If we’re being honest, I must admit that I’m still reeling from last week’s HR Tech World Congress in London. This is perhaps the premiere industry event on our side of the pond, and by sheer numbers alone, it’s the year’s biggest gathering of talent technology vendors and HR leaders in Europe, with around 6,000 attendees for this year’s edition.

As big as HR Tech World Congress has become (5 years ago, for comparison, there were only 400 attendees), this year, it was an even bigger event for us.

That’s because we were finally able to show the rest of the world what we’ve been working so hard on behind the scenes for so many months.

The inordinate of amount of sweat equity and the countless hours of coding we’d invested in building our product were finally rewarded – and I’m chuffed.

Pulling Back The Curtain: A Founder’s View of HR Technology.

I am proud – and a bit relieved – that we finally launched DevScore, and not only did we have a viable product we could show to the public, we now have proof of concept, too. The response we had was overwhelming, and the team was delighted by the glowing reception our premiere received from the industry experts and leaders in attendance.

It’s a scary thing as a founder, watching what was once just an idea become a reality in real time. After pouring so much into a product without knowing what to expect when it’s launched and live, the experience can be a bit nerve rattling.

Even if you’re confident (as we are) that it’s not only a minimally viable product, but one that end users will love, and employers will realize real value from, too – you never know what to expect when you pull back the curtain, as we did last week.

I am relieved to report the early returns prove promising. And something of a relief, as one can imagine.

Admittedly, it has been some time since I’ve worked in the HR sector (having done a previous tour of duty as a developer), but when it comes to technology, I’ve been doing the rounds for a good decade or more. Now that I’ve returned to this industry, I must say I’m more than taken aback when it comes to how tech savvy HR has become.

It’s no secret that to keep pace and gain competitive advantage, companies across industries, sectors and markets are finally upping their game and reinvesting in recruiting; this is decidedly good news for companies like ours who focus on helping employers anticipate and overcome the many oncoming challenges companies face when it comes to talent acquisition and management.

It’s A Small World After All.

I went to HR Tech World Congress to launch a product, but I was surprised to have come away from the event with so much more than a successful coming out party.

Here are some of the key things I learnt in London last week, from conversations with prospective customers to talking shop and strategic partnerships with other exhibitors and from the conference’s content itself about what’s really happening at the crossroads of HR and technology.

1. Get Smart With Tech Recruiting.

The proliferation of smart devices will inevitably tip the supply and demand ratio for good developers even further away from employers, with what’s already a finite supply of tech talent becoming an even scarcer, and more expensive, commodity. The seemingly exponential increase in developer demand that we’re already seeing should not only continue, but intensify over the months to come.

Smart devices aren’t limited to phones, of course, nor is the increased demand for developers limited to mobile; the emergence of the Internet of Things will add millions of new programming positions to an already oversaturated market.

If you think coders are hard to find now, just wait a few months. We should see the need for qualified and experienced tech talent scale to an unprecedented high sooner rather than later.

2. Hiring Bias Is Bad Business.

As more and more smart devices, from appliances to voice recognition technology like Amazon Echo or Google Home, continue to come online and move from high end to mass market, companies who have never before employed a core team of developers and programmers will find themselves faced with the daunting challenge of quickly upskilling their workforces to keep pace with business and market needs.

We’re talking about big manufacturing companies, here, the kind of conglomerate who makes everything from vacuum cleaners to electric screwdrivers to lightbulbs. These companies are already seeing their traditional business models upended.

For these employers to successfully compete and remain relevant in our digital and interconnected world, they have to shift not only how they do business, but who they hire.

This means moving from the traditional roles associated with manufacturing, from assembly line workers to process automation engineers and supply chain specialists to technologists who are equally adept at hardware and software alike.

This is a difficult profile to find – I believe recruiters often refer to these candidates as “purple squirrels,” which is to say, there is a quite finite supply of programmers who know both of these disparate disciplines.

To successfully attract, engage and convert these elusive candidates will require employers to overcome many of their entrenched hiring biases and established practices for recruiting developers and other highly skilled tech talent. Finding developers is a huge challenge, obviously.

Even harder, however, is finding the right developers with the skills needed to tackle your mission critical tasks. But as difficult as this may be, companies have no choice if they want to remain competitive today – and tomorrow.

3. Change Your Source Code.

While the battle for recruiting and retaining tech talent will only intensify, the good news is that there remains a significant amount of untapped potential talent out there that traditional companies haven’t traditionally considered.

There are a wealth of coders who are as proficient in their craft as any computer scientist or corporate IT leader out there who, despite their obvious skills and capabilities, haven’t been able to break into corporate roles, largely due to non-traditional backgrounds, lack of corporate IT experience or lack of formal training, education or professional certifications.

HR has always put a premium on pedigree, but this is a price most will no longer be able to afford – nor should they overlook the vast pool of programmers whose potential remains largely untapped.

To build great products, we need to have great people. This means we need to develop new ways to find tech talent and bring them into the fold. Development is truly democratized, an open field where anyone with the skills can (and should) play, irrespective of education, gender, racial or religious boundaries.

To accomplish this, businesses need to objectively analyze developers skills, and hire based not on where they’ve studied or worked, but what they’re capable of when it comes to writing code.

If you’re fluent in a language, you can communicate in any context, and programming is no different. Blind hiring is nothing new; employers have long looked at ways to remove bias and improve objectivity in recruitment.

