Even though your company can't be a start-up for ever, you can hang on to the start-up energy by hiring and backing young staff.
I was talking with one of our senior developers a couple of days ago and reflecting on the amazing progress being made by our junior developers. One of them is in his first full-time job after graduation and after a year with us we can throw him into any project – no matter how technically complex – and he’ll deliver. Also, when he’s not on client work he is twice as productive on internal projects as the rest of us, cranking out innovative solutions to our routine headaches. The other junior hadn’t even seen code two years ago, and is now regularly submitting code patches for Drupal core. In fact, he didn’t even study anything connected to our work, as he trained as a classical musician.
However, it turns out that studying music provides all kinds of transferable skills, such as working in a team, focusing on what needs to be done, and making sure you know your part so you don’t let anyone down. As a musician, performance is also a core skill and that helps to make you customer focused; doing something shoddily is just not acceptable. Performance also boosts confidence so we’re happy to put him in front of clients as the primary representative of the company, and he can cut it with a room full of senior executives.
Of course, none of this happens in a vacuum so our juniors have benefited immeasurably from working in teams with generous senior developers who are happy to give guidance and support. Actually, I’m sure our seniors would say that mentoring young developers is one of the perks of the job. I guess it also helps that our seniors are all dedicated members of the Drupal community where generosity to people further down the Drupal knowledge ladder seems to be part of the DNA.
As a company we think there’s a few messages in this. One political point is that the government are absolutely mad to cut back spending on higher education for the Arts. A graduate with a good Arts degree will have a wealth of transferable skills, and if they have a go for it attitude, you can provide the necessary hard skills very quickly.
Even in the apparently technical industry of web development, those hard coding and design skills only represent a minority of what you need to run successful projects; the main needs are still interpersonal and intellectual skills, such as the ability to listen carefully, analyze problems rigorously, pay attention to business priorities, and above all reflect on what you’re doing.
Commercially, we also gain from having young developers because they’re in a hurry to make a mark so our company gets reflected glory from their achievements. That, incidentally, is one reason why we don’t believe in unpaid internships; as far as we’re concerned, you get value from young staff from day one so they ought to be paid.
No doubt in due course our so-called juniors will be moving onwards and upwards and that may not be with Code Enigma (though of course we hope it is), but if so we’ll definitely be looking to hire more young blood to replace them.