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Hiring Woes in the ColdFusion World

No I’m not going to speak about the lack of CF developers. Quite the opposite, I think there are plenty out there. The quality? Well, that’s what we’ll mention here.

Over the past 8 years, at my current position as an executive who also develops actively, I’ve reviewed probably over 300+ resumes, and phone interviewed over 200+ CF folks alone from all over the world. There are some things you learn along the way as a hiring manager – how the market for talent works, the general capabilities of CF developers, and what their typical strengths and weaknesses look like.

I did want to mention two recent resumes and hiring experiences that both went south. This is advice for all CF folks, as I’ve waited to write this to make sure nothing I said would be personal or negative, rather that I could put a positive spin on things and give advice.

As a developer, there really needs to be a focus on self-improvement. In most cases, I don’t find that – I’m surprise how many people “settle.” For me ColdFusion enables each and every day to accomplish an overall vision I have for the projects that I work on – ColdFusion is not the goal in and of itself, nor is the pay check that drives me. I couldn’t work in an environment which gave me access to ColdFusion, but restricted my ideas on how to improve the projects I worked on, or paid me a high salary – but denied me a voice.

Very few developers (roughly 2% from experience) have anything to show for self-improvement. Have they kept up on blogs, read books, attended a conference, tried new techniques, improved their understanding of object-oriented (if not aspect-oriented) programming? What drives them? The answer I usually get is that they are interested in new techniques and approaches, it’s just that their work environment never provided them the opportunity to do so. This to me is a red flag – I expect any serious developers to have their own work environment at home, and work on their own pet projects on the side.

But I tend to forgive the developers, and blame the management in those companies for not fostering innovation. How often do folks meet to exchange ideas in your department, present on new findings, and are given time to develop new ideas on their own? As a manager, I think less about micro-managing or macro-managing, but finding opportunities for my folks to shine. I want to always market my team to the rest of the company as a high performing, well motivated team.

And that’s what sets our company apart, and that is also what leads to problems in hiring. I often talk, in the first round of interviews, about my philosophy, how the team is run, and how we’re simply different. This gets people VERY excited and I get them thinking about how they can contribute to this environment, what skills they bring, and what they’d like to learn. I often tell them that they can expect the first 90 days to be like a tidal wave – we use so many bleeding edge ColdFusion techniques (the rights ones, not all), that it can be very overwhelming.

The problem occurs when people come with years of experience, but that doesn’t translate to necessarily years of accomplishments. You may have worked for 12 years as a ColdFusion developers, in senior roles even, but if you have never touched a framework, then that is a problem. One year of experience here, I often say, is worth 3-5 at other places.

If you are serious at getting better as a developer, then you have to find an environment that is going to support (and push) you. That in itself is worth a lot.

And that’s where the problem is. I recently got two resumes from folks – who each had 12+ years of CF development experience, but I could not say they were truly senior (in my perspective). Regardless, I was willing to offer opportunities to them as Senior folks, with the understanding that they would be able to pick up all the exciting things I talked about.

And then… the focus turned to salary. Do you want to guess what both of them were asking for? Well, here it is – $130K-$135K annually plus benefits.

I was dumbfounded. I am no position to offer that kind of salary to anyone. Heck, even I don’t make that kind of money, and I’m a Director! You have to do your research: we’re a small company (less than 50 folks), and you have to add the value given by a supportive work environment.

I’m not saying we can’t attempt to meet your needs, but seriously… You know that old saying – you dress for the position you want, not the one you have? Well, that applies to CF developers as well. If you feel you’re worth a ton of money, then exhibit the qualities of a world-class developer. If I asked you to rate yourself on the scale of journeyman to master – where would you fall? Do you have experience leading a sophisticated team – often times filled with people who are smarter than you? No. Have you worked with OO frameworks in CF for 9 years like me? No. (I celebrate my 9 year anniversary with Mach II next month!) Are you a master of both the back-end and front-end languages? No. Do you have the communication skills to interface with all sorts of different stakeholders? No.

So what then qualifies you to ask for that much? Well – the answer usually is: “I can make that much consulting.” Well, if you want to pay for your own health insurance, forgo benefits, and work in an environment that really is not going to make you a better developer, and for a company that isn’t truly committed to ColdFusion as a development platform of choice, then go ahead. But if you want to earn a real salary, and be given the opportunity to prove yourself, and work your way up the ladder, then I’m here to support you and am all for that. But be real.

There is nothing at my company that say that you can’t make that kind of money, with benefits and possible bonuses, it’s quite possible. But you’ve got to also have the pedigree and focus to enable that. If you’re overly focused on salary, then I’m sorry – I have something to offer that is worth so much more.

There is probably more to say, but I’ll stop here. I’ve probably already said too much.