company priorities with your team’s needs

Sebastian kicked things off by focusing on the importance of aligning company priorities with the specific needs of your team. 

“To make informed hiring decisions, assess the skills you already have within your team and identify the gaps that need to be filled,” he suggested. “Map your needs and align them with the needs of your organization. The level of alignment may vary depending on your company’s size and structure.”

Building off of that recommendation, I emphasized the importance of defining your needs early in the hiring process. Knowing exactly what skills you’re hiring for will help you avoid being swayed by candidates who may not fit your actual requirements. This early clarity ensures you’re on the right track from the beginning and minimizes the chances of making hasty decisions.

Olga continued the conversation by highlighting the significance of culture fit. She said that this can be assessed in an interview by asking simple questions, such as “How do you structure your day?” She said it can reveal important insights about a candidate’s fit within your organization. 

She summarized the importance of hiring the right person: “It’s crucial to ensure that the person you hire not only possesses the necessary skills but also aligns with your company’s values and work culture.”

Moving beyond the concept of “doing more with less”

The discussion continued by addressing the fallacy that companies and teams should learn to “do more with less,” which we’ve been hearing a lot in the current economic climate. We discussed how this isn’t possible, and I recommended that companies should instead focus on what matters most and do “less of the wrong stuff.” 

To remove unnecessary steps from your process, consider asking yourself these questions:

  • Are there pieces of your hiring process that you don’t need to be doing?
  • Do you need to execute every step of the process yourself?
  • Can you streamline your process and create a new structure?

Simply put, concentrating on the elements unique to your organization helps you maintain the right, strategic hiring scope. Sebastian noted that this can also apply to saying “no” earlier in the hiring process. 

“Don’t get enamored by the idea of a perfect candidate and cut ties early when your intuition tells you it’s not the right fit,” he advised. 

He also mentioned that managing expectations and recognizing that quality hiring takes time are essential aspects of an optimized process.

Avoiding “safe strategies” and addressing bias

When hiring slows down, companies tend to fall back on safe hiring strategies. Sebastian, Olga, and I all agreed that this is the wrong approach because it can create bias and limit your candidate pool.

To hire the right people and ensure candidates from underrepresented groups aren’t overlooked, Olga stressed the importance of investments and intention.

“It starts with investments in hiring and education,” she said. “One of the best practices is to have multiple interviewers [on your panel] and make sure interviewers are from underrepresented groups.”

She went on to explain that interview panels with homogenous demographics do not create a welcoming environment. What’s more, Sebastian suggested interview teams made up of people with different backgrounds and profiles can uncover things that other groups might not pick up on or see. 

The discussion about safe hiring strategies naturally led to a conversation about addressing bias and how training can help you recognize it. Relying on your interview structure or framework is a great first step to addressing bias in hiring. When you focus on structure and skills – instead of where someone has previously worked or studied — you can expand your search beyond your comfort zone.

I also highlighted recent research from Karat’s 2023 Hiring Trends Report, which reveals that widening your funnel, evaluating skills, and advancing large pools of candidates through several early steps of your process can help you find high-quality candidates faster.

Screening for soft skills

Evaluating soft skills can be challenging, but it’s crucial. Olga highlighted the ability to learn and teach as valuable soft skills — skills that can be evaluated during interviews.

“It helps us understand how they explain certain topics and how they collaborate with people with different working styles,” she noted.

Sebastian recommended using proxy questions and references to assess soft skills, and I advocated for the importance of behavioral questions here. By focusing on the behaviors that will succeed on the job, you create questions that probe the actual requirements for success..  Behavior-centered questions also help reduce bias caused by expecting everyone to exhibit common personality traits.

Identifying resilient roles in changing markets

In today’s dynamic hiring market, a select number of technical roles remain resilient and in high demand. I shared some data from Karat’s Hiring Trends Report, which identified data analysts, data engineers, and cloud engineers as the most in-demand positions in 2023. Sebastian also identified data engineers, as well as data scientists, as highly desirable. Additionally, he mentioned that the internal structures of companies around the world are also shifting, creating a new challenge for engineering executives. 

“Something that surprised me is that leaders have been relatively unspared,” he said. “The ratio of leaders to followers is changing as organizations get flatter. Leaders have to take on more personnel responsibility.”

The panel also discussed the importance of software engineering generalists. While organizations may seek out professionals for specific roles, Karat’s research also uncovered an increased demand for engineers with solid, foundational skills. Many companies want to hire generalists for their problem-solving and creative abilities and then train for specific fit.

Discussing regional differences in hiring practices

During the webinar, we also talked about different hiring practices in different countries and regions around the world. We noted that our assumptions about where to “find the best tech talent” are part of falling back on those “safe hiring strategies” because they reinforce stereotypes.

Our recent research on the top 20 cities for hiring software developers challenges traditional assumptions about where to find tech talent. In most cases, there’s qualified talent in unexpected places, including Singapore, Tokyo, Vancouver, and Toronto. Several cities throughout India, including Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Mumbai, also showcase a deep reservoir of software engineering talent.

Regardless of geographic location, Olga underscored the need to hire for each individual company’s culture fit.

Predicting the future of remote hiring and hybrid work

The webinar also focused on how hiring processes have evolved as remote and hybrid work options have become more common. Olga predicted that remote interviews will continue to be essential as office work remains remote or hybrid while Sebastian pointed out an important nuance that predicted a future that could be more ala carte. 

“It’s not mutually exclusive,” he noted. “You can decide if there are steps in an interview process that should be in person or should be virtual.”

Bringing it all together

Hiring the right candidates is a complex and evolving process that requires careful planning, a commitment to diversity and inclusion, and adaptability to changing work environments. By enhancing hiring strategies, reducing bias, and making more informed decisions, organizations can make successful, long-lasting hires. Remember, it’s not about doing more with less; it’s about doing the right things efficiently and effectively.

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