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Featured Post: Hiring the Modern Programmer

This article first appeared in Entrepreneur.com written by PSL's Laura Navarro. 

With our ever-increasing technological dependence, modern society has placed a major premium on STEM careers and other technical backgrounds. This has rung especially true amidst the current talent shortage of programmers, data scientists and engineers.

However, in focusing on developing software -- along with the technical skills it requires -- many companies, recruiters, and tech organizations in general, have failed to recognize the lingering importance of soft skills. As it turns out, according to research from Google whose hiring philosophy long favored individuals with technical backgrounds, STEM expertise is actually the least important indicator of employee success.

Unfortunately, with their eyes glued to the screen, many developers have either neglected or missed the opportunity to build this more "human" side of their skill sets. It hasn't helped that educational institutions and companies haven't provided the necessary training or support to build them, either. But given a number of current trends in software development, companies should look to hire programmers who focus on developing not just software, but their soft skills, too. Here's why:

Nearshoring calls for 'close' communication

Companies have long outsourced certain business processes as an effective cost-saving strategy, particularly for technical or resource intensive jobs like software development. However, whereas in the past companies would offshore this work to distant countries like India, more and more are starting to find outsourcing partners that are closer to home.

This trend, dubbed "nearshoring," isn't anything new -- but in recent years, it's been gaining steam like never before. And according to a recent report from ISG, the future of nearshoring looks stronger than ever. Organizations in the United States have begun to realize the advantages of working with Latin American partners, including access to high-quality talent at a fraction of the cost and working in a similar time zone. European companies have also found skilled partners in places like Poland, Ukraine and Romania.

But with nearshoring bringing together different languages and cultures, the need for developers to communicate effectively is increasingly urgent. As a Colombian software development firm, for example, we have experienced first-hand the challenges of cross-cultural communication. And it's not just in working with our partners in the United States; we've also seen it on our developer teams, which consist of people from all over the world.

Nevertheless, nearshoring can pay huge dividends if companies are sure to hire or partner with software developers who have strong communication skills. Developers who excel in empathy, listening and receiving feedback are far better at communicating with both each other and their clients to meet their needs. From what we've seen, the best developers are the ones who ask a lot of questions, and never make assumptions about the project. These individuals not only have a clearer understanding of what needs to be done, but also stay more motivated to achieve it.

DevOps requires teamwork to succeed

Communication is important for a number of reasons beyond the nearshoring trend, though. In fact, I'd say that communication is actually the mother of all soft skills. Consider, for example, how one's ability to communicate effectively is directly tied to her ability to work effectively in teams. Teamwork, after all, is a second critical soft skill for modern developers.

Over recent years, the DevOps model of software development has emerged, whereby development and operations teams work side by side to speed up the iteration and improvement of software products. And according to a recent State of DevOps report, the practice is gaining popularity fast; the survey of IT professionals, developers and executives found that 27 percent of respondents worked on a DevOps team in 2017, up from only 16 percent in 2014.

As such, modern developers need to be team players now more than ever. Under DevOps, they must be able to understand the entire software development lifecycle, and collaborate with operations teams to carry out the project together. Moreover, they must operate in unison with other developers responsible for different parts of the process, and work with each other to resolve issues rather than placing blame. In the end, developers who demonstrate this level of teamwork can help businesses develop and release better software, faster.

Security concerns amplify the need for integrity

In terms of better software, companies have a major incentive to invest in security by hiring developers who make this a priority. Last year's Equifax data breach which exposed 143 million Americans is a case in point; the breach is on track to be the costliest in corporate history, with some estimates putting the total cost around $600 million. Moreover, with the recent Facebook scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, as well as GDPR, companies that don't take proper precautions to secure user data run the risk of ending up in a similarly precarious position.

Today's security concerns therefore amplify the need for those responsible for building new technologies to have a high sense of integrity, and communicate transparently when they detect a risk in the code. Developers have the ability to identify potential risks, and should be expected to share them with someone who can take action and do something about it.

But security really begins in the design process before the software is even built. This is especially important considering that modern developers rely heavily on a number of open source software components, of which one in 18 has a known security vulnerability. Ultimately, because the security of a software rests in the hands of its creators, companies should take extra precaution to ensure they trust the integrity of their developers.

Talent shortage necessitates mutual patience

While organizations must be more selective in who they hire to develop their software, they also face the challenge of hiring amidst the largest talent shortage of the last decade, when developers are in highest demand.

Consequently, it's up to team leaders to help developers build their soft and tech skills, as well as foster a more collaborative work environment in which developers feel they can grow, learn and be comfortable. Companies must promote knowledge transfer spaces where developers can share their perspectives and learn from others, while ensuring that others have access to the latest industry trends and languages as well.

As close communication and teamwork have become fundamental elements of modern software development, technical and non-technical employees must be able to express each other's needs clearly. This, however, requires a great deal of patience from both parties, as technical jargon can sometimes overwhelm non-technical employees, and non-technical employees may struggle to express client expectations in adequate technical detail for developers.

Accordingly, companies should look for developers who demonstrate patience when working with those from less technical backgrounds. This goes hand in hand with vulnerability, in the sense that developers should feel comfortable asking for clarification about project details or guidance when they don't know exactly how something needs to be built. In our organization, we have found that drawing images on a whiteboard can be particularly helpful in getting everyone on the same page without translating from technical to non-technical language.

As our society continues to progress, there is no doubt that technical skills will remain critical to any organization's success. However, the current state of software development requires far more than technical prowess; developers today and in the future will need to excel in patience, integrity, teamwork and, most importantly, communication to succeed. Thus, companies should be sure to judge their developers not just on their hard skills, but on their soft skills, too.

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Saturday, 18 August 2018

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