A common complaint among UK firms is that it is too difficult to hire software developers.

Companies often claim a skills shortage and burdensome immigration rules are the main obstacles.

Google lets developers use 20 percent of their time at work as they wish © Wikimedia/missvain
Google lets developers use 20 percent of their time at work as they wish © Wikimedia/missvain

However the issue is less a lack of top developer talent in the UK and more the growing demand for their skills, which means businesses are scrambling to hire them, according to recruiters.

It’s not just the UK where competition is heating up. A few years back Google reportedly offered one of its star engineers £2.4 million not to ditch them for Facebook (they stayed).

Read more: the top 11 meetups for UK developers

However, with the right approach, businesses both big and small can attract some of the best developers to come and work with them. Here’s how.

It’s not all about the money

Software engineers can earn from £30,000 all the way up to six-figure salaries. The average salary is £45,000 for permanent posts, according to IT Jobs Watch, which analyses UK adverts.

Although developers can earn a lot of money, as a general rule they tend not to be primarily motivated by cash. Flexibility is often more important – hence why so many choose to stick with freelance roles.

Analytics firm Centiq says it’s worth giving developers freedom to experiment on company time (Google lets developers use 20 percent of their time at work as they wish), free them up to attend events and try to be a ‘lean’ organisation as “developers hate bureaucracy and politics”.

“This isn’t simply a question of money. More than anything else, the strongest motivator is doing work that matters,” says Joe Pynadath, EMEA VP for Chef Software.

This is good news for the vast majority of businesses who couldn’t afford to pay top dollar anyway.

“In London we’re competing with the big banks. And if we can’t offer the same compensation as a big tech company we certainly can’t match a bank,” says Sam Stagg, engineering VP for Pusher, which has built a range of tools used by 80,000 developers.

Rather than focusing on trying to offer the highest wages, instead businesses are better off selling the experience of working for them, according to Joe Baker, senior developer at Drupal agency Wunder UK.

Company culture

One of the best ways to attract developers is to build up your reputation as a great way to work, or as Baker puts it, make your company ‘magnetic’.

“We are a fun place to work, and we nurture developers. It’s a place you can grow; you aren’t expected to clock in and out. You can be proud of what you do and be praised for it,” he says.

This could be boosted via word of mouth, winning ‘good place to work’ awards, media coverage or any other way of ensuring the company is ‘visible’ (for example staff attending or running events).

Stagg agrees a good company culture is an important selling point when trying to attract developers.

“We offer autonomy in a way not many big companies can. And we can still offer work on well-used products and hard-core engineering challenges. People see they might have a better chance of enjoying their work here. It comes down to lifestyle and the sort of balance people want,” he says.

It’s important to remember developers often have individual requirements, for example working flexible schedules, so you need to have the right structures in place to support them, adds Fabio Torlini, EMEA MD at WordPress specialists WP Engine.

What’s your tech specialism?

When hiring technical people, it makes sense to market the technical challenges on offer at your company, and emphasise the importance of keeping up-to-date with the constantly changing tech landscape.

It’s worth identifying which specific languages you need and which technologies you use, especially if they are rare or unusual. If you use open source platforms, for example, it makes sense to highlight it, according to Baker.

“One of the great things about open source is that there is a ready-made community that goes with it, with big conferences, local user groups, coding camps. They’re fantastic places for networking, finding the movers and shakers and sifting out prima donnas,” he says.

Stagg says Pusher regularly produces technically-focused blog posts, which helps to engage the developer community by setting out tech problems they team have faced and how they’ve overcome them.

However, almost all the experts agree companies shouldn’t get too bogged down in hiring the most ‘technical’ or talented candidate.

Although you may want to get them to do some practical tests and coding, it’s important to assess non-technical skills too.

“I can see technical skills from the CV, but if their aptitude is good you can train those skills in. Human skills like how to communicate, deal with conflict or uncertainty or take the initiative, are less easy to train,” Baker says.

Age need not be a virtue

Carl Harris, IT and operations director at BCS, suggests it’s worth considering junior developers or offering software developer apprenticeships.

“In the race for the highest calibre candidates you can easily miss someone who could grow into a role. Senior level people are highly in demand and can be compensated accordingly. But you can take more of a gamble on juniors and there is more diversity at the one to five year level,” says Stagg.

Fundamentally there is an optimistic message for tech companies, be they startups or established businesses: with the right approach and a bit of thought, there’s no reason you can’t attract top developer talent. It’s out there if you know where and how to look.

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