Software Developer Skill Assessment: Identifying Key Skills to Hire Top-Tier Talent

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Rafael Timbó
By
Rafael Timbó
|
Chief Technology Officer
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Table of Contents

Software developers must maintain strong technical skills, an expansive knowledge base, and the right soft skills to collaborate with coworkers and stakeholders. Learn how to assess these skills and mistakes to avoid in the assessment process.
Published on
November 10, 2021
Updated on
June 14, 2024

Hiring top development talent goes beyond assessing their knowledge of databases, programming languages, and DevOps best practices. Developers, especially due to their current demand and increasingly multi-faceted roles, also need specific soft skills to achieve strategic organizational goals and collaborate effectively between functional departments. 

Comprehensive skill assessment for new hires and existing employees is critical to establishing, maintaining, and growing development teams. A lack of assessment may have serious consequences for teams, including widening skill gaps, expensive optimization issues, or misaligned hiring strategies that lead to high turnover. 

Establishing project requirements, identifying the key engineering skills needed to meet those requirements, and assessing developers provide a clear path toward both a healthy development team and a strong product deployment. 

Balancing Key Software Developer Skills 

While the majority of a software developer’s KSAOs (Knowledge, Skills, Abilities, and Other characteristics) lean more heavily towards technical expertise than other positions, strong soft skills are equally vital for success in the role. For example, a junior Python developer willing to learn and a well-balanced combination of technical and soft skills may be a better contributor than a veteran senior Python developer who doesn’t work well on a back-end development team. Understanding these skill areas is critical to avoid mis-hires and workflow issues.

Soft skills include behavioral and interpersonal skills that help developers to collaborate and work in team environments. Often informed by education and work experience, hard skills often overlap with technical skills but are more conceptual than practical. Due to their conceptual nature, requisite hard skills are usually determined at an organizational level and vary between companies. Technical skills involve using these hard concepts to execute specific and actionable solutions.

A combination of these core skill areas is often needed in any development role — both in remote and in-house settings. A strong balance of soft and technical skills helps developers not only fulfill their daily responsibilities but also aids in the following:

  • Adapting to changing environments
  • Contributing to team objectives
  • Achieving organizational goals
  • Implementing new methodologies
  • Consolidating work in integrated development environments
  • Maintaining full-cycle development processes
  • Testing and debugging

Technical and soft skills lay the groundwork for more complex responsibilities, so discuss specific skills with existing and new developers as they relate to an organization’s established framework and workflows.

Software Developer Technical Skills

Technical skills encompass a broad range of proficiencies, from understanding programming languages such as Python, Java, or JavaScript, to mastering development frameworks such as React for front-end or Spring for back-end development. Typically, technical skills fall into several subcategories, though they may be organized differently depending on specific development team KPIs

Coding Languages and Framework

Certain coding languages provide more comprehensive and targeted solutions depending on project requirements, such as a focus on front-end or back-end development. Java, Python, and other structural programming languages may be more appropriate for back-end development than front-end languages such as HTML or CSS.

It’s common for developers to employ several languages in either tech stack, but for regimented projects, it may be more efficient to focus on finding a specialist in the specific language needed.

The vast majority of developers should be proficient in one or more of these popular programming languages:

  • C, C#, or C++
  • Java or Javascript
  • PHP
  • Python
  • Ruby
  • SQL
  • HTML/CSS

Beyond language competency, look for framework proficiency — a well-organized framework improves an application's quality and reliability.

A full-stack programmer may be the best choice if both front-end and back-end expertise is required. While more challenging to find, an experienced full-stack developer likely understands the software product from end to end, including the network, database, and hardware. 

Algorithms and System Organization

An algorithm is a set of instructions that tells the software how to calculate to solve problems. The comprehensive system organization is created by the various data structures used.

An ideal software developer is strong in both algorithms and system organization. They can effectively organize the data and determine the proper algorithms to solve problems quickly.

Look for knowledge and experience in the following areas:

  • Database and computer architecture
  • Operating systems
  • Product enhancement, optimization, and strategic planning
  • Data structures
  • Linux/Unit, JS, Perl, and Shell
  • Design review and agile Scrum team techniques
  • SaaS, web services, and web API
  • UI toolkits and frameworks
  • Microsoft ASP.NET MVC

A qualified software developer understands the programming principles underpinning basic control structures and Boolean algebra. They apply object-oriented programming (OOP), functional programming, and declarative and imperative programming techniques as needed.

