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How To Hire Developers Fast And Build Things

To have the best team of developers you must have a distributed team of developers.

It's no secret that all IT leaders are under pressure to accelerate development cycles. But how do you hire fast enough to get the projects done?

Agile development and continuous deployment are helpful from a process and tools standpoint, but they only go so far.

A recent Fortune article, "The Global Talent Crunch," proclaims that "companies that don't have up-to-date, evolving skills sets will fall behind." I'd add that they'll fall years behind.

Anyone trying to hire IT pros is aware of the potentially unrecoverable competitive disadvantage that a lack of talent creates. Job listings, particularly those for STEM jobs, remain open for months. The Brookings Institute recently reported that "science, technology, engineering and math jobs take more than twice as long to fill as other openings."

[Your entire company must be committed to Agile techniques to get any real results. Read 6 Ways To Create An Agile Company Culture]

IDC estimates there are 11 million developers in the world. If you're only interested in the top 1% of these developers, that's still a pool of 100,000 -- more than the number of full time employees at Google and Facebook combined. Yet most of us still hire within our tiny professional networks or try desperately to source the skills we need from a limited local talent pool. Meanwhile, our competition is vying for the very same candidates.

To be fair, we're stuck in this rut because the pool of talent out there beyond our personal spheres has been difficult to access. But thanks to the Internet and communication and collaboration technologies, that barrier to hiring is starting to disappear. Gone are the days when traditional outsourcing was your only option or you had to do your best with what was available nearby.

Open source communities provide a great blueprint for this much-needed reinvention. As a working model, they have always been fully distributed and, as such, have greater access to global networks of talent. Tom Preston-Werner, CEO of popular code-sharing site GitHub, often says that if you do not have a distributed team you are, by definition, not working with the most talented people.

I manage a team of 200+ engineers spread around the world. There's simply no way we could hire all the people I need just in Silicon Valley. Our distributed team allows me to overcome the local talent shortage, but I'll be the first to say there are challenges to building a team this way. The most important thing I learned from creating our own distributed team, excerpted from my ebook, Hire Fast and Build Things, are:

  1. Hire the best talent – don't just focus on cost.
  2. Communicate and collaborate often.
  3. Be persistent and expect there to be a learning curve.
  4. Create overlapping availability for your team to be online
  5. Make remote team members feel just as important as on-site engineers.
  6. Use technology for asynchronous and synchronous communication and collaboration.

What technologies do I recommend? Here’s a general list, largely informed by what our team uses:

  • Google Hangouts, Slack, and Skype chat for synchronous communication
  • Video conferencing equipment or systems (like Chromebox for Meetings, a Google appliance that makes it easy to use Google Hangouts on a TV)
  • Google Docs for collaborating on documents
  • Email, when necessary – Nobody likes email, but nobody has quite figured out how to live without it either.
  • Project/task management software (we use JIRA)
  • Screen-capture and image-sharing tools (like Jing, Snagit, or Greenshot)

Thanks to these technologies and the best practices we've established for diligent communication, we’ve grown our distributed team from two (our company's co-founders) to more than 200. Because we can hire anyone from anywhere and we're not confined to a commute radius, we have access to the best tech talent in the world.

There are amazing universities around the world that rival Stanford (apologies to my alma mater) and MIT. The students graduating from international universities often look for opportunities beyond their local job markets. The biggest barrier that companies have to hiring them right now is simply realizing that this possibility exists and making it happen.

I'm interested to hear others' experiences building and managing distributed teams, and welcome your stories in the comment section below. If you'd like to read more about my team, see my ebook, Hire Fast and Build Things.

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Stephane Kasriel is the SVP of Product and Engineering at Elance-oDesk, an online workplace for global talent. He is the author of the recently published Hire Fast & Build Things, an ebook on how to create distributed tech teams. A longtime advocate of distributed teams, ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Ninja
9/17/2014 | 9:06:09 AM
Re: How to Hire Developers Fast And Build Things
It's funny; the leaps and bounds by which technology (in this case, collaboration and communication technology) continues to grow opens up so many doors for new opportunities and completely new ways of doing things. By that same token, though, it also creates that much more room to fall behind if you don't take advantage of everything that's on the table. IT used to be an ironically rote business, as was just mentioned the other day in this article about the need for security pros to adapt and say 'yes' to the business or be left behind. I think you're right, Stephane, to suggest that that goes double for anyone involved in hiring.

It's impressive that you've built a network of that many developers (200!). How many of those are full-time? Contractors? Part of the benefit of this model is that you don't have to pay for more talent than you're using at a given time, right? Maybe this is a mixed blessing for the developers, but at least it saves them from an environment where they're bored or bogged down with menial tasks. Ultimately, I do think a shift towards this model on a large scale is possible (as you say, the benefits seem self-evident), but I don't know if big monolithic companies will bite. I guess we'll have to see how big the sting is to their bottom line and then ask them again.
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