Hiring a lead developer for your startup is a “make-it-or-break-it-moment.” This is the person whose creative vision and technical know-how will determine the success of your product. This is the leader who will guide the engineers you hire down the line, accessing each of their strengths to maximize potential for innovation. And this is the person who will determine, through ability and ambition, whether your product is a standout or just another bit of noise in a tech scene full of loud voices.
But you probably already know that. You’re probably wondering how you’ll ever find the right person to serve as your startup’s lead developer, when the person who excels in interviews and jumps out on paper may not necessarily live up to your expectations.
Those are some valid concerns, and we understand why you’re holding off from doling out the offer. We’re here to provide you with important tips for hiring your top technical talent, to make sure you hire the right visionary to lead your brilliant idea to technical perfection.
Look Where They Hang Out,
If you were looking for great athletic talent, you would go to a batting cage, a gymnasium or a track. If you want to meet a brilliant developer, check out a local meeting for programmers.
Flatiron School founder Avi Flombaum recommends checking out Meetup.
“You find the right types of people from going to meetups, where those people might be hanging out,” he says. “Programming meetups are great for finding the people with the right experience.”
Avoid Quiet Geeks,
While you should never underestimate a true geek’s creativity, you want your lead developer to be a leader. Someone who’s not a great communicator really should not be considered.
“We look for the ability to speak to humans,” Thrillist CTO Mark O’Neill told Mashable.”Can you communicate well with non-geeks?”
Flombaum agrees, emphasizing the potential of developers who teach and write. You should think of the people who you’ve heard speak about programming and whose writing has inspired you.
“I think teachers, people who are teaching courses on Skillshare, make great mentors and leaders,” Flombaum says. “I like to look for people who can articulate their thoughts in writing. You should think, ‘Whose blog do I like reading?'”
Seek Technical Experience and Expertise,
Though it should seem like a no-brainer, all of the hiring experts we spoke with emphasized the need for dazzling technical credentials.
“The first thing we look for are top-notch technical skills backed by the right experience,” KonyCEO Raj Koneru says. “At Kony we put special emphasis on solid leadership skills, because in order for us to scale effectively, the lead has to motivate their developers to go well over and beyond the regular call of duty. In true developer fashion, leads will only be respected if they prove that they’re technical experts.”
Birchbox CTO Liz Crawford echoed the need for technical expertise. “Our ideal candidates are committed to delivering the best possible customer experience, value software engineering practices and never forget about scalability and reusability when designing code.”
However, according to O’Neill, tech know-how doesn’t guarantee an understanding of the Internet.
“We ask, do they understand the web?” he says. “We’ve seen great technical talent have a hard time adjusting if they’ve never worked on the web before.”
Look Beyond the Usual Suspects,
The right lead developer for your startup may not be someone who’s currently seeking a job, so look beyond job boards and applications submitted.
“The right developer might not know they’re in the market for another job,” Flombaum says. “There are a lot of great programming newsletters that feature sponsored positions, and they’re read by developers who aren’t looking for jobs.”
In addition to going to Meetups where great developers mingle with other great developers, you should make sure your listing is seen by engineers happily employed or working on a project.
Ensure a Cultural Fit,
Working in a startup, there’s not room for a bunch of giant egos butting heads. There also isn’t room for people not willing to be scrappy and pick up additional tasks that are beyond the agreed-upon job description.
“We look for non-divas,” O’Neill says. “Yes, they are smart, but we need leaders who are also grounded.”
Crawford agree, noting that Birchbox seeks out engineers who “love to learn and are team players.”