The top five tips for recruiting app developers

Congratulations! Through hard work and too many all-nighters, you and your small app development team have managed to start turning a real profit. You can see your small company already rising through the ranks of competitors – and then someone tells you that you need to expand your team if you want to keep rising. In order to deliver your next project, you’re going to need to start recruiting app developers to get things done on time. Remember it’s only natural that as your app development business income grows, so too will your costs and hopefully you’re retainable profit.

It’s one thing starting out with friends when you start out after university. But when it comes to the real world and developing apps for paying customers, it becomes less about camaraderie and more to do with cold, hard execution. You’re going to need people you can trust, people who are hardworking, dedicated to the cause, highly motivated, creative and have the ability to do the job you need. Chances are if you’re a small app development studio, you’re not going to have a huge amount of time for training. In actual fact, spending your time trying to teach noobs app development can be counter-productive, if it’s keeping you from doing the important stuff in the business. You need people you can trust to do the job and learn the ropes quickly.

Nobody will tell you when it’s time to scale up and add more staff. This is something you need to work out for yourself and you have to be able to judge the warning signs. Similarly, you have to be able to judge if the person you’ve hired is a winner or a turkey. Again, you have to do this quickly before said individual is capable of doing more harm than good.

Well, having gone through the growing pains of being a small start-up ourselves, Kumulos  thought we could lay out just why recruitment is so important, and a few tips on how to nab yourself that next app dev superstar.

Why recruit?

It seems like a question with an obvious answer, but when looked at a little closer it’s a bit more complicated than just expansion. If your project is late, over budget or your customer is screaming down the phone for answers, chances are you’re under-resourced and under-delivering. You should plan your recruitment at the start of any project. You need to develop a scope of work, a timeline to complete the project and make some assumptions about the resources required. This should take the form of a resource plan, and whilst they are assumptions, you need to be as accurate as possible in determining your overall resource requirements to complete the project. Take the project as a whole and subdivide the overall scope into a series of manageable milestones and delivery dates. This will help to inform your timeline for completion. You can then work out based on your current level of resource who can do what and identify any potential gaps in the project team. Where there are gaps, you have to fill them and there are a number of ways you can do this.

If you’re a small app dev team, it’s likely that you’ll have had the same team for a while. You’ll have worked on a couple of projects together and there will be a real “gang-hut” mentality going on. You know each other’s working habits, strengths and weaknesses and probably also what happens when everyone has too much to drink. The idea of bringing someone in, regardless of whether you actually need them or not, can feel like adopting a stranger into a family; that they’ll somehow disrupt your gang’s dynamic and work flow.

The first thing that you need to do is shake this mindset completely. If you follow our tips and find a great dev to add to the team, all you’re going to get is a bigger and better gang than before. On a business and project level, if your team is lacking a certain set of programming skills, or they’re just too stretched to take on any more work, having another person, or people, around to plug those gaps makes sense.

Also on the business side, as we said before, the base answer for recruiting is usually to expand. Maybe you want to develop two apps side by side, or you’re starting to take commissions from clients. Either way, you’re team is just not big enough to keep all those plates spinning, and you’ll need more people to spin more plates.

Whatever the reason for recruiting, the most important thing to bear in mind that you should always be trying to find the absolute best person that you can find for the job. Ideally that means you want someone who knows their stuff, has experience working within the app industry and will also fit right in with your team. By finding someone like this, you can only improve your development work, and by extension, your profits.

So how do you go about finding that “superstar”?

1. Know what you’re looking for and what you want out of them

It’s always better to be prepared, and with developer recruitment it’s no different. Take some time before you start to advertise the position to work out exactly what their job will entail. On the surface you’re looking for an app developer yes, but do your apps frequently need knowledge of other programming areas? What about your general work environment? If you’re a small developer you and your team may be “doing a bit of everything” and always able to jump into someone else’s work, so also take into account flexibility and ability to learn new things.

As Joel Spolnsky over at says, ultimately you’re looking for someone who
“[is] Smart, and gets things done.”

So always bear that in mind before you start your search. You are looking for a good app developer who is going to fit into your workplace. That means that you have to be willing to go the extra mile, but it’ll be worth it in the end.

