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How to Hire a Software Engineer

how to hire a software engineer

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Key Takeaways

1. While there are demonstrable benefits for many companies in having developers in-house, many companies do not know how to hire a software engineer.  

2. The benefits of hiring a software engineer include regular software testing, input of experts, project and program management and efficiency. 

3. For businesses unsure how to hire software engineer we suggest the following tips: Be flexible, interview with real-life development tasks, hire quickly, consider international candidates and remote hiring, and offer stock as part of compensation. 

4. Many companies can benefit from engaging a PEO or staffing agency to take care of hiring software engineer. 

The rise of eCommerce and ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS), means that software development is more closely integrated with the marketing and service offerings of a company than ever before. In fact, according to the latest projections from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, from the decade 2022-2032 it is expected that there will be a 25% increase in demand for software engineers (compared to 3% across all professions as a whole). 

While software engineering outsourcing is always a possibility (with some saying Covid-19 has led to a pick-up in IT outsourcing), there are distinct advantages in having software engineers or software developers in-house, within the organization, to manage the overall project and process. 

In this article, we explore these benefits, and provide 12 practical tips for businesses unsure about how exactly to hire a software engineer. 

What Is a Software Developer?

There are a range of important software-related skillsets which are slightly different. When hiring for the role, and putting together a candidate profile and job description, it is crucial to have a clear idea of exactly what you want when you set out to hire a software developer. 

A software developer is an ‘end-to-end’ software professional. Their focus is to oversee the entire software creation lifecycle. This includes ensuring that the final product is fit for end-users. While they will have technical programming and coding skills (e.g., Java, Python, C++), their skillset is broader and always considerate of the end-user. 

Often software developers will have a focus or niche within software development, such as mobile applications, front-end, or back-end development. 

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What Is a Software Engineer? 

Often the terms ‘software developer‘ and ‘software engineer’ are used interchangeably. And this is how we treat the terms in this hiring guide. 

However, in order to ensure the best hire possible, it is important for companies to understand how the terms can be used distinctly. 

A software engineer applies engineering principles in creating software. When businesses require tailored solutions to meet their unique needs, they can engage a custom software development service that employs skilled software engineers and developers to create bespoke applications aligned with their specific requirements. 

Software engineers, as with software developers, will often have a particular focus.  While they utilize the coding and technical skills that a software developer does, they place more of an emphasis on the technical side, and less of an emphasis on process, compared to a software developer. Common specialties include: 

  • Back End. This is a focus on aspects of software that are not visible to the end-user;
  • Front End. This is a focus on the user interface, including layout, appearance and user experience;
  • Full Stack. This means competence in both back-end and front-end;
  • Security. This means looking out for the software’s potential security flaws, and building in fixes;
  • DevOps. An approach to software creation that emphasizes a symbiotic relationship between development (‘dev’) and operations (‘ops’). 

What Are the Benefits of Hiring a Software Engineer? 

There are a range of benefits that apply to hiring a software engineer. These include: 

  • 1. Regular testing
  • Hiring a software engineer or software developer means that the business’s service or product is developed and refined with a constant reference to the practicality of implementing that solution. Where a business does not hire a software developer, there is a risk that the company’s product or service will have unforeseen problems when it comes to implementation. 
  • 2. Subject matter expert input into software development
  • Having a software engineer in-house means that they can regularly check in with subject-matter experts. For example, in the case of a machine learning legaltech, the software developer can regularly touch base with practising lawyers about the accuracy of a contract law solution. Or, if we consider an eCommerce site in development, subject matter experts can ensure that marketing messaging is always lined up with the actual operation of the website. 
  • 3. Project and program management
  • Software engineering does not happen in a vacuum: If development is outsourced externally, there still needs to be someone in-house to ensure that the outputs of the external providers are in-line with business expectations and requirements. It is difficult for the business to assess this themselves if they do not have a software engineer on board.
  • 4. Efficiency
  • Outsourcing software development means waiting on an external party for new iterations and updates of the software. It is often faster when aspects of software development (especially overall oversight), are carried out internally. 

How to Hire a Software Engineer: 12 Tips

If unsure how to hire a software engineer or software developer, we suggest the following 12 tips:

