If you don't hire juniors, you don't deserve seniors

Isaac Lyman on September 22, 2018

Let me tell you the story of a very successful company that made a very big, dumb decision. We don't hire junior developers or interns...if you d... [Read Full]
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Agreed 100%. Lots of places don't realize that these seniors must have come from somewhere or learnt their craft at some point. They are not born seniors :D

The part of about baggage and preconceptions is definitely true. I'm more productive now than I was years ago but I can also get stuck in a rut faster than before.

Mixing is the key.

Another thing that I think it's very important, which might not apply to Netflix due to size and their "magnetism", is how risky it is to have only senior developers in smaller companies. You increase the bus factor a lot and, as you said, the company is also sending the signal that they don't really care about career development (which might also entail that they don't care about people that much, just the product). So eventually one or some of them will leave. I'm speaking from personal experience here.

 

This is awesome. I've worked with people who were huge proponents of the "hire only seniors" mentality. To them, senior devs == productivity. There were many times I found this to not be the case. I had teams where my employees were mostly junior, and each one of them contributed more and in more valuable ways than many of the seniors. Seniors often over engineer, over complicate for the sake of complexity, and waste tons of time arguing of nuances of the "best way". (Which typically meant the most complicated way) This is not to say all seniors are like this or that juniors are better than seniors, but that juniors in my experience make exceptionally valuable contributions to the company.

Stellar post Isaac, very needed right now.

 

Hm.

That highlighted something I've only seen a little -- I didn't know it was so widespread, since I'm not in the industry. I'm old enough to know that I want little-to-no part of it, but also inexperienced enough that I would barely apply "junior developer" to my name.

While I was reading, I thought, could it be that this trend is a proxy-block against diversity quotas? Though you mentioned big companies in the public eye that probably should/do have a diversity quota, it just seems like experience is the perfect negative to your average "problem glasses" wearing, super passionate about everything, everyone is so talented and amazing, intern for hire. Junior developers may not be the specific target at all.

Way off?

 

I thought, could it be that this trend is a proxy-block against diversity quotas?
I think perhaps only unintentionally it could be. Most companies actually dont have those quotas.
I think it mainly comes from companies just wanting to get top talent.

 

I think perhaps only unintentionally it could be.

Unintentionally, sure.

My aim with that probe was to point at the plausible deniability it gives a group of people. Hiring filters out on all kinds of categories and always has. If young people are all up in identity politics (the source of all this bs), then it follows that they, making up the majority of juniors (grads, soon to be or recently) are also excluded by something innocuous.

Two birds, one stone.

I think it mainly comes from companies just wanting to get top talent.

I think, when top talent clashes with company culture, top talent will lose. Otherwise, top talent would be running all the companies, and I think that's a stretch.

 

Yes, perfect sense. Minorities can't always get the 5 years of experience to become senior, when all the jobs want senior devs.

 

I wasn't thinking minorities in particular, but such a proxy-block does prevent the status-quo from changing too much/too soon in any one direction.

Seasoned programmers will still come in all shades, since "5 years experience" can still be done at home... that's how most of the early guys did it. The key is, rather than look for a job, they used what they learned to create their own businesses (mostly porn back then, but a lot of e-commerce in general).

 

No logic, doesn't it make it harder for ALL juniors, not just the minorities? Or are you implying that there are more juniors among minorities?

No logic, doesn't it make it harder for ALL juniors, not just the minorities?

Yes, logic. It's where the recent praise for junior developers has stemmed from. If all juniors didn't have it so bad, this wouldn't be/have been a topic of discussion among devs of all ethnicities.

A way to maintain the status-quo is generally to not hire people unless they really give you a reason to hire them (experience greater than 5 years is probably included).

I don't think we are disagreeing. My point - it has nothing to do with minorities.
From my experience of working in IT in Australia (white majority country) most developers, including in junior and leading positions were either from India or Asia.
(I know that India technically is Asia, but you know what I mean)

 

This is a great post! I really like how you presented the argument for junior devs. Something, I have not really given much thought to, even thou I was a junior dev about 4 years ago.

