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Creating a Front-End Development Talent Pipeline

by Steve Singer

Creating a Front-End Development Talent Pipeline

It’s notoriously difficult for hiring managers and recruiters to add front-end developers to their talent pipeline. 

Front-end developers are, as the name implies, folks who work on the “front-end” of the web. In other words, they build the part of a website or mobile app that the user interacts with (as opposed to the web or database developers who work on the “back-end” of the web: web servers, databases, etc.).

Real Challenges

Because their job involves the creation of a working user interface, the front-end development skill set is often comprised of both coding and, to varying degrees, design capabilities. Finding someone with the right combination of skills can be a real challenge.

Another challenge is posed by the changing nature of the technologies and software frameworks that front-end developers can be called on to use. HTML, CSS, and JavaScript are table stakes, but these technologies have now been around for two decades (more or less). HTML is in its fifth version. CSS is in its third. And JavaScript, in addition to going through changes of its own, has now been supplemented by a number of libraries and platforms like jQuery, Node.js and Backbone.js, to name a few.

Moreover, even though their focus is on the front-end, most front-end developers will have familiarity with various scripting languages—and even full-blown programming languages—that tend to run on the back-end.

The sheer variety of technologies means that you won’t necessarily be able to find a front-end developer who knows all of them and that, unless you are a front-end developer yourself, you won’t be able to readily assess whether any given front-end developer can do what they say they can do.

Finding Front-End Developers

To address the challenge of finding front-end developers, we recommend two tactics.

First, as one of our sourcing specialists, Tara Gothreau, says, you need to find places where front-end developers hangout. She recommends you try GitHub first.

“GitHub is a place where developers share code,” she says, “so it’s naturally a great place to find them. What’s more, they will often post links to their portfolios there which gives you a chance to check out their work.” 

Twitter, as it turns out is also a great place to prospect for front-end developers. However, Aquent’s Tiffany Jennings cautions, you need to treat it as “a long game.”

“On Twitter, it's ultimately about building a community, developing relationships, and networking,” she explains, “so you can in turn ask for referrals from a group that has learned to trust you.”

So how do you build such a trusted community? Here are Tiffany’s suggestions:

  • Make sure you're sharing info that interests the people you're trying to attract. I would share articles and LinkedIn discussions and ask questions around whatever type of technology I was recruiting for.
  • Set up alerts and TweetDeck searchesfor the technologies (JavaScript, jQuery, HTML, etc.) that matter. This makes it easy to share, jump into conversations, retweet developers, and comment on development related tweets. 
  • Set up private Twitter lists. I created private lists to monitor the 10-15 developers I knew would be good to network with in my community. I also had a list of web dev thought leaders, organizations, and dev specific sites to follow and retweet.
  • Tag specific developers in tweets. I would ask their opinion on an article or trends in the field to get them talking and to follow me back.

“I found 90% of my development talent,” Tiffany concludes, “by either paying attention to the local dev community and following/engaging developers or getting referrals from people I met on Twitter.”

“Referrals pour in if developers trust that you are genuinely interested in what they do!”

In addition to developing relationships with front-end developers on social media, we have also been attracting new talent to our pipeline by offering them content that they can use. The courses we offer through Aquent Gymnasium on responsive web design, jQuery, Node.js, and Bootstrap 3 are designed specifically to teach front-end developers practical, in-demand skills.

As a direct result of working with experienced practitioners to create courses that help people advance their careers, we’ve gotten to know a number of talented developers that we wouldn’t have otherwise met.

Assessing Front-End Developers

The other challenge with pipelining front-end developers, as we mentioned up top, involves assessing their abilities.

You can certainly start that process when you finally get a chance to speak with prospective talent by asking them to describe the roles they have played on different web projects. You should also ask them how they have handled it when confronted with a web development problem they've never seen before or a specific technology they've never encountered.

Any good front-end developer will have compelling stories about those situations and a clearly articulated method, along with a list of resources they've used, for addressing them. 

As helpful as these conversations can be, however, you may need help when it comes to drilling down on actual technical capabilities. At Aquent, we've dealt with that by assembling an expert network made up of experienced front-end developers who help us review a candidate’s code and interview candidates that seem particularly promising.

Interestingly, our candidates find these expert interviews very helpful, in part because we structure them in a highly consultative way. Their point isn’t to identify areas of weakness and weed people out. Instead, the goal is to figure out where candidates are in their career, assess what specific roles they would be best suited for, and recommend specific areas where they might beef up their skills to get to the next level.

Since so many front-end developers end up having to go it alone when it comes to navigating their career path, getting this kind of guidance from someone who has gone before ends up being remarkably valuable. It's also a reminder that building a talent pipeline should be beneficial both to your organization as well as to the talent you are looking to recruit.

What do you do?

Using social networks to build relationships and solicit referrals, offering courses that will attract qualified candidates, and relying on experts to evaluate skills are pipelining tactics that have worked for us.

What’s worked for you?

Image Source (Creative Commons): J. Albert Bowden II

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