With digital transformation becoming a widespread phenomenon, hiring a programmer has become a common occurrence. You might imagine that many managers have hired enough programmers that they could do it in their sleep by now. In practice, though, finding the right one for your business can be a substantial challenge.
Part of the problem is the high demand for skilled coders. The most talented candidates on the market often get snatched up quickly by whichever employer moves the fastest to make a strong job offer.
While speeding up the hiring process seems a logical solution, it’s not as easy as it sounds and leads into the other major hurdle: It’s hard for non-programmers to assess potential candidates.
To people who don’t know coding, the technical side of programming languages and the variety of skills a programmer might require to do the job well is like deciphering hieroglyphics without the Rosetta Stone. For example, there’s a big difference between Java and Javascript. But if you don’t know this and other programming truths, you can’t apply them as you scan through resumes and conduct interviews.
So, how do you navigate the language barrier (so to speak) and hire a programmer when you’re not one yourself? Here are a few steps to help you identify the ideal candidate, even if you know nothing about code.

Do they have the skills you really need?

Knowing what you really need is half the battle. Before you even start to look at the list of computer programmers to hire, sit down with your IT manager and lay out the list of skills they require — and be sure you understand where you can be flexible and where you need to be rigid. Here are some examples:
  • Be specific about SQL. There are several types of SQL databases, such as MySQL and Microsoft SQL Server. If your programmer won’t be building databases from scratch or you have database administrators on staff to help developers with SQL, do you need a candidate with substantial experience using your particular database system? Or would experience with a different but similar database be sufficient if the work itself was comparable? On the other hand, will you need to hire a programmer to work with more modern databases like NoSQL?
  • Understand the differences between CRM systems. Major enterprise systems like customer relationship management (CRM) software can have major differences. An expert with Salesforce may not necessarily have skills that easily transfer to a Microsoft Dynamics CRM project, for example, because they are very different systems that a programmer interacts with in completely different ways. Would someone with experience in another product in the same category have skills relevant to your system?
  • Don’t get hung up on versions. On the other hand, don’t dismiss a potential good hire just because they must overcome a minor skills gap to work with different versions of a programming language, library or system. For example, if your programmer candidate has experience in version 5.0 of a product that’s now at version 6.0, they should be able to learn the differences quickly.
Also have a senior member of your IT staff interview the programmers so they can give you their assessment of each applicant.

Can they actually code?

It’s an obvious step, perhaps, but an essential one. When looking at potential computer programmers for hire, you have to confirm they can back up the technical skills listed on their resume. This means asking specific questions in the interview or giving them a short programming test — which should be evaluated by someone with coding experience. Some options include:
  • Ask questions to assess their knowledge of specific programming tasks.
  • Request that they provide examples of code they’ve written.
  • Require them to do a FizzBuzz test. This commonly involves printing the numbers 1-100, but showing “Fizz” for multiples of three, “Buzz” for multiples of five and “FizzBuzz” for multiples of both.
  • Perform an in-depth programming skills analysis with a tool such as Codility.
Even if you have no technical knowledge, you can still ask general questions about coding. For example, if you need a programmer with Ruby on Rails experience, ask questions such as:
  • Can you explain Ruby on Rails to me?
  • What are alternatives to Ruby on Rails?
  • What was the last project you worked on involving Ruby on Rails?
  • What problems should we be mindful of when working with Ruby on Rails?
The candidate’s answers will tell you a lot about them. Even if you don’t understand the topic yourself, you’ll be able to get a feel for their level of expertise. Plus, you’ll get a glimpse at their soft skills. Some computer programmers struggle to convey technical information to nontechnical people. If you find someone with good communication skills, they’re definitely one to consider for your position, even if they don’t meet all your nice-to-have technical wants.
Remember, programming isn’t all about code. A good programmer needs to be strong with problem solving, organization and teamwork. You can assess these skills by asking the following questions:
  • When something stops working, how do you diagnose the problem?
  • What would you do if you were working on a project that had fallen behind schedule?
  • How do you keep up with developments in your industry?
  • Have you ever been involved in a project that failed due to someone else’s error?

Do they fit with your office culture?

The last step in narrowing down your list of programmer candidates is to check their work style. You want to make sure the applicant is the right fit for the job and your organization. You can evaluate their alignment with your business in these areas:
  • Experience — Has the candidate worked for a company or team of similar size in the past?
  • Communication — Would the candidate be able to collaborate with nontechnical leadership?
  • Personal values — Does the applicant’s interests line up with the company’s? For example, does your candidate also have a desire to innovate or a commitment to providing customers with the best experience?
  • Tool kit — Is the candidate familiar with your specific set of development tools, such as version control systems and development environments? Do they have experience with your preferred development methodology, such as Agile or DevOps?

Is your job offer strong enough?

Demand for programming talent is huge, and the number of computer programmers for hire isn’t sufficient to meet requirements in most parts of the U.S. This reality is reflected in programmer salaries, which you can find in the Robert Half Salary Guide. Note that salaries are subject to regional variations. You can check the salary ranges in your area with the Salary Guide.
When you’re ready to start interviewing programmers, keep in mind that speed can make the difference. In a survey of more than 2,500 CIOs across the U.S., 69 percent of candidates for staff-level IT roles lose interest if they haven’t heard back within two weeks after an interview.
That means that hiring managers who move fast and can get an offer out reasonably quickly have a big advantage when hiring a programmer or other IT professional.
This post has been updated to reflect more current information.