Looking Beyond the Resume: Developer Personas

Over my years of hiring WordPress developers, I have noticed a few stereotypes that stand out.

Before I dive right in, I’d should mention that they are just that — stereotypes. Generalizations. Not specific descriptions of individuals.

Maybe the word “stereotypes” has a bad connotation. Think of them as personas.

Many of the individuals that fall under these personas have similar resumes — an unrelated college degree, self-taught through a passion for the industry, 2-5 years of experience. I’ll describe just three of them here. There are so many more, but for now, I’ll stick to these.

The “I Got This” Developer

I can think of several candidates that had a somewhat slick attitude and what seemed like a go-getter attitude.

They were confident in the interview. Maybe almost too confident. They answer technical questions with technical answers. Sometimes answering by telling a story of something they worked on that sounds even more complicated than what was asked.

I remember one time when I asked a candidate about their ability to build a plugin from scratch that connects user information to a third-party API. Their answer was “That’s what I do.”

Now, some of these developers actually have the right stuff to be really great WordPress developers. Some don’t. But, I’ve found that their confidence and technicalese is a mask to hide what they don’t know.

When hired, it is important to have these developers work alongside another trusted developer on your team before giving them too much independent responsibility. This is something I wish I had learned earlier.

We had one “I Got This” developer who made everything sound overly technical, beyond my understanding. We’d give him work and he’d find ways to say it was too complicated to complete, essentially making things more difficult than they actually were.

To our own detriment, it took us 2-3 months to figure out that he had gone in a completely wrong direction with the project. By the time we figured this out, we had to completely throw out what he had done. It was a poor hiring decision that cost us dearly.

The “I Have Done Some of That Before” Developer

These can often be the hardest candidate to judge in an interview.

They sound humble, even a little inexperienced, but with hints of greatness. Sometimes they are being completely honest about their lack of experience. Other times they are just really bad at talking themselves up.

I have had this sort of candidate go both ways. They can often be a 50/50 coin toss.  But when it goes right, they are wonderful developers to have on the team.

One of our great successes in hiring was a candidate that I had completely written off during our interview. Then, 80% into the interview, I asked him one last question to see if it was salvageable.

“What is the most complicated thing you have developed?”  

He paused for quite a while. Then he proceeded to tell me about a custom event and registration system that he had built. This changed everything. While the earlier portion of the interview was focused on his eye for design and some of the front end work that he had done, this last project was complex and feature rich.

When hiring developers of this type, it is best to give them quick small projects to test them out. See where they really land. If they are on the green side, at least they know it. And hopefully, they meet the minimum until they get up to speed.

If they turn out to be a more capable developer, then what they might really have is an insecurity issue. This could just be part of their personality or due to a poor experience with a previous employer.

The biggest challenge with these developers is that they might not step into harder problems by choice. You may have to “volunteer” them for more complicated work to get them to step outside of their comfort zone.

The Heady Developer

The last developer persona that I will cover is what I call the “heady” developer.

Usually, these are developers who have primarily worked remotely or as freelancers. While they may have worked on a team, most communication has been through a messaging platform.

If they are nervous during the interview, they will almost wax poetic. Or else go way too far down the road with theory or the “principles of development.”  It can be hard to get them to talk specifics, but this might really be just a case of nerves.

When hiring a developer of this persona, it is best to start by judging only their work product and not your conversational interactions with them. Being a busy CEO, I am often blunt and to the point. When talking with people who live in the academic side of things, I can sometimes brush them off as not practical enough.

We have had a couple of these developers over the years at coolblueweb. Sometimes, if I judged them on their face-to-face communication style, I would have thought they were a bad hire.

In reality, their work was excellent and their written communication (via email and messaging platform) was thorough and intelligent. Really, they just had a very different communication style.

Conclusion

As you can see from just these examples, developers inhabit a variety of personalities. These can work to their professional benefit or detriment.

It is important that hiring managers and bosses have a good understanding of the different personas. It can positively change the way you manage their progress.

These are just a few of my personal stereotypes that I have realized over years of hiring WordPress developers. Anecdotally, I have shared them with other agency owners and received corroborating stories.

What personas have you come across in hiring developers? I’d love to hear about the ones that worked out and the ones that didn’t.