Hiring developers is a nightmare: here’s the strategy we use

Sam Coley
Co-founder & CTO
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Put any two tech leaders in a room and inevitably the conversation will turn to the nightmare of hiring developers. It’s probably one of the greatest challenges you’ll face when growing a startup and getting it wrong could send your company to an early grave.

It was the 1 January and Steve (my co-founder) and I were sitting in our new but very empty office watching TickX being aired to three million people on BBC Dragons’ Den.

This was the culmination of an incredible 2016 in which we’d turned an idea of creating a search engine and comparison site for events into a reality, gained initial traction, turned down offers from three Dragons and then gone on to raise £750,000 from other investors.

Once the initial pandemonium which follows being on Dragons’ Den had calmed down, we set about trying to fill the empty desks with the best tech talent as quickly as we could.

Fundamentally, there are just not enough developers to fill the ever-growing number of positions at the ever-growing number of tech companies. With the market this competitive, salaries are rocketing and finding great talent is hugely challenging.

What follows is the recruitment strategy we’ve developed at TickX over the past six months to deal with the problem

We should sell ourselves as much as they are

In the first interview, I’ll spend about half the time selling our vision for TickX’s, the company’s history, recent achievements, and our current team and investors. The reality is great developers will either have multiple offers on the table or you’ll be trying to poach them from another company, so getting your sales pitch right is critical.

A list developers stuck in corporate hell are our prey and we intend to steal them, you should too.

Take time to answer any questions they have, so they fully understand the role and company. You’ll need them to be 100% bought into your startup so, when the choice comes they turn down the over-paying corporate.

Let’s play to our strengths

One of the great advantages TickX has is we’re building a product around something people love, events. It’s hard to find a developer who doesn’t like gigs, sport, comedy or theatre so we consciously play on this in our pitch to them.

After all, which would you rather say to your family and friends “I’m helping build a website which helps you save money on your next Ed Sheeran tickets” or “I’m building a Sage accounting plugin for an enterprise SAAS company”.

Smart doesn’t always mean they have BSc after their name

It never ceases to amaze me when companies turn away developers because they don’t have a degree. At a guess, as I honestly don’t care, TickX’s tech team is probably a 50:50 split between those with and without a degree. When looking at CVs we look at their experience, it will tell you a lot more than three letters will.

Remember that most developers are awful sales people

One of the best things about interviewing developers is they are generally pretty awful sales people. You’ll get truthful answers to questions, but you need to be prepared to help some people sell themselves and look beyond their sales ability. Do this well and you’ll find gems which other companies completely missed.

It never ceases to amaze me when companies turn away developers because they don’t have a degree.

If they seem to be very good at selling themselves we treat this is a warning flag and examine their true ability more thoroughly (AKA we’ve been burned by this).

Be honest about the negatives

Something I always say in first-stage interviews is that they could earn more money working for a big well-established company (read boring corporate). This might seem counter intuitive when trying to convince someone to join your startup, but it’s the truth so why shy away from it.

This honesty will gain you trust, so when you go on to say the benefits of being part of an exciting company, the huge career opportunities, the fun culture, etc... they believe you.

You will lose some people here, but that’s fine, the startup life isn’t for everyone. One of our developers turned down an offer £8,000 more than ours, so it’s worth remembering that for most developers it’s not all about the money.

Company culture isn’t just a ping pong table

One of the things I’m proudest of is the team culture we’ve managed to create at TickX. But with almost every job advert having a list of everything from free fruit to the cliched office slide to sell the fact you should work for them, how do you compete?

If they seem to be very good at selling themselves we treat this is a warning flag and examine their true ability more thoroughly.

Firstly, we do actually do some of this, namely: free fruit, soft drinks, pick ‘n’ mix, flexible working, Friday beers, monthly team activities and a basketball hoop (best £15 I’ve ever spent).

Culture, though, isn’t the free stuff you have and but the working environment you create, most companies get this wrong, so it’s a massive hiring benefit when you nail it. We talk about this a lot when interviewing and being the right ‘culture fit’ is a key test for all potential team members.

You’re hiring great people, so throw them in the deep end

The onboarding process at TickX is pretty simple: day one you set up your pc and start exploring the codebase; and day two, get building something real to progress TickX.

We talk about this during our hiring process and you’ll find great developers are strongly attracted to getting the responsibility to develop things with real impact straight away. A list developers stuck in corporate hell are our prey and we intend to steal them, you should too.

About Sam Coley

About Sam Coley

Business and tech-obsessed 24-year-old focused on growing the search engine and comparison site for events, TickX. Used by over half a million event goers, backed Ministry of Sound + 24 Haymarket and featured on BBC Dragons' Den. 

Starting my first online business at 14 and software development company SAMTEQ at 16, I believe strongly in encouraging entrepreneurship and programming skills in young people. I'm an experienced full stack developer with high levels of knowledge in App Development, HTML, PHP, MySQL & JavaScript, passionate about creating great user-focused software.


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