What can we learn from the changes in tech recruiting?

Jeff Szczepanski, COO at Stack Overflow, discusses how tech recruiting has changed, and what this means for other industries

Developments in technology are often considered to pose a threat to jobs, upending traditional forms of labour such as manufacturing, farming and retail. Yes, this is an issue, but in reality, technology is creating a huge range of jobs that fifty years ago no one could have dreamed of.

As more innovative types of technology begin to emerge, so does the number of people who need to know how to use them. Many people alive today would be able to remember a time where there was no such thing as a software engineer – now, according to Stack Overflow’s Developer Ecosystem Report, they make up 7 per cent of London’s labour force.

Consequently, as the employment landscape changes, so must recruiting. Tech positions are both increasing in number and diversifying away from just software companies – so how has the way we recruit for them kept up, and what can non-tech businesses learn from the way tech recruiters have adapted?

Transformation of tech teaching

Software engineering courses were practically non-existent fifty years ago, partly because software engineering itself was not established as a career path. Computers were rare – and people who knew how to program them equally so.

This meant that companies would recruit engineering, mathematics and even humanities students in the hope that their transferrable skills would be suitable backing to enter into a career in software development.

But as software development became more institutionalised, universities began to establish specialised courses providing students with the skills they needed to enter the field. As more jobs became available, companies began to use tactics employed by more traditional sectors – such as setting up shop at university careers fairs. Soon enough, having a software engineering degree became a key indicator of a candidate’s appeal to prospective employers.

Spin forward to the present day, and computer science degrees are no longer as necessary as they once were. Nowadays there is widespread access for students and professionals to formal and non-formal coding education. Stack Overflow’s 2017 annual developer survey revealed that just 15 per cent of developers in the UK & Ireland ’ranked formal education as ‘very important to their career success, while over over a third of them said formal education was ‘not very or not at all important’.

Extra-curricular courses, like Udacity, Codeacademy or Code First: Girls, for students without computer science have also become increasingly common. It’s never been easier to enter into the world of computer science or coding via accessible online courses, on-the-job training, or open source contributions. HR managers can now look beyond the degree and have access to a wider and more diverse pool of candidates.

Recruiting gets personal

Recruiting before the internet was a Herculean task. Job-hunting consisted mainly of trawling through newspaper classifieds placed by companies without the ideas or means for targeting their ads. There was no shortage of headhunters, but they didn’t have the same specialised skills they have today.

Cold-calling office lines and hoping that someone relevant would answer the phone; sending out mass letters; even skywriting and banner-flying – pretty low tech methods to try attract any candidate they could.

This, understandably, was not ideal for anyone. And, believe it or not, some of the methods used to recruit for technical roles are still in use today, as recruitment agencies send out untargeted mass emails and cold calls.

But things are changing. Internal recruiters and HR managers are starting to realise that developers want to be treated as individuals. They need to look more carefully at where they’re advertising in order to be more effective in their targeting of potential employers. Recruiters are beginning to speak developers’ language and understand the world they’re working in, gaining a clearer vision of what developers do and what they want from a job.

In all industries, it’s crucial to form a relationship with a candidate when it comes to recruitment. It’s not that difficult to achieve if recruiters take time to understand what’s important to potential employees and how they spend their time. The tech industry is leading the way in this aspect. Companies like trivago and Klarna are trailblazers in investing time and attention into what developers want out of their jobs and accordingly tailoring their job offers to suit their desires. These companies are offering benefits such as remote working options, professional development sponsorship and unlimited holiday.

It’s not just software development that’s changed beyond recognition in the past fifty years – other industries have transformed too, and at times HR and recruitment has struggled to keep up. The tech sector has been a bellwether for a number of business trends, from embracing flexible working to adopting technologies like Slack to replace email. Every industry should keep an eye on what’s happening in tech, and specifically the field of tech recruitment. Keeping up to date with this information will serve as a vital pulse check on what’s going to happen in the near future.

Tech is not a uniform industry – there are hundreds of different types of jobs in the tech sector, corresponding to the diverse types of emerging technologies, each requiring a different set of skills. Recruiters, in response, must be aware of the trends in this industry and tailor the way they hire for a position accordingly.

Jeff Szczepanski is COO at Stack Overflow.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.