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How do you hire the right developers - and make them stay?

This blog post is part of our Essential Guide: Guide: How to hire software developers

The creative side of software development attracted Shalom Keynan to the profession. Now director of application development for Boston Heart Diagnostics, he is still fired up about improving patient care through software creation. To keep the ideas and projects flowing, however, he faces the challenge of hiring and training developers to handle mobile, cloud, microservices and other new technologies.

“Every morning, I feel very excited to get to work because I know I will discover new ways to build better software,” Keynan said. “That’s what motivates me, and I think my excitement and openness to new ideas motivate my development team.”

A day in Keynan’s work life largely consists of engagements with application development team members, who aren’t just developers. The team includes marketing, clinical researchers, scientists, developers, software QA and, most importantly, users of the applications in a project.

While Keynan uses some outside consultants for design work, most development is done internally. The team builds and manages a wide range of health care applications, such as apps that generate personalized reports for specific physicians and patients and physician and patient web portals.

Over the past decade, he and his team have had to increase their mobile development skills to meet the demand for smartphone, tablet and custom mobile device applications. Getting into mobile started a domino effect. “Creating applications for mobile has taken us deeper into the cloud and recently into building microservices,” said Keynan. In most cases, he’s worked on training his existing team on the skilss needed for these new technologies.

Skills shortage? What to do?

When recruiting developers, Keynan has not seen a shortage of developers, but too few developers with the skills he needs. In some cases, he’s taken another approach to hiring. “I looked for the qualities we need in a developer, instead,” he said. These qualities include the following:

• Can the developer learn quickly?
• Does her resume show initiative and motivation?
• Does he engage in conversation and sharing ideas easily?

If these qualities are present, a lack of specific advanced skills may not matter. “If you ask me to choose between the developer who knows everything and a developer who learns quickly, I would choose the second one,” he said. “Technologies evolve quickly, and that’s why that quality is so important.”

Advice for job seekers

Keynan advises job-hunting developers to cultivate an understanding of how to relate business objectives and user needs to app requirements. Understand the business needs. Listen carefully and understand who the consumer is. To deliver what is needed, an insightful approach is as important as technology knowledge.

In too many projects, Keynan said, the user sees the end result and says: “You built what we told you to, but that’s not what we wanted.”

Retaining developers

When it comes to retaining employees, Kenyan thinks managers should empower them by sharing responsibilities. “No manager can master everything,” he said. Work in tandem with other developers, not in a separated, top-down way. Also, make sure that team members share their knowledge with each other. “Being exposed to others’ techniques makes people excited about work.” Keep in mind that boredom and developer turnover go hand-in-hand.

Most importantly, Kenyan said, team managers can retain developers by showing them how their work makes a difference in people’s lives. “That feeling that I’m helping people is what gets me to work each morning,” he said. “It’s an important motivator.”

What techniques do you employ to keep developers motivated and on board? Let us know with your comments.

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