Essential data structures round out system organization. Ensure developers understand the following:

  • Basic structures like arrays, matrices, and objects
  • Caching and memorization
  • Hash codes, tokens, integrations, and encoding
  • Sack vs. heap memory

When assessing, it’s helpful to prioritize strengths in algorithmic system organization theory and application.

Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills

There’s more to creating a software product than typing code. A developer needs inductive and deductive reasoning skills, process analysis, and project management. A successful software engineer knows how to create solutions based on challenges in the testing and debugging phases.

While it’s sometimes considered a soft skill, it’s imperative that a developer can think critically to move through the development process logically. There’s no shortage of programmers who can regularly produce code, for example, but the candidate should also be capable of finding troublesome lines in a program.

Delve into the candidate’s development methodologies to find out if they have:

  • The ability to break down large, multifaceted goals into smaller ones
  • Parallel thinking skills to handle multiple complex issues simultaneously
  • Mastery of existing productivity tools to create a solution

Software developers should apply the scientific method to defining and resolving problems. When developing an answer, they should use these research skills and perform root cause analysis — additionally, lateral thinking, abstraction, and creativity enhance any product.

Databases, Versioning, and Data Management

Developers need to know how to apply MySQL, PostgreSQL, or other important database management systems (DBMS) to an organization. In addition, they should follow the basic requirements for properly backing up, securing, and managing a database.

Versioning is critical to source code management. The entire team relies on a logical structure. Assess the candidate to ensure they understand the importance of versioning and if they commit to best practices for micro commits, atomic commits, and descriptions.

Talk to them about short-lived feature branches, trunk-based development, and dependency management. Experience with specific package managers and the risks of dependency problems also contribute to a greater understanding of database management.

The developer must also acknowledge that naming is critical for code readability. Consider the following questions when determining code cleanliness:

  • How do they approach naming files, classes, variables, attributes, functions, and methods?
  • Can they follow semantic versioning?
  • Do they write self-explanatory code rather than relying on comments to explain what the software is supposed to do?

Ensure documentation is top of mind for any developer being assessed. While some may not believe documentation is necessary, minimizing business risks and properly maintaining code is essential.

Software Developer Soft Skills

Soft skills play a pivotal role in the success of software developers, complementing technical abilities with interpersonal and cognitive competencies that enhance team dynamics, project management, and stakeholder interactions. 

Unlike the technical skills that deal directly with a developer's ability to write code and design systems, soft skills focus on communication, collaboration, and personal traits that contribute to a productive and positive work environment.

Time Management

Time management and project management skills are at the core of software development. Typical software development involves a series of deadlines, fast-paced environments, and the need to simultaneously handle multiple projects while eliminating technical debt as needed. A developer must be able to prioritize, triage, and manage deadlines through each product iteration.

Flexibility

It's improbable that any development project proceeds according to the original plan. Software engineers need the flexibility to adjust to changes within the company, the team, and the project itself. They should also be ready to learn new skills and technology in a rapidly changing industry.

The ability to learn and adapt is particularly critical anywhere on the software engineer career path. Software changes more frequently than skill sets in other industries or professions. A developer must dedicate significant time to professional development and continuous education to ensure they’re using the most efficient tools for productivity.

Verbal and Written Communication

A software developer candidate must easily communicate with peers, team members, management, and clients. Based on an organization’s synchronous or asynchronous communication style, some candidates may be better suited to interact with certain stakeholders and users.

Miscommunication often leads to poor products, premature optimization, and other expensive efficiency issues. When both parties clearly understand the requirements and the finished product, development is more efficient and effective throughout the entire product life cycle.

A software developer should convey ideas and solutions in simple language free of jargon and tech-speak — especially when collaborating with non-technical team members. One way to test communication skills is to set up a Scrum meeting with an existing team and note the candidate’s interactions and communication style. If possible, the team and candidate may also perform a task or solve a problem to observe the candidate in a realistic work environment.

Written communication skills should also be assessed beyond documentation. In a team environment, new developers must follow organizational rules and best practices for chat, email, and video conferencing when interacting with others. 

Collaboration and Teamwork

It’s rare that a developer works entirely independently. Team members must be able to collaborate on ideas, problems, and solutions at any stage of development. Most importantly, they must be able to calmly articulate their needs and issues with people whose ideas or philosophies differ from theirs.

A successful team player should handle disagreements and misunderstandings maturely to protect the deadline and team cohesion. Ask how they've handled previous conflicts in the past to get a feel for their collaboration and problem-solving style.

