Where Do *You* Find The Best Software Developers?

Here at Forrester, we’re beginning a new stream of research focused on where firms are finding the best software developers. And by best, I mean a few key attributes, including being innovative, productive, timely, and delivering high-quality results.

Our research methodology will be to survey a broad swath of firms that recruit software developers, to find out where they are finding the best developers. We want to not only identify the best university programs around the world for churning out great developers, but also assess the contribution of other sources, such as hiring experienced developers from other firms, bringing in contractors for staff augmentation, or sourcing developers from systems integrators.

We also plan to assess university programs based on their coursework and other attributes, to see if we can correlate the nature of their programs with the results their graduates achieve.

What do you think? What universities do you suggest we assess? We will certainly look at the usual suspects like MIT, Stanford, WPI, RPI, Rice, and so on. But what about Texas A&M, the University of Mississippi, or the University of Brighton? Back when I was hiring developers they had great programs — do they still have what it takes? You may be partial to your alma mater, but… really, would you recruit there today? There’s been much prognosticator pontification about the sad state of affairs in the US today for education of software engineers and other high-tech resources — what are you seeing?

We will be looking quite broadly at “developers.” Today it’s just as important to find good Business Analysts as it is to find good programmers. Software development leaders compose global teams from a wide range of skills, both inside and outside the firm, and business knowledge is key to success. This gives priority to developers who have good communication skills and business acumen — not just the geek gamers of yore.

Does your firm recruit developers who are key to your business success? If so, we’d love to talk to you and your Human Resources partners, as part of our research process. Please send your contact details to mgilpin@forrester.com, and we’ll be in touch.



"Innovative, productive, timely, and delivering high-quality results..." -- That sounds as much like work ethic than development quality. How do schools teach that?

And does every employer need those qualities? Despite the rumors of its demise, COBOL is alive and well; do those shops really need "innovative?"

What about documenting their work in a coherent and useful manner?

With new technologies and frameworks available every day, how can schools keep up? How do employers keep an employee happy when he sees a new technology and the employer has standardized on last year's darling?

And how about helping the developer translate what ever metrics you might devise into "resume speak?"

Re: Hmm... new (recruiting developers)

You've raised a good question, which we hope this research will help to answer. We will be surveying firms that hire developers about the quality of the developers they hired, and where they came from. Then we will correlate that to the attributes of the programs that produced those developers.

I'm sure you're right that some qualities (like being innovative) will not directly correlate to a particular course or approach, although we may find secondary effects. For example, do programs that give students a term or two as interns produce developers who are more business savvy,and therefore perhaps more customer-centric? Our research on software innovation shows a definite correlation of customer centricity to being innovative.

I recall that when I hired developers from the University of Brighton (Brighton Poly at the time) who had interned with me the year before, they ramped faster and gave more value than even more experienced developers hired from outside. And I had already had an opportunity to evaluate their performance - so I only made offers to the ones who were especially brilliant.

Regarding your concern about COBOL - I don't really know how innovative COBOL developers need to be today, but we intend to focus this research on firms hiring developers who contribute to their business success. Meaning, the software these developers produce is critical to their business. That means not only software vendors, but also Web-based businesses, financial services, and so on. Probably not too much COBOL being newly written in these cases, although I'm sure there's plenty still handling core transactions behind the scenes.

I would expect interns to ramp up faster

I would expect interns to ramp up faster simply because they already have exposure to the company's environment. And I would also expect interns to be more business savvy (assuming their internship was more than coffee-getters).

That's an area where I think schools let their students down. I think that all computer science type graduates should have spent some time in the Business school as well, maybe even as a minor. My minor was Mathematics, which would be great if I was going into a research or laboratory environment, but how many of those spots are there?

My "expertise" now is Drupal web development. I don't know of any schools that teach that (most of us learn it on our own), nor do I know of any kind of serious certification. How would you rate finding such people? I ask because there was a recent discussion on this on LinkedIn.

Re: Hmm... (recruiting developers)

I think there will always be gaps between what universities teach and what you need to know to succeed in a particular shop. When these gaps become widespread, schools can add courses. But some learning will always be required throughout one's career, so when hiring I'm interested in not only what skills the developer has right now, but also what sort of learning aptitude they show, which pays off over time.

Alas I think some HR recruiting practices work against giving the hiring manager the opportunity to consider such nuances. When thousands of resumes have to be processed, filtering based on keywords may deliver a nice packet of resumes for people who at least claim to know Drupal, but would filter out an experienced Web developer who knows 5 languages (an indicator they could pick up Drupal quickly) but has not yet had a need to learn Drupal.

I think there's a limit to how deeply our research can get into this, but we do hope to identify which university programs (or other sources) are delivering good people (from the POV of the hiring managers).