How to hire a programmer: 12 competencies to look for

2nd February 2023 · Kevin Howes

hire a prgrammer

The cost of hiring the wrong programmer can soar to as much as £50,000.

One wrong recruitment decision can seep into everything, disrupting your software launch date or update schedules and sales forecasts. 

It can even negatively impact your entire team’s morale and productivity. 

In contrast, a great programmer can save time and money by detecting problems, finding possible answers and presenting a unified solution. 

But how can you tell when you’ve found the right programmer for your business or project? 

Here are five critical things to look for when hiring a computer programmer.

What to look for in your programmer

The right technical skills

Your company relies on its technical systems, so your programmer is critical to its success. 

A great programmer must have technical knowledge and experience of the software, ecosystems and programming languages your business runs on. 

And they should be able to demonstrate their skills through aptitude tests and the right questioning. 

However, sometimes the real-world problems they encounter will need novel solutions. 

Therefore, even specialists need to know what other hardware and software solutions are out there—understanding how they can best interact with and improve your business’ ecosystem.

The best way to test their overall programming knowledge is by asking questions about how foundation-level systems operate.

A good programmer should be able to answer questions on:

  • Programming languages like C++ or Java
  • Fundamental computer science concepts like data structures, algorithms, and computer networking fundamentals
  • Necessary tools like Git, Microsoft Word and Excel, SQL
  • UNIX skills
  • Editors like Eclipse or Visual Studio
  • Text editors

This is a partial list, but it is a good starting point for what a programmer should be aware of.

Knowledge of your company’s purpose

What your business does affects how its digital ecosystems are designed and built, so your programmer should be able to explain the following:

  • What your company does
  • Why your company works how it does
  • The customer problems your company, its products and services solve
  • The sectors you operate within 
  • The space you occupy against your competitors

If they’re aware of how your company operates, they’re more likely to understand how and why previous programmers have designed your digital systems in the way they have. 

They’re also more likely to be able to offer solutions that align with how your customers like to interact with your offerings.

An understanding of your target consumers

Whether your business is physical or cloud-based, you’ll have at least one digital system that your customers interact with. 

And when they do, the experience should be seamless to offer exactly what they’re looking for when they’re looking for it.

Your programmer is responsible for ensuring your ecosystems work in the way your customers expect, so they should be able to relate to and understand your customers’ needs. 

This knowledge and understanding will allow them to create systems that work to solve your customers’ problems.

A love of solving problems

Application building is a complex and time-consuming process; if systems fail, it may be business-critical.

Your programmer will need to consistently manage:

  • Discovering why code isn’t compiling
  • Searching for what’s causing errors
  • Finding out how to fix production issues
  • Working quickly to resolve the problems

One of the ways your programmer might demonstrate their problem-solving ability is by immediately outlining errors they’ve found in your website or programmes, offering solutions for how they can most effectively be resolved.

An attitude of continual learning

Your programmer works with constantly evolving technology, and they’ll need to stay ahead of digital trends to have the most significant positive impact on your business.

Look for signs that your programmer:

  • Stays up to date with the latest industry trends and announcements
  • Offers solutions using systems and tech that are novel to your company
  • Suggests ecosystems updates based on best practices
  • Isn’t afraid of change or effort and will bring the most suitable technology to your business

A confident and trusting attitude

Your digital ecosystem is the result of every team member pooling their soft skills for the best outcome.

No matter how brilliant a programmer’s ideas are, they must speak up and be respected by their colleagues to implement them.

Therefore, the top programmers are self-assured in their ideas and actively participate in design conversations to aid in developing the application architecture. 

However, they are not over-confident. Instead, they step back and listen entirely to every team member’s points before jointly agreeing on the approach that will give the best outcome. 

Confidence can also mean having the assertiveness to make more minor changes. Instead of overhauling your ecosystem, a great programmer may start with a small but impactful improvement.

Respect for their team

Programming is a team effort with real-world problems often needing combined skill sets and experience for the best solution.

Great programmers realise what they do and don’t know and where their skills and the skills of their colleagues are most suitable.

Therefore, your programmer must be able to collaborate with people with a wide range of skills and respond appropriately to disagreements. 

They also shouldn’t be afraid of attending company culture events and taking time to discuss non-work topics to build a rapport with their new colleagues. 

Great adaptability

Rarely does a project run smoothly, and your programming team will often have shifting priorities. 

Therefore your programmer needs to be adaptable to put down and pick up tasks in the short and long term. 

Many programmers take practical steps to ensure a paused project doesn’t confuse them upon restart, so signs that your potential hire is competent include:

  • Taking time to understand the nature of the shifting priority
  • Liaising with team members to know where everyone got to
  • Creating a status report of where everyone got up to on the paused project to make restarting at a later date easier
  • Ensuring everyone on the team knows what the current priority is and why and its deadline

Interest in post-delivered projects

The continued functionality of your company’s ecosystem is the surest sign that a programmer has done a stellar job.

Great programmers, therefore, take an active interest in projects they’ve delivered for the rest of their life cycle. 

This interest can show itself in several ways, including:

  • A willingness to help with testing, troubleshooting and training
  • An interest in data and analytics around usage so they can learn and adapt their work in the future
  • Using the system they built themselves to achieve tasks, so they can see how it solves customer problems

Deadline oriented

Providing your customers with prompt service and a reliable ecosystem begins with hitting deadlines on digital projects. 

To consistently hit deadlines, a great programmer needs to:

  • Understand their remit on a project
  • See the ramifications missing a deadline has across the business
  • Explain when they think a deadline is unachievable and outline why
  • Confidently speak up when they believe a project is falling behind target
  • A willingness to be flexible with their working hours to ensure delivery

While you shouldn’t expect a programmer to give up their personal life to ensure deadlines are hit, reasonable flexibility in this area is critical to the success of your projects.

Passion for programming

Being passionate about what you do makes you more likely to do well. 

Passion helps programmers seek new solutions to old challenges, keep working when projects get tricky, and show up even during the more mundane working days.

While passion can be hard to quantify, it usually showcases itself in ways such as:

  • Visiting industry conventions in their own time
  • Taking part in programming events
  • Reading news about the industry
  • Having a shelf full of programming books
  • Trying new methods to solve problems
  • General curiosity about the work of their colleagues

Resilience through failure

The debugging process is critical to the success of any application, and this process highlights where your programmer will have gone wrong.

A great programmer must be able to see their mistakes, not get overly self-critical, chalk it up to gaining experience and move on with finding a solution.

Having resilience through failures ultimately only makes for a better programmer.

What to do yourself

You should also consider what you can do within your organisation to uncover the best programming talent. 

Consider the following steps as part of your programmer hiring process:

  • Outline your project before you hire a programmer, so you know what you’ll need.
  • Write an effective job description to attract the right people for your project.
  • Structure your recruitment process, so you hire a programmer who’s a good fit.
  • Consider whether a remote or full-time in-person job will lead to the best talent and whether you need to find and hire remotely.
  • Consider whether hiring a freelance programmer for a current project could make the most business sense.
  • Tailor your interview questions to your candidate, using their CV and social media profiles to uncover potential weak spots that may need further explanation.

Where can I find good programmers?

Support from IT Talent helps you find intuitive and reliable programmers. 

We’re a computer programming recruitment agency that finds you the skilled professionals that keep your business ahead in your sector.