2. Know where to look for developers

This is a mistake many businesses make, even large and established ones. Instead of targeting their job adverts for developers to places good developers will see it, they put it up on places like Craigslist and then wonder why they are inundated with CVs from people who don’t even know what an app development kit is, let alone what to do with it.

As a small developer, or even if you’re larger, you don’t want to be trawling through hundreds of CVs to find the diamond in the rough. It’s a waste of your time and it’s definitely not the most efficient way to go about finding your developer.

Instead target places that app developers are going to be. Attend app development and technology conventions, especially if they’re related to the kind of apps or technology you’re working with. The devs that are attending there are much more likely to already know about and be familiar with a similar environment that you’re working with.

When San Francisco based Getaround was first getting off the ground, co-founders Sam Zaid and Jessica Scorpio found their superstar developer at a convention and never looked back. Never underestimate the power aggressive networking in the correct environment.

Outside of that, and for more general job advert placement, ask yourself, if you as an app developer were looking for work, where would you go? Would you go to websites like Monster where every add has a thousand applicants? Or would you look for something more specific? Go to websites and forums where app developers come together to talk shop, target tech specific job boards and make sure to advertise clearly on your own website as well.

3. Whittle it down

Even when you’ve found a group of potential hires, you know that you only have room for one. So it’s time to start cutting away people from the total.

Obviously, this depends entirely on how you’ve gone about your recruitment and how you have arrived with your potential candidates. If, like GetAround, you’ve found a group of developers at a convention, continuing to follow their example is not a bad idea. Zaid and Scorpio used a series of 2 minute interviews to cut the initial numbers down, and then with their final choices they presented them with an unpaid “prototyping” challenge which essentially asked the app developers to create a mock-up of their app-in-the-making. In the end they settled on one dev who’s results they liked so much they made them technological director.

The same finalisation process of presenting your applicants with an app development challenge can be used in more traditional settings, but first you’re going to have to get through the initial stages.

If you have a mountain of CVs, you’re going to have to get really harsh with your elimination process. First, and easiest, get rid of anyone with no programming and especially no app development background (there will be more of these than you’d think possible). Next up it starts to become more of a personal game, but targeting things like good English makes sense. If someone has barely understandable English on their CV, what makes you think that their ability to communicate effectively with you and your team is going to be any better? The same can be said of untidy and terribly formatted CVs, it shows laziness and a disorganised mind, two things you don’t want to bring to your team.

Every business goes about sorting CVs slightly differently, but if you keeping bearing in mind exactly what you want from your potential hire then you’ll likely find it easier than you think. Always remember, if you’re not sure, it’s safer to decide to put a CV in the “no” pile. All you’re doing is saving yourself time later.

As for interviews, again it comes down to what exactly it is that you’re looking for from your new team member, and there are whole series of books written on interview techniques, so we won’t go too in depth here. It helps if you have a plan of how you’re going to interview someone before you start, and it’s even better if you tailor it to their CV. Being able to ask a developer about their background is a quick way to gauge whether they are engaged and interested in app development, which is a good sign. No one wants to work with a passionless developer.

4. Remember to make your job the best job

This is something that, again, many businesses fail on. As you’re the one who’s put up the ad, you feel like you are the one who can make all the demands. But remember, a good app developer is always going to be in demand, and they’re likely to know it. That’s not to say that they’ll be making outrageous demands (although some may well do that), it’s just to remind you that the best talent, the ones that you want for your team, are likely to have a few offers waiting for them. So make sure to sell your app studio, your team, your apps and your vision for the future to them. Let them see that you are just as passionate about this work as they are and that if they work for you, they’ll be working with people who they share common ground with and can respect.
It’s no guarantee, but it certainly helps when you’re fishing for the best talent, which is exactly what you should be doing.

5. Knowing the ropes

Ultimately, recruitment is an art in and of itself. Large companies have entire departments dedicated to it, or even outsource the job to agencies who’s only goal is to find the best and brightest talent. There are libraries of books written about it, and yet plenty of businesses still don’t manage to find the people they are looking for.

When you’re looking for your next superstar, always remember that ultimately, this person is going to become part of your development family; and if you want them and your current family to be happy, it’s always better to take your time and make sure you’ve got just the right person for the job.