Product Tips and Insights
We Don't Have a Developer Diversity Problem. Here's Why.
It seems like every day, we keep hearing more and more about the lack of diversity in software development. It is a real concern. Look at most development firms or teams. Go to a hackathon or a developer conference. Tech companies say they would like to be diverse, but their hands are tied by the shortage of tech talent.
So what do we do about it? Do you need to know something so magical or be connected to such a narrow group of people to get into software development?
A few years ago, we were starting to wonder that about our own development firm. We’ve always enjoyed finding creative ways to add new people to the team, but those new people always looked very much like the people we already had. It wasn’t until we created dev:launch (devlaunch.com), our developer apprenticeship training program, that we started to understand what it took have a more diverse team.
Now, we know the reason there isn’t more diversity in software development is because, by and large, companies don’t know how to recruit new, diverse talent or are unwilling to make the changes necessary to make it happen. We know. We used to be one of the companies posting on the same job boards, recruiting from the same universities, sponsoring developer conferences, and yet expecting to find a more diverse group of potential developers.
Since we started dev:launch, we’ve adjusted our perspective and our recruiting approach — and we’ve seen it pay off in making our team more diverse. Here’s what we’ve done and how you can make the same approach work for you.
1. Go where diverse people are.
If you want to be diverse, isn’t it common sense to go into a diverse community? But it wasn’t common sense to us until we formally started dev:launch.
Dev:launch was born out of our belief that hundreds, if not thousands, of people in the Columbus area could become developers if they had the awareness and access. We knew we had the opportunity — and, really, the obligation — to become a catalyst for diversity in software development. This meant we would need to engage with people in a very high touch and personal way so that development could be a potential career.
To facilitate that, we formed some key community partnerships to help us connect with and relate to more people. One of those key partnerships is with The Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML). We started a free learn to code class at an urban branch of CML. At first, we didn’t know what to expect or even if anyone would sign up. We were blown away when we ended up with a 60-person waitlist for the first class.
Beyond the interest, we also didn’t know who would sign up. 75% of the students in the CML learn to code class are people of color. We’re also seeing a 20% female participation, and we’re looking for additional ways to increase that number. These percentages now match the percentages of minorities and females that we are bringing into dev:launch and onto our own team.
2. Change your hiring criteria.
Here are some things you might be doing that are preventing you from hiring diverse new developers.
- You have junior developer positions that require a minimum of 5 years of experience or more. Creating artificially high barriers to entry recycles the same development talent and doesn’t bring in anyone new or diverse.
- You ask for 3 years of experience in a programming language that has only been around for 18 months. Yes, we’ve seen this. You know who you are. It shows that you don’t know what you are talking about and/or you run an old, staid development team. It also prevents you from adding new, diverse talent that would have only learned the current technologies.
- You require a bachelor’s degree or other certifications for new or junior developers. Get over yourself. People learn to code in many different ways and although there is nothing wrong with getting a formal degree or other validation of skill, many smart and effective developers have taken a non-traditional path. This is about skill, not school.
3. Be prepared to invest.
Building relationships with new, diverse developers takes effort, time, and money. You will need to engage with new and different communities over an extended period of time. Learn about the resources in those areas and figure out how to plug in and add value. Then, get to know the developers taking advantage of them. What have those developers learned? What skills do they have? What are their expectations of a team and company? How do they see their career? Get ready to roll up your sleeves alongside these folks, because if you don’t, someone else will.
If you had asked us a few years ago what we thought about diversity in software development, we would have said what a lot of companies still say: We hire the best people we can find that fit our culture and have the skills we need. We’re doing the best we can with what is available.
Thanks to dev:launch, we know the lack of diversity in development has more to do with companies needing to think and act differently about developer talent. Companies just aren’t looking in the right places and aren’t doing the work necessary to engage with diverse people.
Don’t be one of these companies. Make a decision right now to think and act differently.
Ryan Frederick has had the privilege of being part of several startups and growth companies. He has helped companies grow from inception, to viability, through to sustainability. During the evolution of these companies, Ryan as served on company boards and been instrumental in capitalization activities. He has also helped companies to expand to international markets. Ryan brings a unique blend of business acumen and technical knowledge to help companies and clients achieve their objectives. He enjoys the process and challenge of starting and growing a company. Ryan (@ryanfrederick) is a Principal at AWH (@awhnet), Director for Startup Grind (@startupgrind | @startupgrindcmh), Chairman i.c.stars|*COLUMBUS (@icstarscolumbus), Co-founder (@black_hack) and leader ProductCamp & ProductTank Columbus.
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