The Technical and the Personal

This point seems to be coming up in my job a lot at the moment – people with excellent technical profiles being rejected for roles because of ‘culture fit’, or bright people being rejected because they don’t quite fit a job spec.

I thought it might make an interesting post, especially off the back of a point I mentioned in my last post, made by Mazz Mosley when she spoke at PrimeConf last month (about what qualities should be important triggers in the decision to promote someone to a leadership role).

Should the person adapt to the job, or the job to the person? How important are hard skills, tech, experience, and how do they weigh in compared to attitude and personality; culture fit?

These are challenges many companies face every day, both when they hire new staff and when they direct existing staff. It’s also a challenge technical people face when they interview, many finding that their technical skills can easily stagnate unless they stay fluid in the job market. If you work at a company that uses a specific set of technologies but not, say, angularJS (which, for better or worse, everyone wants right now… that’s a whole other post…) then you might find it hard to move on to a company using angular. Increasingly, candidates are looking for new roles where they can learn new tech, whilst companies only want to hire people who have already been using this tech.

In some cases – when work needs to be delivered quickly, or expansion is so rapid that it’s hard to find training time, or there’s simply nobody able to train staff internally, for example in an early stages start-up – then of course I can see how there is a need for somebody who brings significant experience.


Courtesy of Dorothy Dalton

In other cases, however, the decision to look at the technical profile and not the person can lead to hiring mangers missing out on an excellent developer because they are limited by that person’s last job role. It’s something that recruiters get accused of a lot (only looking at the last job role or tech skill, not the person’s complete history/aptitude to learn), but actually I think technical hiring managers can lack that vision too.

Another argument is that, if you only ever hire people with the same skills, you’ll only ever have the same skills in your team… and that’s not good in a market which is evolving fast and competitively. A senior contact of mine recently made this point actually – he’s interviewing currently, and noted that many companies focus too much on the user interaction, (which doesn’t translate well into larger systems development and delivery) whilst many others have the opposite problem of not understanding digital and customer experience at all. Few companies are getting the balance. He could have brought a huge amount of wider systems knowledge into a frontend-focussed creative agency, for example, but they only wanted someone with an existing agency background.

In an ideal world…

Personally I think that talented people are at the crux of any successful business plan and so, in an ideal world, you would hire good people first and allow them to define the direction your business takes. You would use the technology that makes most sense for the job, not just the one you were last using. If your employees are talented then they would be able and willing to learn the best tool for the job. Culture fit is a difficult one to pin down, but in my experience if people fail here it is often to do with their ability and desire to learn, or how open-minded they are about trying something a different way. The best companies I work with – or at least the ones who perform consistently above their competitors, who can attract the top 5% of developers and whose developers do not want to leave – create this kind of culture and business model.

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