Finding Top Talent
Strategies for recruiting good programmers.
- By Kathleen Richards
- November 01, 2007
Developer supply and demand is hard to quantify. The ebb and flow of Computer Science (CS) graduates offers some indication, but the actual workforce with skill sets that can be applied to enterprise issues is hard to document.
Companies that rely on legacy apps -- which is just about everyone -- need developers with legacy skills who can expose mainframe data or maintain existing apps. The legacy skills shortage -- COBOL, Assembler, Mainframe, PL/1 -- that is expected to accelerate as baby boomers leave the work force is hyperbole to an extent, according to Forrester Research Inc.
"Research shows roughly 2.5 people looking for each legacy job that's available. In my mind that doesn't make up a shortage," says analyst Phil Murphy, who partnered with Monster.com to track self-identified skills on posted resumes versus job openings in Q1 2007.
Keeping a Legacy Alive
The hype also focuses on the wrong issues. "These companies really aren't talking about, 'I can't find people who know how to program,'" Murphy observes. "It's lost application knowledge."
Companies need developers who understand relevant business rules and how that logic is applied in legacy applications. As veteran staffers retire or move on, this knowledge becomes critical to prevent new teams from making bad changes on top of bad changes. Application mining tools can help here, especially if you need to decipher legacy source code.
As CS degrees in the United States continue to decline and baby boomers start to retire, how do you find capable software engineers? "We tend to talk about staff globally," says Murphy. "So many C developers in the world, or COBOL, or whatever. Those folks are only viable candidates for you to employ if you're willing to relocate them. So your pool of resources stops at your relocation dollars; that's really the key point. Developers in China don't help you unless you're going to package up a piece of work and outsource it there."
Global Talent Search
Finding top coders with innate computer science talent and proven skills is challenging for all comers, including tech giants. At least, that's what Microsoft, Oracle Corp., IBM Corp. and other technology companies argued to the U.S. Senate last summer. The companies opposed immigration reform that would replace employer-sponsored H-1B visas (green cards) with a new point system for skilled, temporary workers. The bill was defeated.
[click image for larger view]
|Active Responses Versus
Q1 2007 Open Job Positions
Hiring educated, employer-sponsored developers to work temporarily -- up to six years, not including exemptions -- sparks heated debate in the dev community. Under these visa programs, many foreign developers are forced to work below scale, say skeptics, displacing qualified U.S. engineers. But the fact is: Top talent is hard to come by.
"If you could find quality developers at will in the U.S. given all the requirements, you wouldn't need to go elsewhere," says John Hitchcock, vice president of global marketing at GlobalLogic Inc. in Vienna,
Va. "But there are so many startups -- something like 600 to 700 new startups a year in the U.S. alone -- not to mention midsize to established technology companies looking for talented engineers, that the demand just outstrips the supply."
GlobalLogic is a product development company that employs about 2,000 R&D engineers in the United States, Ukraine, India and, most recently, China. The company works primarily with ISVs and recommends that clients use distributed Agile development to speed development.
"For us, it's less about countries and it's more about cities," says Hitchcock. "In India, we've elected to go to the tier-two cities to find software talent. That's worked extremely well for us because it takes away some of the pressures of competing against everybody in the bigger cities for R&D engineers, yet we still have access to a very talented pool of software developers and support people because these tier-two cities have the educational infrastructure."
The company has nearly 30 recruiters looking for J2EE and .NET developers in India, and spends money on programs to recruit and retain top engineers, according to Hitchcock. In addition to hiring recent graduates from schools such as the Indian Institutes of Technologies (IITs), GlobalLogic seeks what Hitchcock terms "ideal candidates" -- product engineers who have three to five years of experience at major software companies like Oracle.
"If you're looking for quality talent, our advice is to do that due diligence upfront," says Hitchcock. His company
uses a rigorous interview process that often includes coding or dev challenges to "really flesh out their talents." The interviewers are lead developers who know the company's business backward and forward.
Keeping your dev projects innovative can help you retain top talent, a strategy that has worked for GlobalLogic, says Hitchcock. "Why would you want to go work for a one-trick product company when we've released almost 400 products in the last 15 months with our partners? That actually resonates very well."
Kathleen Richards is the editor of RedDevNews.com and executive editor of Visual Studio Magazine.