What is needed, however, are new ways to proactively source and develop developers from passive candidates into the hires they need to satisfy their growing demand for programmers and coders. Casting a wider net and encouraging more programmers to participate professionally relies on both HR and IT leaders completely rethinking everything they think they know about “how a developer is supposed to act.” Instead, they need to focus on “what a developer can do.”

There are several initiatives across both the US and UK that demonstrate how employers are reprogramming their program for pursuing programmers. Two examples that stand out are The Last Mile in the US and its UK counterpart, Code4000.

Both of these programs tap into a decidedly different pool for developing developers: their mission is teaching prison inmates how to code.

This gives this literally captive talent pool practical work experience and the chance to develop the skills they’ll need after incarceration to land professional positions as junior developers (one can assume they’re already familiar with the importance of scheduled releases at this point, too).

There is perhaps no better way to contribute to today’s society, after all, then developing and programming, given the profound ways in which technology continues to shape our individual lives and the world we live in. If rehabilitation is the goal of prison, these programs offer an ideal example of how to actually achieve this often nebulous or amorphous outcome.

I personally took a rather untraditional path to my career in web development, getting into programming with the help of a good friend who, of all things, happened to be working as a chef.

By pointing me to the profession and its possibilities, he not only changed the trajectory of my vocation, but helped me discover my true avocation, too. For this, I will be forever grateful – and remain committed to passing along that mentoring experience and paying it forward when it comes to developing new developers.

In fact, we’re currently building a platform, DevForge, to do just that. This isn’t an attempt to sell a product, so forgive the shameless plug, but rather, to advance the idea that everyone has the potential to program. No one is born knowing how to code, but everyone can learn, if given the right tools and training.

We hope we’ve built that tool, but of course, a product’s value is dictated by the end user. It’s early days, but we think we’re on the right track – and if we succeed in broadening the supply of capable coders out there, then every employer out there will win, whether or not they ultimately become customers.

We hope they do, but we’re committed to democratizing the discipline, rather than erecting obstacles and barriers to entry. It’s encouraging to know so many companies feel the same way.

4. Develop Your Developers.

As important as recruiting developers may be, retaining them remains even more imperative. Doing so successfully means it’s incumbent upon employers to help them evolve and grow in an industry where the competition for talent is turning into a recruiting arms race.

Winning this war means putting aside retention drivers like money and work life balance; developers see their careers (like their products) as a work in progress. Most of them place a premium on learning and development, whether that’s learning new software languages or getting to work with cool tools and cutting edge technologies and stay aligned with what’s new and what’s next (which in tech, is quite a lot, really).

A crucial part of this, as Google most prominently proved, is giving programmers “hack time,” for lack of a better word, allowing them anywhere between 10-20% of their total working to dedicate to skunkworks, pet projects and learning new skills. This sounds like a sacrifice for employers, but in truth, these initiatives can be hugely beneficial to their businesses and bottom line.

These initiatives ultimately help insure developers continue to evolve and grow, while remaining challenged and engaged enough to stick around a company. After all, if an employee feels their company is as committed to developing its people as it is to developing proprietary products and programs, that loyalty will likely be reciprocated with improved retention rates, longer tenures and lower turnover, too. This is a business case that works at any business (including yours).

5. HR and IT Have To Work Together To Make Work Work Better.

I know that there’s a wide divide between IT and HR, but no matter how sophisticated a tech organization or programming team may be at building products or writing code, every IT team can improve with increased input and involvement from HR.

And I say this coming from the tech side, which I know seems a little antithetical to conventional wisdom: HR is one of the most valuable tech assets any company can have, provided there’s a partnership between the people and product teams.

There can be no doubt developers are one of the tricker resources to manage, human or otherwise. Few companies have any sort of specific capability or in-house expertise focused on managing developer talent, which means it can be easy to overlook how an individual coder contributes to the bigger picture and product.

This is why it’s imperative for IT departments to assume a more active role in recruiting and retaining developers, partnering with HR to effectively map the skills and capabilities of their development teams (both internal and outsourced) to make better informed strategic decisions. These can include who should be promoted, who may be redundant or who should be assigned to which project based on their technical expertise, coding experience or proficiency with a program or platform, for example.

Recruitment isn’t just about satisfying IT’s increasingly insatiable appetite for developers and meeting demand; a developer’s aptitude, attitude, professionalism and potential all directly impact the business and bottom line, not to mention their reputation as employers amongst programmers and developers.

If the programmer isn’t a fit for the tech culture or team you’re hiring for, then it leads not only to a bad hire and the many associated costs, but also higher turnover, lower productivity and disruption in business & project continuity – which, of course, is essential for successful software and systems development (or any tech project, really).

And that’s one opportunity cost no company can afford – which, in retrospect, is sort of how I feel about missing the HR Technology World Congress if you’re in our industry.

As great as the connections and conversations were for DevScore, it’s the lessons learned about the current state and future direction of HR and technology that will likely prove the most tangible takeaways and actionable insights from what can only be described as a whirlwind week in London.

Of course, now that our launch is over, the real work really begins. And I’ve never been more excited.

HR Tech World Congress is coming to the US! Join us in San Francisco June 14-15 at Fort Mason for the greatest show on earth (or at least in our industry). Click here to learn more.

About the Author:

Peter Cummings started working life as a chef and restaurant professional, before teaching himself coding and making the leap into software development.
He’s now an internationally renowned IT consultant, thought leader, and founder of DevScore; a SaaS platform that helps recruiters and HR managers source the right developers for their businesses. He’s lived and worked everywhere from Greenland to Nigeria and speaks five languages.
Follow Peter on Twitter @CummingsPeter or connect with him on LinkedIn.