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January 18, 2022 · 5 min read

Dealing with the talent shortage

Managers in the modern workforce must now be equipped to contend with an infamous challenge known as the Great Resignation. Dealing with the talent shortage is no new occurrence–preceding generations of managers just hadn’t come up with a hip name for them until now. In fact, there has been a shortage of technical talent–specifically, developers–for as long as I can remember. The effects of this talent shortage have served to protect developer salaries, even despite the 2009 downturn. While many industry professionals suffered losses during these not-so-great resignations, developers of all stripes were able to navigate through the shortages largely unscathed. 

Developer managers have been dealing with a talent shortage for a long time, and one truth remains–the hiring tactics that have worked in the past no longer prove to be efficacious. Luxury limousine rides to interviews, foosball tables, and on-site laundry service may have been enough to persuade candidates years ago, but in today’s climate, incentives such as these are looked upon with skepticism. 

The solution to today’s talent shortage is an idea that many managers are apprehensive to commit to, but the ones who have embraced it are already reaping its benefits. Are you wondering what idea I’m referring to? I’m talking about the concept of growing your own talent pipeline. 

There are a couple of ways one may go about doing this.

The Great Education

A manager may begin investing in his or her own pipeline by collaborating with a local developer training bootcamp. It may be a challenge to find one that trains developers in your exact tech stack, but if you can find one that effectively teaches concepts and foundational skills, a bootcamp may lay the groundwork for incoming talent that will ultimately make the isolated training process much more efficient.

Diamonds in the rough

Be on the lookout for applicants that don’t thoroughly qualify on paper, but may have ambitions and attributes that make them valuable assets to your company. “Diamonds in the rough” is the term I use to refer to these individuals. Throughout my career as a developer manager, I’ve encountered this situation several times–and I’ve often opted to take chances on these less experienced candidates.At least one of these unpolished gems started on one of my teams, contributed greatly for a few years while developing their skills, and eventually became a CTO at another company. This quality of talent isn’t always easily obtained, but it is possible with diligence, patience, and a little bit of faith. Many times, the reward proves greater than the risk.

The Great Apprehension

Both of these strategies require a considerable amount of energy. It isn’t an automatic process.  Managers who commit to the growth of a personal talent pipeline must weed through a lot of chaff before finding the grains of wheat. Upon the possible discovery of new talent, a manager is then required to invest ample time, effort, and other resources in the training process. The overarching fear is that on the receiving end of this extensive output, freshly trained developers will move on, leaving their exhausted mentor sitting on shells, watching their precious golden grains float away on a gust of wind…after all that weeding.  

I just finished up a two-year contract at a company that had developers who were celebrating their twentieth-year anniversaries. Frankly, if you’re afraid that developers will float off to other pastures, you’ve got other problems that a pipeline of fresh tech talent won’t solve. Be sure that you’re tending to the garden that you already have.

The payoff that keeps on paying off

What’s the payoff for taking these risks? The reward is a pipeline of new talent that keeps on giving: a recruiting tool for more senior developers. A company that provides jobs with a good salary, interesting challenges, and ample opportunity for growth is much more likely to retain its talent than one that does not. 

If you’re able to hold on to your developers, you won’t need to worry about training new ones. On the other hand, when you train new developers regularly, they become your senior developers in time, who are then rewarded with the opportunity to assist in training new developers. In turn, this contributes to their own professional development and personal sense of productivity.

Start with one (wo)man…and a plan 

If you have one senior developer, you’ve already got most of what you need to get started. 

Arrange an organized plan. Engage in open communication with your team. Trust your developers. They are experts, and they know what needs to be done. After you formulate a plan, begin your search for a new candidate.

Don’t be discouraged if your first choice doesn’t work out. I’ve witnessed companies attempt this strategy, hiring two to three junior developers before one of them was the right fit.  In almost every case, the unsuitable developers made the decision to leave the company on their own. That’s not a failure on either party; that is the way it should work.

The Great Collaboration

Get your team involved in the selection process. Involving your team in the hiring process will allow each individual to feel a sense of ownership about his or her role. While you will want to assign a senior developer to be the new junior developer’s mentor, you will also need to promote a culture that engages the entire team in offering their support. The responsibility should never be entirely assigned to one individual. 

Building a talent pipeline will enrich your company by allowing you to train developers to possess the exact skills and habits that are beneficial to your unique establishment, and even if those developers decide to take those skills and put them to use elsewhere–well, congratulations! You’ve done your part dealing with the talent shortage for the industry as a whole. If they stay and become your next senior developers, congratulations! You won this round of team building. Don’t sit on your laurels for too long. Since you now know what success looks like, repeat the process as often as possible. Your other option is to become the old joke:

CEO: What happens if we train our employees, and they leave us?

CTO: What if we don’t train them, and they stay?

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