I think it is intutive to adopt the “we only hire senior devs” mentality. And the reasons for it, on paper, make some sense. However, as you pointed out, that mentality is absurd and those reasons are not practical.

TBH, I’ve also fallen to that train of thought at some point, after having bad experiences with a few junior devs who were slacking. On the other hand, I’ve had great experiences guiding other junior devs who had the aptitude to learn and always reached out for guidance. There is a satisfying feeling that comes with helping other devs who are willing to learn.

Great post! And thank you for sharing!

 

Great post, Isaac!

Does anyone know of a good resource for finding remote junior dev jobs? It feels rare to find companies hiring remote juniors, or holding remote internships.

JrDevJobs is a great jobs board, but I've never run across a resource specifically for junior devs looking for remote opportunities.

 

I started a list on GitHub. If you know of a company that hires remote Jr devs, please submit a pull request. :)

 

I think any job board will do. Just look for positions that match your skills and ignore the title requirement.

 

"In most cases, a junior developer with six months of experience on a team will be more effective than a senior developer who just signed on, for no other reason than familiarity with the domain."

I just couldn't agree more. It just happened in my project, about 2 weeks ago: one of the seniors of my project, who had been working for two years, left. Management had this brilliant idea of replacing him with another senior from a different project.

It was a total failure. Not only he does not know anything from the project itself and he is as lost as a junior would be, but the bias he carries on from other projects makes him challenge things rather than learn them. He just hates it! Everything is different, and messy (as every project is, at some level).

Bottom line is: when we bring seniors to our project, way too often we have to confront them and their bias (e.g: PR reviews), whereas when it comes to junior devs, we can teach them, and, eventually, they excel.

 

EXCELLENT! Thank you!

Now we need to find a way to hack the "love" button so I can press it several hundred times. Just saying.

 

I didn't know I can't press it multiple times, I tried and failed.

 

Thanks for posting. I didn't know this was a thing and I'm going to reconsider my conversation with Netflix about upcoming interviews. It definitely speaks loads about the culture.

I had recently worked at a company for a short-while where they had zero tolerance for mistakes and it ended up that there was so much blame shifting and lies that were spewed by the executive management. The entire company culture was so toxic. However, they did hire plenty of junior developers. Mistakes are inevitable when you hire junior developers. That's why they're given more time to get things done and paid less. Excellent managers understand how to deal with that.

 
 

I've been studying for nearly a year to become a junior developer. I know enough to work as a junior web designer, but I've been terrified of actually applying. It's motivation-killing to be turned away, and I still have a lot to learn. Knowing that some companies appreciate a developer with my low level of experience makes me feel better about applying. Even if I'm turned down, I can feel better knowing that I probably wouldn't like working there anyway.

 

I agree to the substance of this article, but found myself zeroing in on the $54k figure for a junior developer. What city/state/country is that? I can't find anyone who will work for less than $80k because of the tight labor market in IT right now. I'd gladly hire a junior but when the cost difference is only a few k more why would I? When I started my IT career in 1993, I was making $32k and still had to wait tables on the weekends to pay bills!

 

Location matters a lot. Those numbers are a nationwide average for the U.S. (I link to Indeed in the article, if you want to follow up), but in SF, SoCal, NYC, Seattle, and other places with a high cost of living you'll definitely be a couple standard deviations above the mean.

If the cost of a junior developer and a senior developer were the same, the case for junior devs wouldn't be quite as compelling. However, I'd still argue strongly in favor of hiring them.

In my experience, the cost difference is more or less fairly represented by those numbers from Indeed. When I started full-time as a junior a few years ago, $54k was roughly what I was making--and I was grateful to have it. But I'm in Utah, where the cost of living is very reasonable.

I know at least one junior dev who would consider an offer at that rate. I'd be happy to introduce you.

 

It asks for 3+ years of career experience...that's mid-level around here. And Dallas is probably out of his range. Thanks all the same, it looks like a cool place to work.

