What is a junior developer? No really, it’s a serious question. We ran a workshop with CTOs recently which revealed that Juniors get a really bad rap. “Junior developers are…. needy, inexperienced, unable to work without direction, unable to make decisions…” Right?
Wrong. Given that the average junior produced by coding bootcamps is perfectly equipped to self-manage and solve problems on their own, we realised that there was some work to be done to turn this negative perception on its head and our friends at Makers Academy are doing just that. Here is their guide to hiring junior developers – why you should, what to look for and how to change your mindset to getting the most out of your entry-level staff.
Looking at why this stigma exists isn’t too hard to figure out. When you look at popular routes to becoming a software developer, most “Juniors” are fresh out of a Computer Science degree, meaning that they have zero professional experience and very little idea of how to do enquiry-based problem-solving (arguably the most useful skill in software development).
For a company hiring developers, we thought it would be useful to explain what to look for when recruiting juniors and why it’s so essential to be hiring them in the first place.
1. Why hire junior developers?
The tech community is faced with a digital skills gap; one which is particularly lacking in the field of software development. Nobody starts out as a mid or senior developer. Without a steady stream of juniors to make up the bottom rung of the pyramid, how else are we meant to build a stable ecosystem?
Not only that, but you should be encouraging your wider team to take an active part in mentoring. It broadens the skill sets of everyone in your tech team, encourages pair programming and naturally produces a more diverse approach to problem-solving. Taking people from all points in their careers is also hugely important as far as inclusivity is concerned.
Juniors are more curious and passionate about learning in general, which can bring new energy to your entire team. They are also likely to be brimming with best practice having not yet fallen into bad habits (think: TDD).
And don’t think you’ll be wasting all your time babysitting them either. If you’ve got the right sort of junior, they’ll have been trained to hit the ground running, take initiative for self-learning, and pick up most of the information they need to do the job from internet research.
Nurturing your own juniors means you get the opportunity to shape them in your own image, too. A little bit of investment early on, and they’ll learn with your business, grow with your business and be leading the team before you know it.
2. What to look for when hiring juniors
At Makers Academy, we spend a lot of time coaching businesses on their recruitment process. It’s amazing how many times we’ll see job descriptions specify for an arbitrary number of “years experience”. One, two, sometimes up to FOUR years for a junior developer role. And we just think, why?
You should be looking for reasons to say Yes, not reasons to say No.
Experience isn’t something you need to be a junior developer. You should be looking for passion, drive, willingness to learn and problem-solving ability. As such, you may need to adapt your existing recruitment to accommodate juniors.
An awareness of where your candidates come from is also crucial to getting the most out of the interview process. A list of theoretical questions probably isn’t going to bring the best out of someone who’s just completed a 12 week bootcamp.
Be really clear on what you are looking for, and be honest about whether it’s entirely necessary to be able to do the job. Otherwise you’ll accidentally filter out great candidates and waste a lot of company time and money.
Different backgrounds will also make for strikingly different candidates. Most of the engineers training with Makers Academy have already been successful in careers such as banking or law, for example. Therefore when they retrain as software developers they bring a broader, richer set of skills to the table.
The only way to find out what kind of junior you’re getting, is to ask them! The entire balance of the software development industry rests upon changing this perception. Do it before the rest of the industry cottons on, and help contribute to the digital economy of the future.