February 25, 2022

Leveling The Playing Field For Software Engineers

By Kevin Huynh

What makes a good software engineer? Wes Winham, Woven’s CEO got interviewed by Vervoe along with Randy Harris of Lighthouse Technology Services and talked about the hiring processes for engineers in the tech industry. As both companies work with technical hiring, they are in the best position to discuss the current trends.

For the most part, Wes talked mostly about hiring remotely and how NOT to do your tech interview for software developers and engineers by giving them a 40-hour take-home assessment test. In fact, our take-home exams only take 90 minutes. Long take-home exams are just not something that is acceptable to Woven. We’re proudly a Candidates First company and this is a value that we have staked our company on. Not to was poetic but we believe that when we make things right for candidates, we make the entire ecosystem better.

Are companies using coding tests as free labor?

The main topic of the interview is a question on using coding tests as free labor. There has been an issue with engineers accusing companies of using the coding tests for something that is actually a company project. Wes says that he doesn’t know of a single company that can make a coding test that is useful to them. It is a hard setup. However, while it might be a myth or an urban legend, it cannot be easily brushed off. As an idea, it is getting validation because a lot of engineers are feeling frustrated with the developer hiring process.

According to Wes, it’s a deeper issue which is “Interviewing sucks.” Developers mostly apply and just never hear back from 90% of the companies. You get rejected for a thing you spent a lot of time on, and it hurts. So if you’re a company setting up the take-home exam, it better be something that is not directly on your company’s code. Otherwise, you might get accused of using your candidates to solve your algorithm. Or use Woven, because we give feedback on 100% of our applicants. And even if they’re not accepted to the company they’re applying for, the negative feelings are handled and addressed.

How do you measure candidates?

One thing that stood out in the interview was the talk about resumes and how it’s not a good practice to measure your candidates with them. According to Randy (of Lighthouse), resumes are the single biggest piece of junk in the hiring process. It does not prove their abilities, only in their ability to write a good resume. Blindly hiring somebody from their resumes instead of evidenced-based hiring might get you a guy who is good at writing resumes. Or an uncle who is good with writing resumes, we kid you not.

For centuries, our education system has pretty much dictated who to hire. The so-called gatekeepers of knowledge have made the tradition of getting graduates of a certain institution to be the only thing that matters. And this is not a bad thing. But one thing that tech hiring engineers need to understand is that hiring tech talent is different from hiring non-tech talent. Resumes, educational attainment, experience doesn’t say much about a developer’s skill set. Probably yes for other industries but not in tech.

Tech is in a great world, as an industry, we agree that what you do matters more than where you’ve been, not what school you’ve gone through. And this has leveled the playing field for engineers who want to succeed in the industry. In fact, only a third of software engineers have computer science degrees. Wes says further that at Woven we’re moving fast, we’re not gonna be 100% reliant on credentials, but getting it wrong is so hard -that’s the tension.

As a company that provides technical assessments, he says to try not to judge people by their resumes. When hiring tech talent, degrees are less important than previous work experience and personal projects. In fact, many great programmers don’t even have a strong educational background in computer sciences. More than 70% of developers are at least partially self-taught.

Experience is also not a good measurement according to Randy. He says that there are people with two years of experience who are better than people with 10 years of experience and this is because they have far more applied experience in the skills that we need. You might find also happen to find someone who can communicate well or do great coding but drains your team and makes everyone 10% worse. This matters so much in agile teams as it can cause a ripple effect.  Both Randy and Wes agree that a bad hire can cost employees.

What makes a good software engineer?

So what makes a good software engineer or developers? Wes says that for every company that he has talked to, the number one measurement is problem-solving and critical thinking skills. They might not have a specific software skill but if they are able to cover the basics, that’s almost a shoo in. Randy says to avoid checklist employees -those who are good at doing tasks on a checklist but comes to a decision paralysis when confronted with things that are not on his job description. In addition, Wes also asks about their appetite for risk. Do they have a fail fast, technology mantra that allows them to learn?

Want to see the whole interview? You can catch the interview here to watch it.