Emotional Intelligence

Not only does a developer need strong communication skills, but they also need empathy to interact positively with others on the team, within the organization, and with customers. Negativity often impairs teams, even if the candidate is a programming rock star. Teams need someone who tolerates the naturally occurring stress in software development. 

A software developer must also provide constructive feedback, act as a good mentor for junior developers, and willingly share knowledge with others. Additionally, make sure that the developer has an open attitude towards receiving feedback on their work. It’s common for development cycles to take long periods of time, and even if their work is substantial, it may need to be revisited later due to budgetary issues, further ideation, or market influence.

Methods to Assess Software Developer Skills

After identifying critical skills and competencies needed in the role, organizations must adequately assess candidates to focus their applicant pool and focus on a core group of ideal hires. Code portfolios, live interviews, and coding assessment tests provide a well-rounded software developer assessment pipeline that helps hiring teams detect strong candidates and avoid mis-hires.

Code Portfolios

Ask for a software portfolio, which most developers store on platforms like GitHub or GitLab. The candidate may also have additional work to showcase through a blog, open-source project, or strong online presence in tech forums. It’s helpful to hiring teams and often beneficial to candidates when they are open about their development knowledge and past work.

The portfolio should showcase the candidate’s best work using the languages and software development skills necessary to succeed in the hiring organization.

Live Interviews

Live interviews provide a glimpse into several key developer traits that may not be as obvious in an online or phone interview. Even if the candidate is well-rehearsed in answering typical interview questions, hiring teams can observe body language, communication skills, and overall passion for the profession.

In an in-person or live technical interview, it's the hiring team’s responsibility to learn about the candidate's technical knowledge and the extent of experience they have with various tools and processes used in a company. In development, it’s helpful to train team members in interviewing and ask them to sit in on the session. Companies that take advantage of a team interview environment tend to have more comprehensive interview experiences and favorable hiring outcomes.

Coding Assessment Tests

Despite a portfolio, hiring teams must also assess coding skills in an observable and measurable environment. Look for both code-writing expertise and problem-solving skills in these tests.

Several computer-based assessments and skills tests are available that tend to provide better answers than a written test. Both free and for-pay coding assessment tools may be found online and are customizable for various languages and aptitudes. A take-home test is a good alternative if hiring teams measure candidates' ability to follow through on a more extended project. It also helps if candidates are too nervous to show their skills in a live environment, as live assessments are often nerve-wracking.

How to Avoid Common Assessment Mistakes

It’s typical for companies to want to hire developers quickly to begin work on new or outstanding projects. However, if hiring quickly means that certain key assessments are overlooked or rushed, an organization is at a much higher risk for a mis-hire. Hiring speed is often critical to overall hiring efficiency — especially when using a recruiting agency that relies on these metrics. Regardless of whether a recruiter or hiring team is internal or external, it’s important to ensure that assessments are accurate, reliable, and provided to developers in a timely manner. 

Even when assessments are completed, there may still be mistakes in the process. Some of the most common errors in the evaluation and interview process include the following:

  • The developer may construe unpaid pre-interview assignments as "giving away code" instead of providing an accurate assessment of skills.
  • Take-home assignments often become too time-consuming, and candidates may drop out.
  • Misunderstandings occur when candidates are told to meet a stated requirement but are counted off for not fulfilling unstated ones.
  • Take-home tests may foster interviewer bias if the best candidate’s work is used as the standard to measure the rest of the interview group.
  • Interviewers and companies fail to provide feedback to candidates. They don’t inform candidates if or when they advance in the hiring process.

Assessing skills for software developers is an essential part of hiring. Organizations need candidates with communication skills, emotional intelligence, a talent for problem-solving, and end-to-end software development. Poor hiring and assessment practices result in high business risks and costs. A great hire brings more than programming skills to an engineering team — they bring value to an entire organization.

Let Revelo Assess Developer Skills For You

Identifying requisite skills and competencies and assessing candidates takes a considerable amount of resources from an organization. With Revelo, you don't have to spend hours finding and evaluating developers. Our platform and talent marketplace allow organizations to source and hire pre-vetted Latin American engineering talent ready to work in U.S. time zones.

We’ll match you with developers who are rigorously vetted on soft and technical skills through live interviews and coding challenges. After hiring, we also assist in ongoing administrative tasks such as payroll, benefits administration, local compliance, and taxes — allowing you to focus key resources on core business operations.

Hire developers with Revelo and grow your team with experienced developers — all at a lower cost.

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