We often speak with companies that are having trouble finding senior-level web development talent for their dev teams. Even with job postings, networking, and recruiting, it can be difficult for development managers to find the right addition to their team.
After hearing this sentiment echoed from companies in our Portland network and around the country on phone and video calls over the last year, I wondered, “What is it that hiring managers and decision-makers are looking for in Senior-Level Web Developers?”
I asked several technology leaders from a wide realm of industries across tech for their top considerations when hiring or promoting Sr Web Developers. Here are their answers.
Don Tomlinson is the CTO of Talent Plus, an assessment provider with role and industry-specific solutions as well as the developmental solutions to layer on to the outcomes of our assessments, with offices in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Singapore. They offered this response:
For tech professionals, “response to negativity” is so important. The potential for something to go wrong can be very high, especially in a larger release. How tech professionals respond to those instances is critical. They must be able to stay calm, keep the team going and create solutions.
For these individuals, my favorite question is “What does the perfect release look like? Who is involved and what is your role?” This gives me an excellent perspective on what their thought process will be through a release. Good tech professionals will also talk about the process to get to the release and the process after the release.
Cassidy Williams is a Senior Software Engineer at Codepen, a social development environment focusing on front-end languages. On the traits she looks for most in senior devs, Cassidy said:
Communication is key in a senior developer. That being said, two specific elements of communication that I look for:
- Willingness to admit when they don't know something or are wrong. If they are approached with a difficult problem that needs more research, or is out of their area of expertise, how do they respond? If they've done something incorrectly, do they get defensive, or do they try to learn from it?
- The ability to teach and mentor others. There's no use in having a senior developer on your team if they can't explain to those less senior how they approach ideas and issues, because eventually, that will just hold the whole team hostage to their continuing to do work. No company wants that!
Jenna Erickson is the Marketing Manager at Codal, a development and design agency based out of Chicago.
When Codal is looking for senior developers, we look for individuals that want a challenge, and those who think about the end-user. When a developer wants challenging projects, they want to learn. We are always looking for people that are open to learning new technologies, and that have the mindset of “anything is possible.”
While it is typically a UX designers job to think about the end-user, solving a problem for the end-user should be a large focus of the project for until the very end, even for the senior developer. We also look for people that have stellar communication and time-management skills. Time management is so important because, without this skill, projects can become delayed which can lead to unhappy clients. A senior developer is also in the position to potentially be promoted to a team lead, which means time-management and communication are crucial.
Cristian Rennella is the CTO & CoFounder of oMelhorTrato.com. His team has 9 years of experience in South America, currently operating with 134 employees (51 software developers) and more than 21 million users internationally. He answered:
What traits do we look for in Sr. Web Developers?: Communication.
After 9 years of hard work going from 0 employees to more than 50 developers, I can assure you that the BEST skill you can have for a job in the world of technology as a Senior Web Developer is to be able to communicate in a clear and concise manner.
Nowadays, the vast majority of conversations are carried out in writing: emails, instant messages, applications for project management, etc. The better your skill is to transmit your thoughts, opinions, and comments more accurately, the better your chances of growing in your work position or even get hired.
Today we interview more than 10 Sr. Software Developers per day and the most important reason why we hire or not is depending on whether they can, for example, explain in writing a difficult concept in a short, clear and understandable way. That is our most important filter, your ability to communicate.
Koes Bong is an Engineering Manager at CareMessage, a web platform for healthcare management and interactive mobile programs. The traits most important in Senior Developers from their perspective are:
A senior engineer should have a broad range of focus in areas beyond code development. And while each of these areas are important, some should be emphasized more than others depending on your team's needs - do you want someone senior to:
1. Make product decisions, have more control over product direction?
2. Make architectural decisions, decide which technologies/standards to incorporate into the code bases?
3. Mentor team members, help others do better?
No matter which emphasis you look for from a Senior Engineer, though, the important traits you should be looking for from them are curiosity, empathy, and humility - as those are what you need to have as a good leader and as a person.
Sudhir Jonathan is an Architect and Team Lead at Qube Cinema, an Indian company that builds cinema-adjacent technology.
A T-shaped knowledge graph - deep knowledge in the core areas of development that they will be working on, and shallow exposure a wide variety of tools and techniques as alternatives and complements to what they'll work on.
Deep here would mean the ability to answer almost any question anyone on the team has about that particular stack, or any question that might come up on a site like StackOverflow on that topic.
Shallow exposure here would mean the ability to write at least a hello world program in a variety of ways, using different frameworks and libraries.
