Finding and retaining IT professionals

Hardly any other professionals are as in demand as developers. Sean Bave of Stack Overflow explains how to find the right IT professionals for your startup.

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The German economy is doing well—too well if you ask some human resources managers. IT specialists are already in short supply today, and especially in startup cities like Berlin and Munich, companies are competing for sought-after experts and programmers. According to a recent study by the industry association Bitkom, 82,000 jobs in German IT departments are unfilled, which is almost 50 percent more than in the previous year.

Companies have to compete for the scarce resources and startups often lose out to large companies in terms of job security and salary. We talked to Sean Bave, Managing Director EMEA of the large global IT network Stack Overflow, about how startups can still score with IT professionals and how to gain attention on the recruitment market.

DMEXCO: After the USA, Germany is the most popular country among IT experts. What can companies do to retain employees long-term? Is it primarily about a big attractive salary or is that too short-sighted?

Sean Bave: Companies compete for the best tech talent on a global market. It would be frivolous to assume salaries aren’t important. But even if salaries in the USA are much higher on paper, the high quality of life attracts many developers to Germany. We have noticed that remuneration is increasingly being seen as a matter of course. Talented candidates are asking what else an employer has to offer.

When asked what is important to them about a job in our recent survey, developers around the world confirmed that they want a job that offers them particularly interesting challenges. 54 percent of the respondents attach particular importance to the technologies they would be working with. Every company should therefore take a look at the particularly popular languages, frameworks and other tools, and develop a feeling for how attractive its own tech stack is. We have also learned that candidates place particular importance on which development culture they will work in and whether they can further develop their skills there. This is something that employers need to support as much as possible, not only through budgets for conferences and new technologies, but also through a culture of learning and sharing.

DMEXCO: How can employers score particularly well with programmers? In your opinion, what role do flexibility, work-life balance and the possibility of remote work play for the younger generation? Can they convince potential new employees with more traditional incentives such as company cars, pensions, etc.?

Sean Bave: This seems to be shifting. Worldwide, around 30 percent of developers would like to work (full-time) from home. So what could make more sense than for employers to offer them this possibility? In addition to this, the number of part-time developers in Germany is significantly higher. Worldwide, flexible working time models were the third most important criterion for IT professionals seeking a job.

Employees in the IT industry are no different from those in other industries and appreciate it when employers also express their appreciation by investing in their employees. However, we see that many of the things companies like to highlight in this regard—like pool tables, old-age provisions or company cars—are increasingly becoming tertiary factors. However, to make a job really attractive, you should also prove that you understand the interests and wishes of developers. The best benefits are not just a show of gratitude to the employees, but proof of a good development culture. A paid trip to an international developer conference might cost the same as a company summer party on Mallorca, but the former could be more exciting for developers. IT staff are also delighted with a Club Mate flat rate, but even more so with a new first-class screen.

DMEXCO: Speaking of Club Mate, have you ever tried it?

Sean Bave: Yeah, I’ve tried it. Let’s put it this way: I wouldn’t switch to an employer in Germany for this alone.

DMEXCO: From your point of view, which startups do developers prefer to large, established companies? Working for a startup often means long working hours and less job security. What makes them attractive, then?

Sean Bave: The survey shows that developers work in companies of all sizes. The hectic daily routine in a startup, however, doesn’t have to be right for everyone. An interesting number in this respect is that 80 percent of survey participants stated that they still write code in their spare time. Outside of work. The challenge for companies of any size is to tap into this enthusiasm as an employer. Developers want nothing more than to reap the rewards of their work. They want to see what their code achieves, get direct feedback from colleagues and mentors, and have the freedom to try new things. Compared to other companies, startups are often characterized by the fact that managers have a technical background, and that the development teams influence the choice of technologies used and have a greater impact on business decisions.

DMEXCO: What is the best way to find IT staff today? The good old job ad is not very promising in the recruiting market, is it? What about sourcing through employers?

Sean Bave: Yes, the power lies with the candidate, but many companies have yet to understand all the implications of this shift. After all, they are no longer just talking to candidates who can choose from several employers and job offers. Very probably these candidates are also quite happy at their current job. The first step is to attract awareness for your own company in the scene. Invite developers to meet-ups or hackathons. Send your developers to events or have them share their knowledge on a tech blog.

Apart from that, you should actively search. This includes advertising jobs specifically to the right target group, but also approaching candidates directly. Your pitch has to be right, because you are also advertising yourself and your company, as unusual as that may sound. Work out the unique selling points of the team together with your HR managers in the IT department. What exciting tasks is the company currently working on? You should be as concrete as possible. Developers appreciate it when you talk with them in concrete terms and at eye level without using superficial marketing jargon.

Why a start-up might be your next employer

Sean Bave has been with Stack Overflow since 2012 and has played a key role in the company's growth. Since 2017 he has been General Manager of Stack Overflow Talent and Advertising as well as Managing Director of Stack Overflow EMEA. As a member of the executive team, Sean is responsible for defining the company's talent business strategy. His primary focus is on connecting developers with companies.