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 / The Morrow guide to hiring and retaining brilliant developers

The Morrow guide to hiring and retaining brilliant developers

Tom Riglar

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Thu Nov 18 2021 - 5 min read

Putting together the ideal developer team is hard work. Building and maintaining an app takes a huge amount of talent and expertise from all corners of the tech world, not to mention the right creative flair to solve problems others can’t. And of course, you don’t just want a good team of developers, you want the very best to help your app soar.

But outstanding developers don’t grow on trees, so how do you go about finding the talent you need? And once you’ve found the right people, how do you make sure your tech team is somewhere they want to stay long term?

We’ve been growing our own team over the last year so these are all questions we’ve been asking ourselves. Here’s what we’ve learned from our own growth journey.

Hire for potential

Given the technical capabilities your new team will need to build and maintain an app, you should be taking a hard look at the technical experience on their CVs, right?

Well, not necessarily. If you can find people who have the exact collection of skills you need then that’s great. But the reality is that’s going to be pretty rare. There’s a problem with talent shortage in this sector, and the tech world is so vast that you’ll have to look beyond the few individuals who match your tech stack and libraries to the letter.

That’s why whenever we’re looking to expand the Morrow team we look for a developer’s potential, not necessarily what they can do now.

It’s partly for this reason that we don’t use recruiters, instead we keep a close eye on developer communities. We look for people who are asking the right questions, and who are seeking to expand their skill set. We also look for those who are engaged enough to form opinions about how coding should be - and will stand up for their ideas.

New skills are relatively easy to pick up, but attitude tends to be the one thing you can’t change. When it comes to putting together a development team, discipline, enthusiasm and a willingness to learn and be challenged are the best building blocks you could hope for.

It’s definitely a long game approach. But with the right attitudes in place you can build a team that will always adapt to have the right expertise for whatever comes your way, not just the tools you need at this immediate point in time.

Make the job work for them

When it comes to keeping your talent on board, the best thing you can do is ask not what your developers can do for you, but ask what you can do for your developers.

OK, maybe that’s a grand way of putting it. But the point is that work environment and culture matters, and while that’s true in every sector it’s especially powerful in the tech world. And when talent is so short, you want to be doing everything you can to make your team the only one they’ll consider.

You’re not trying to build a factory assembly line. You’re looking for those moments of brilliance and inspiration that allow great developers to break through problems - and maximising those takes the right conditions.

It sounds obvious, but the key is listening to what your developers need and working with them to set that up. Are they a night owl or an early riser, do they work best from home or need the collaborative buzz of an office space? And what about their family life? That should always come first, so how can you help them to balance their work with picking up their kids from school or caring for a relative?

We try to practice what we preach. One of our developers starts at 6am and another starts at midday. Some of the team take time out in the middle of the day to go to the gym or for a walk, making up for the hours spent behind a computer screen.

There’s a big overwork problem in development. So for us, it’s often about trying to get people to work less rather than work more. You want to create an environment where developers can push themselves when they want to, and take the foot off the gas when they need to. Remember that developers will get their best ideas in three seconds, not three hours, and you want to keep that creativity alive.

Give them challenges and variety

There’s one other thing that every great developer team needs to operate at its best, and that’s motivation.

We don’t just mean they need to be building something they believe in, but also that your journey together is going to offer them the challenges and training they’re looking for. Developers are curious people by nature, and they thrive on being able to test their abilities and grow.

That can be a tricky thing for in-house teams to keep momentum with. There isn’t much better motivation for a developer than building an app from scratch, but how do you keep them excited and challenged once it’s on the app store and they switch to day-to-day maintenance?

We look to create opportunities for cross-pollination of ideas and variety as much as we can. This might mean looking beyond what needs to be done, giving developers the space to play with possibilities - which may later turn into killer features. It may feel tangential, but if you can keep developers ‘in the zone’, they’ll keep doing their best work for you.

All that cross-pollination also means we’ve got a great support network in place for the whole team. Senior engineers are on hand for when things escalate and to coach new developers through any sticky problems.

It costs a lot of senior developer time to set up a coaching network like this, so it’s much more of an investment than a training course. But the self-actualisation developers get from the peer support and culture of empowerment is so much greater.

Without enough freedom and enough challenge, salary alone isn’t going to cut it. That was why we started Morrow in the first place - we wanted to build a developer’s dream work environment, even if our salaries took a hit to do it. As a result, we have a team who inspire each other with their ideas, support and coaching - and our clients now tap into our ecosystem with their own questions, too.

Of course, setting up an in-house team this way takes a lot of time, patience and resources, and that’s not something every company can commit to. But partnering with an agency like Morrow means you’ll have access to a team that has the right system and culture in place already.

To see how Morrow’s expert team can help you get your app to market, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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