Software Development

Software developers: Here’s what tech employers are looking for in 2018

We heard about JavaScript, Python and the React library. But — plot twist — the skills in higher demand have nothing to do with programming languages.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak

Data analysis on open tech jobs across the country, according to Washington-based CodingDojo, already told us of a tech ecosystem where Java reigns supreme among specific programming-language skills, with Python closing in on the No. 2 spot.

When we spoke to local coding bootcamps and nonprofits, the same names kept popping up: JavaScript was in high demand at New York Code & Design Academy, and both Java and JavaScript are taught at the University of Pennsylvania’s coding bootcamp, for example.

But when it comes to hiring devs, where are the CEOs and tech execs in the discussion? Does JavaScript dominion get you in the door immediately? Are certain languages passé? We spoke to 10 tech executives at Philly companies and startups and asked them to describe their ideal candidate’s skill set. Here’s what they said:

JavaScript with a side of communication skills

“As a consulting firm, our technology decisions are driven by the ability for our team to support them, as well as the specific technology expertise the client may have,” Sarah Gray and Thomas Chandler, engineering managers at Center City dev firm PromptWorks, said in an email. “We tend to look for candidates with experience in some or all of the languages that we currently use: JavaScript, Ruby, Python, Elixir. We also look for experience in frameworks: Rails, React, Django, Flask, ReactNative, Phoenix.”

Aside from specific programming language dominion, PromptWorks looks for devs that are also good communicators.

“As a consultancy that operates as a time and materials business, communication and organization skills are essential as is a strong sense of learning and sharing,” they said.

The “nuance” of passion

Rich Friedman, SVP of engineering at New Hope, Pa.-based The Meet Group, said the most important language is simply the one developers know best, because building software

“We want folks who are deep into the language they work on,” Friedman said. “Even as a polyglot developer, it is not just knowing about syntax but how the environment that runs the code works. And in more and more cases, it’s beyond the syntax of a single language. For example, knowing Java is great but becoming an Android developer takes learning a platform and a lot of nuances. These nuances are learned through experience and passion. Sometimes it is this soft skill, passion, that can outweigh the experience.”


A penchant for learning

At Center City-based Stitch, which last year retooled its approach to hiring with a focus on diversity, potential developers are not screened for experience in experience in particular languages. This is deliberate, CEO Jake Stein said, because what they’re looking for is the ability to learn and get up to speed quickly.

“In order to do that, we give candidates a small programming take-home project in Sibilant, an obscure Lisp dialect that most people have never heard of (and that we don’t use in production),” Stein said. “The way they complete this project is a much stronger signal for their future contribution to our team than how many years they have been programing in Clojure or Python, which are our two main languages.”

A “modern full-stack developer”

“Right now we see a lot of demand for JavaScript front-ends, particularly using Angular and React,” said  But surrounding skills are also critical,” said Chariot Solutions CTO Aaron Mulder. “Our clients often port older AngularJS code to newer frameworks, and the UI draws on a REST back-end. We most often see Java, Scala, or Node back-ends with a SQL database, often running in Amazon Web Services (AWS). So the ideal candidate has experience with one or more front-end JavaScript frameworks, as well as one or more REST back-end stacks, with SQL and AWS experience. In other words, the modern ‘full-stack developer.'”

Problem-solve first

Sha Alibhai, director of engineering at RoundTrip, said the Old City-based company — makers of a medical transportation software platform — looks for candidates that show proficiency in problem solving outside of technical boundaries.

“We see so many developers that are able to write code but are unable to map out a solution and end up spending a lot of time writing convoluted, hard to maintain software,” Alibhai said. “Some advice I received early in my career that resonates with me to this day is ‘The best line of code is the one you never have to write.'”

JavaScript with a side of passion

“We prefer all of our devs to be proficient in JavaScript and this is one of the language I recommend to our interns/lab techs/bioengineers when they want to get their feet wet for coding,” said Group K Diagnostics CEO Brianna Wronko. “Also, what we prefer above and beyond language skills is that our devs be passionate about the focus of the company, because that’s the core of our team culture.”

Learning the “why”

At blockchain-based adtech startup Amino, says cofounder and SVP of Engineering Chris Chapman, syntax takes a backseat to problem solving skills and a desire to understand technology.

“Though language specific knowledge is good, problem solving ability is better,” Chapman said. “It’s best to know why you do something a particular way in code and not necessarily where that curly brace goes in a particular language. Learning syntax is much easier than learning why.”

A “future-proof skill set”

Comcast Cable Chief Software Architect Jon Moore looks for a tech polyglot who proves they’re able to grasp new languages and put them to use.

“That’s a way to hire someone with a future-proof skill set,” Moore said. “I’m not usually concerned with specific programming languages because the tech industry evolves so quickly. Many programming languages that are popular today didn’t even exist a few years ago!”

React Native, duh

When the email blast went out to tech execs across town, it took MilkCrate founder and CEO Morgan Berman three minutes to respond:

“React Native. Full stop. It’s all we do now and it’s where we all want to be building,” Berman wrote.

But why? React Native, a framework for building applications in the JavaScript library React lets the company’s clients enjoy the perks of a native application while developers get to use one code base for iOS and Android.

“It’s something crucial when you are a startup with limited time and lots of demands,” Berman said. “The benefits of cross platform deployment and high quality UI has been great for us on the development side as well as knocking the socks off our clients when they see how great their own customized app looks.”

Diversity matters — in languages, too

Blackfynn SVP of Engineering Chris Baglieri might have hit the jackpot when it comes to metaphors to explain the relevance of specific programming languages in tech.

“If you are hiring a contractor to build an addition on your home, do you assess them on the brand of hammer they use or do you assess them on the the work they’ve done before?” Bagliere asked. “While there are always exceptions to this rule, I rarely seek experience in a particular programming language and always seek out technical diversity. Diverse engineers who have tackled different problems employing different tools (programming languages, frameworks, libraries, etc.) will always result in a better team and better product.”

You can’t learn creativity

If you’ve read this far, you’ve likely discovered a common thread among tech chiefs: problem-solving skills, regardless of specific language knowledge, will get your application to the top of the stack. That’s also the philosophy at fully-distributed dev tool maker IOpipe, which last summer raised a $2.5 million seed round.

“Languages are easily taught,” said the company’s Philly-based CTO Erica Windisch. “I seek engineers with strong problem-solving abilities and creativity.”

Full-stack, but with domain knowledge

Java, JavaScript, Python and Scala drives most of the tech at Ambler, Pa.-based Phenom People, and yet the company hired someone to its software development team who’s not writing code in any of those languages. Or code at all.

Smriti Singh, a linguist with a Ph.D., is working to provide conceptual thoughts around how language can be fed to a deep learning network.

“She’s basically a knowledge center within one of our software development teams working with machine learning and artificial intelligence,” said CEO Mahe Bayireddi.

The technologist’s journey, Bayireddi said, is telling of the company’s approach to hiring.

“Soft skills are definitely an important consideration when hiring people onto our software development teams,” the CEO and cofounder said. “We also take into consideration career pathing. For example, if I have someone coming from a marketing position, they could have potential to convert to a technology person if the product is for marketing or something to do with talent marketing. They have domain knowledge, and that helps.”

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