I'm the hiring manager - I can bend the requirements if he's awesome. No worries, though, it's a hot market and I'm sure he won't be unemployed for long - especially if Amazon builds HQ2 in Dallas !!!!

 

Great article. Many companies expect people to be productive instantly on joining which is difficult even for experienced developers as each company has different tech stacks, organization of teams, work culture, etc.

Many companies have HR filters which screen out most applicants over whimsical criteria like less than 5 years experience in a 3 year old technology. The only way to even get a shot at it is through referrals.

Another issue is that teams are so caught up with "productivity" that they ignore mentoring. Anything which is not considered to add direct value to the bottomline are discouraged.

 

Great post!

I believe there is another reason you need less experienced developers (both junior and semi-senior). You will certainly have senior developers who, like you mentioned in a paragraph, want to become VPs, CTOs, Team Leads and so on.

They need not only to guide people technically but also become Counselors, Human Managers, Career Builders or whatever you want to call it. You need your seniors to have time to build soft skills and work with the junior and semi-senior devs in bringing them up.

You probably won't get far in your career without soft skills. From one side you can always look "up", work with managers, POs, PMs and build your soft skills when communicating "up", but you cannot be a good lead if you never work your soft skills "down" with your colleagues, build relationships and bonds, understanding their emotions and thoughts.

Like everyone is posting. Mixing is always' best. Sometimes you still need at least 1 senior in the team, and that's a great opportunity for that senior to become a tech lead, and for the juniors to learn from an experienced person. Results will be good. But as a manager of that team, you can expect delays and bad code here and there. Senior developers are still learning!

So hiring only seniors is hiring people that might still be eager to learn but they will have no room to do so. Probably you will only be left with the less passionate ones, and just a couple of the good ones (probably because they see some career opportunity among this group).

 

This is a great post! As a junior web dev, I understand why company won't hire junior developers, but I really just want an opportunity! Diversity is really important for a company, I guess junior developer is always good for the growth of company.

Thank you for your great post :)

 

I disagree. Speaking from recent personal experience, sometimes hiring Junior Devs is the worst thing you can do to your company and team, especially if your company is small and in the middle of a large project. However, if your company is a household name and you can't afford to higher Junior Devs, then you're doing something wrong.

The ultimate key is to have a diverse team.

 

Great post! Totally agree with every argument you gave. We was having this same kind of discussion at the company I work, and we don't came to a decision yet... But if we all could read this text together, I'm sure that we begin to hire some junior devs ASAP!

 
 

Being in the later end of junior, but not quite mid level, is proving difficult because of this. I'm seeing very little junior roles in my area, that or I'm not looking very well and I've noticed a lot of reasonably sized companies in that area looking for mostly senior roles.

It's totally possible I'm not looking in the right places, but this is something I 100% agree with.

Also companies wanting juniors with 4+ years of experience.

 

Meanwhile... All the juniors around the world (including me) be like:

 

Great post. Hopefully it changes the way some employers think.

 

If you refuse to hire junior developers because they make “messes,” you’re sending a strong and unintended message about your company culture: no mistakes allowed.

Disagree, the message seems to be something more along the lines of "We do not have time to train junior developers"
Which is a fair point from business perspective.

“Hi, I’m a team lead, I’ve worked here for eight years and I joined the company as an intern.” Impressive and very rare.

It is very rare to find a developer working at the same company for more than a couple years. Nothing to do with juniors and the point of this article.

The author seems to be thinking that junior developers are somehow 100% guaranteed to become senior developers in the near future. A lot of "juniors" are just trying out IT to see if the career works for them.

Look at it from the stand point of business.
Perhaps making a statement like "we do not hire junior developers" is kinda too blatant, but the statement "if you dont hire juniors your company has shitty culture" - is just plain wrong.
I worked at places that hire juniors and I worked at places that don't - it has nothing to do with the company culture, it has everything to do with the business structure and how well off the company is on the market.

I think the problem does not really exist, if you are a junior dev - just apply for positions that match your skills and ignore the title requirement.

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