Bonus points for good written and verbal communication skills, the ability to articulate ideas clearly and simply, good writing skills and an attitude of respect towards people who don't know as much as they do.
Kristopher Kettner is a Product Manager at Phase 2, a custom software provider. Kristopher also leads up the hiring, interviews, and evaluation of new technical team members.
When we’re evaluating individuals for a Senior Software Engineering role, we not only focus on technical ability but also the passion for providing a team with technical leadership.
This means providing guidance and advocating for development standards in all parts of the product from platform architecture to testing. A Senior Engineer should also check their ego at the door and be comfortable in accepting criticism as well as voicing their perspective and respectfully challenging solutions proposed to them by a stakeholder or Product Owner.
Years of service don’t make a Senior Engineer, talent, passion, and personality do.
Richard Simms is the CEO of Tyrannosaurus Tech, an Atlanta-based custom software agency. Richard's top considerations include:
Do they code in their free time? Generally, great developers love and take price in their craft. Therefore, they spend time learning new technologies they're excited about, they have their own projects they work on outside of work, they contribute to open source projects, etc. So, the question is...is the passion there? Great developers embrace that being great is about continuing to learn throughout your career.
Can they solve problems on a whiteboard - In order to better see how a developer thinks and approaches problems, it is good to get them away from the keyboard and out of their comfort zone. Asking them to solve problems, talk you through it, and write it on the whiteboard can tell you a ton.
Are they engaged in the tech community - this, of course, doesn't necessarily make them a great developer, but it is an important trait we look for. Again, are they passionate about their craft? Do they attend meetups and conferences in hopes of learning more and meeting other interesting developers they can learn from? To us, this also indicates leadership potential. As they grow, can they mentor other developers? Is that something they're interested in?
Sean Si is the CEO and Founder of SEO Hacker, Qeryz, Sigil, and Workplays. Here’s what he looks for in Senior-level Web Developers.
Communication Skills - Great communication skills is a trait useful for multiple professions, not just web development. However, this is the one trait that I always look for in developers we hire because developers that have great communication skills can easily diagnose, understand, break down, and come up with solutions in a process they’re comfortable with.
Communication skills are not only about speaking skills, but this also has a lot to do with a developer’s critical thinking because if they can understand a concept clearly, define the terms involved, think of a solution that would work, and then ask the right questions, then they can properly do their job.
If the senior developer is also up for a leadership role, being able to effectively communicate what you need the people under you to do is one of the most important aspects in a Web Development team. Without properly conveying your ideas, tasks, etc. to your junior developers, it won’t lead to a more productive and innovative team.
Rob Reagan is the Chief Technology Officer at Text Request, an online-based text message system for small businesses. On hiring developers, Rob said:
There's no single trait that is sufficient for us to make a "Yes" decision on hiring a senior developer. Without the following three traits, a hire can turn out to be a bust. We look for:
Aptitude. There's a huge variation in output and code quality between the top 10% of developers and the bottom 90%. It's worth paying a premium to get the best. We'll even hire great developers who do not know our tech stack and spend two to three months for them to come up to speed on our tools and languages. It's worth it in the long run to hire smart and creative people.
Passion for the work. We're looking for people who are passionate about writing software. Those who are passionate stay current on the latest technology and take pride in their work. Being a developer day in and day out is hard. Passion sustains developers in the long run.
Plays nicely with others. We're looking for team players who are respectful of others and aren't constantly trying to prove that they're the smartest person in the room. We have a collegial atmosphere where everyone respects others' opinions and collaborate to find the best possible solution, regardless of who originates an idea. We'll pass on developers who meet our other two criteria but act like jerks. No single developer hire is worth negatively impacting the culture we've worked to create.
Alex Laing is the CTO at LeaseFetcher, a UK-based car leas comparison engine for consumers. Alex replied:
Without a doubt, the best trait for developers is a love of learning. While all professions are evolving and developing, the web development sector does so an order of magnitude faster than most. Think of it this way. An accountant can use the skills he or she learned ten years ago but I can’t.
If you want to move into a senior development role, you need to be at the leading edge of your craft — and you need to stay there. That means embarking on a path of continual learning — new technologies, new languages, new approaches, new systems and so on and so on.
Do you hire, interview, or promote Senior Web Developers? I'd love to hear your top considerations for these roles. It's been enlightening to learn that soft skills are nearly always close to the top of the list. This is echoed in our hiring process as well. We look for new team members who identify with our core values, and while skill is of course important for being successful at any job, there are other things we value just as much.