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Hiring Tips & Insights: A CTO’s strategies to make critical developer hires under pressure
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A CTO’s strategies to make critical developer hires under pressure

15 November 2023, by Marcelle van Niekerk

A flood of new developers have entered the tech market over the past three years. However, hiring quality developers remains a challenge. This is especially true in South Africa, where local developers are in high demand internationally.

It’s essential that your business is able to fill open developer roles quickly and with the best candidate for the job. But how do you do that in practice?

Ruberto Paulo, Head of Engineering at Peach Payments joined Karin Bothma, Senior Software Engineering Manager at OfferZen, in the most recent instalment of our CTO Playbook webinar series to discuss strategies for making critical developer hires under pressure.

Bonus: Get the full guide on how to cut hiring time — backed by proprietary data on what devs want from your hiring process, and insights from CTOs.

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5 current challenges in the tech hiring market

Before you can outshine your competition, it’s important to understand the current challenges facing companies in the current tech landscape. Ruberto outlined five obstacles South Africa tech companies must be prepared to overcome.

The experience differential

The 2021 tech boom and the rise of remote work drove many people to shift gears and start careers in software development.

“We’re seeing a bigger cohort of engineers between zero and four years’ experience,” said Ruberto. “So we’re seeing a lot of more fresh faces in the industry, but a huge demand for senior engineers.”

In response to high demand for seniors, some companies started looking at hiring less experienced developers to fill open roles quickly. Hiring less experienced developers allows you to bring more people on board initially. However, it can put greater demands on your business further down the line.

One of the biggest of these is increased salary demands as junior and intermediate developers gain more experience.

More specialists, fewer generalists

Full stack developers remain in demand. But the increasing depth and complexity of programming languages means that developers are now more focused on specialising in front-end or back-end development.

“People are now really specialising in those spaces, which is a very interesting change,” noted Ruberto. “So, when you’re looking for an engineer that can do it all, that’s becoming quite hard.”

Compensation expectations

OfferZen’s 2023 South Africa Report: State of the Developer Nation shows that the average developer salary in South Africa in 2023 has seen salary increases across the seniority spectrum, although inflation affects real growth.

The rising cost of living and competition from global big tech companies mean that South African companies are under pressure to offer developers higher salaries. This also impacts how successfully companies can retain developers as their top reason for leaving a role in in 2023 is to get a better salary.

The cost of hiring

In addition to recruitment fees, there’s a big time investment when hiring new developers.

“We tried to do the maths and for a senior backend engineer, I think it was close to R900 000 to replace them. We’re looking at recruitment fees and we’re looking at the hours of all the engineers that would be taken by interviews,” explained Ruberto.

“Then there are other departments involved and, when the new developer arrives, there’s the three months of onboarding. So it works out to be a lot.”

Demand remains high

The cooling global economy has definitely had an impact on the tech industry, but the local market remains relatively hot.

Many international businesses are recognising the benefits of hiring South African developers. Our programmers are in high demand due to their world-class skills and the excellent value for money they bring.

This ultimately means that your hiring timeline needs to be tight. A drawn-out process can mean that you miss out on top talent.

4 strategies to make the right hire with limited time

Overcoming these challenges can be tough but not impossible. Ruberto offered four strategies that Peach Payments has used to successfully scale its teams and hire quality developers.

Create a structured but flexible interview process

While you need to have a process for interviewing developers, it’s important to be adaptable.

“We like to have unique pathways for different engineers. Some components of our recruitment process are quite generic, like the screening call and sales pitch for the organisation. But immediately after that, it can look vastly different depending on the role,” explained Ruberto.

It’s best to work with your current team to map this process out. Having structures in place, like scoring matrices or examples of the types of responses you’re looking for from interviewees is also useful here.

Ruberto’s top tips:

  • Use structured interview formats with configurable components and clear guidelines.
  • Be accommodating with interview formats and durations, and adjust these based on candidates’ individual needs.
  • Offer candidates the freedom to schedule interviews based on their convenience.

Capitalise on your existing employees’ networks

When you hire a developer, you’re not just hiring them. You’re hiring their network, too.

Recruiting programmers who are well connected in the industry gives you the opportunity to tap into a broader knowledge base. Plus, you can encourage referrals to save time – and money – on future hires.

“Having a strong developer network lets you bring people in and get input and advice from other people. You get a much more amplified level of experience coming with that person who has a strong network,” said Ruberto.

“Then, later on, you get to the point where you can establish a good referral programme. That would be something like giving people bonuses for sending in folks who fit the profile of what we’re looking for.”

Make your offer about more than money

While salary is important, it’s not the only factor that matters. Developers consistently look for benefits like flexible hours, remote work as well as medical aid and pension fund contributions.

The trick here, according to Ruberto, is to be proactive. Understand what the people you want to hire are looking for and build your compensation packages around this.

“Career development, advancements within the company, meaningful work, total compensation, unsustainable work expectations, a lack of flexibility and uncaring or uninspiring leaders are some of the main reasons why people leave companies,” he said.

“We think about the top reasons why people would leave and speak about what we do to overcome those issues. For example, the development programmes we have, how we proactively review salaries, how we try to care for, motivate, inspire and mentor you.

“Those are the hooks. So when we get to the offer stage, people might be getting slightly bigger offers elsewhere, but they want to hear back from us.”

Focus on providing an exceptional candidate experience

A great candidate experience is the foundation for a successful working relationship. This requires not only implementing sound processes and recruitment best practices, but also adding a human touch.

Here are a couple of things to focus on:

  • Communicate openly and honestly: Be transparent about your company’s strengths and challenges so developers can make informed decisions.

  • Don’t oversell your business, focus on the problem you’re solving: Developers want to solve problems. Helping them to understand the problem that you’re trying to solve will help them see the potential impact of their work.

  • Build a diverse interview panel: Potential hires should be interviewed by a range of team members who are able to bring diverse perspectives to the process and show interviewees what it’s really like to work for your business.

  • Ask powerful questions: Rather than relying on standard interview questions, you should use thought-provoking questions that encourage candidates to think critically and reveal their opinions and perspectives.

  • Use tools effectively: Leverage tools to make communication, technical assessments and collecting feedback more efficient, for both yourself and developers in your hiring pipelines.

    For example, allow developers to use StackOverflow and ChatGPT to mimic a real-world environment and make it more convenient for them to complete your assessment. Ruberto’s team also uses Greenhouse to gather feedback on candidates, and DBFiddle to collaborate with candidates on certain technical assessments.

Ruberto pointed out another factor that’s important for ensuring a great experience for potential hires: iteration.

“We try to revisit our recruitment programme quite a lot. It’s not something that’s stagnant. We have a recruitment guild that runs monthly, which is a platform for us to test ourselves,” he said.

“We take our questions and make them more related to Peach Payments and the problems that we’re trying to solve so the person being interviewed gets a sense of the nature of the job. So we constantly revisit and scrutinise our process and how we can do better. It’s an ever-evolving thing.”

The bottom line

Hiring critical developers under pressure requires a strategic approach, especially in South Africa’s competitive tech market.

By embracing strategies such as flexible interview processes, leveraging employee networks, offering appealing non-monetary benefits and focusing on an exceptional candidate experience, CTOs can successfully navigate challenges and attract top talent.

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