  • 1. Size the job appropriately
  • It is essential when hiring a software engineer or software developer to ensure that the job requirements and expectations are realistic. For example, there may be no need to hire a permanent software developer for a time-limited project where a fixed-term or ‘contract’ hire would do. 
  • 2. Identify your ‘must have’ technical requirements
  • Depending on your project software needs, there will be certain technical requirements from applicants. For example, if carrying out iOS app development, familiarity with the Swift and Objective-C languages is important. For web development, JavaScript or PHP are important. 
  • 3. Don’t forget soft skills
  • To get the most out of a software engineer, it is essential that they can integrate with the wider team in your company. This is where soft skills come in. 
  • This means considering leadership, communication and teamwork skills, alongside the technical or ‘hard skills’ referred to above. 
  • 4. Flexibility
  • While it is natural to go into hiring with a certain set of expected technical skills (e.g., competency in Python), we recommend being flexible with expectations. For example, a good software developer can usually pick up another programming language quickly, even if they are yet to have experience with it. 
  • Candidate profiles and job descriptions should be created with this flexibility in mind. 
  • For general information on fine-tuning your recruitment strategy check out 5 Powerful Strategies to Attract the Best Employees
  • 5. Real-life development tasks
  • There may be a temptation for recruiters and hirers to use ‘cookie cutter’ software tests to evaluate whether or not a new developer is up to the task. 
  • Instead, it is worth considering using a real tech problem that the company has experienced in the past. This will test the ability of the applicant to operate ‘on the fly’, and respond to the specific kinds of problems that the company faces. 
  • 6. Refine your interviewing technique 
  • While it is important in a software engineering job interview to ensure that the applicant has all the relevant technical skills, companies should consider behavioral questions in interviews, as well as competency-based questions. 
  • Behavioral questions such as, ‘Name a challenge that you faced in the past and how you overcame it’, can be essential for working out whether the applicant has the relevant soft skills as well as technical skills. 
  • 7. Hire with speed
  • Software engineers or developers are often in high demand. As they may receive multiple job offers, every hiring business should ensure that it has efficient hiring procedures in place to hire a software developer as quickly as possible.
  • 8. Consider international candidates
  • With the rise of remote work, it is becoming far less important for workers to all be based in the same location as the company’s head office: We live in an ‘open talent economy‘,  after all. Furthermore, due to IT skill shortages, it is often easier to acquire staff based in another location. 
  • Hiring a software engineer or software developer internationally could mean either sponsoring a visa for an applicant to come to the ‘head office’ country. Or, it could mean using an international Professional Employer Organization (PEO) or international contractors based overseas. We discuss these possibilities in greater detail below. 
  • Read more about the practice of hiring internationally at How to Hire Globally.
  • 10. Consider a trial period
  • A trial or probationary period of employment can be useful for assessing the skills of a new software engineering hire before being fully committed to them. 
  • Note that in many countries there are strong restrictions on trial periods. It is also worth noting that, all being equal, a job with a trial period is less attractive to an applicant than an immediately permanent position. Therefore, the existence of a trial period may be off-putting to some otherwise desirable candidates. 
  • 11. Emphasize non-compensation benefits
  • While money is always important, it is not the only relevant consideration for a potential new hire. Potential benefits worth offering might include:
    • parental leave (more than the statutory minimum); 
    • generous/unlimited annual vacation leave;
    • health club/gym memberships;
    • childcare stipends; 
    • relocation assistance. 
  • 12. Have an onboarding process in place
  • No matter how skilled or experienced, all new software engineers/software developers will need an ‘onboarding period’ where they come to understand the new job. 
  • New engineers or developers should be slowly introduced to their role in a way that allows them to come to grips with the particulars of that company. This is the best way of mitigating against the risk of an early resignation. 

Video: Top Interview Techniques for Hiring Software Engineers

In the video below, a top tech recruiter explains what software engineers can do to ace their interview. 

How to Hire a Software Engineer with an EOR 

Whether hiring internationally or locally, instead of directly hiring a software engineer, another option is to engage a third-party firm to do so. In the software context this is often known as staff augmentation

These third-party agencies are commonly known as Employer of Record Companies, Professional Employer Organizations or Staffing firms.  

The benefits of a third-party firm doing the hiring can include: 

  • 1. Combined hiring and recruitment solutions
  • A PEO or staffing agency can take care of recruiting software developers and software engineers, as well as hiring them. 
  • As well as advertising in all the general and IT-specific job boards, staffing agencies and PEOs will often have extensive informal networks to recruit developers in the desired country of hire. 
  • 2. Cost savings
  • To compliantly hire a software engineer who continues to live overseas, the alternative to a PEO/staffing agency is to set up a local legal entity (e.g., a subsidiary company).  This is an expensive exercise. 
  • To compliantly hire a software developer who will move to the ‘head office country’ means visa sponsorship, which is also expensive.
  • Compared to those options, a staffing agency of PEO can be much more affordable (and with transparent pricing based on a certain fee per employee). 
  • 3. Compliance
  • A specialist HR provider will understand all the taxation and employment laws that apply to hiring in that country. Not only that, through an Employer of Record solution, the third party becomes liable for employment and employment tax liability in that location. 
  • By contrast, to hire a software developer directly means that the company itself takes on all tax and employment law liability. 
  • 4. Speed
  • Where a third-party firm takes responsibility for recruitment and hiring, they can often hire more quickly than the company itself would be able to. This is because, as hiring and recruitment specialists, they have extensive processes already in place to optimize recruitment and hiring. 

Hire a Software Engineer through EOR 

Hiring a software engineer or software developer  in-house can have a lot of advantages for businesses that depend on tech, or have tech as a key part of their product or service. 

For businesses unsure how to hire a software developer, we recommend the following: 

  • Be open to flexible skillsets;
  • Test candidates with real-life development tasks;
  • Hire quickly;
  • Consider international candidates;
  • Where possible, incorporate equity into compensation packages

Businesses should also consider the benefit of hiring a third-party firm (such as a staffing agency or EOR) to hire employees. on their behalf.

Horizons helps companies recruit and hire software engineers all over the world. Contact us today for a no-obligation discussion. 

Frequently asked questions

As the terms ‘software engineer’ and  ‘software developer’ cover a broad variety of roles, and international hires are common, it is impossible to give a precise figure. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that the median salary for software developers in the U.S. (the closest category to ‘software engineer’) is $110,140 per year or $52.95 per hour.

According to international freelancing marketplace Upwork (covering freelance software developers and engineers all over the world), the median pay for software developers is between $15 and $30 per hour

Hiring costs will differ substantially depending on: 

  • whether employees or contractors are sought;
  • whether recruitment is outsourced; 
  • whether a PEO or staffing agency is used; and,
  • the specific technical competencies and level of seniority expected. 

You can either recruit and hire a software engineer directly, or engage a recruitment or employment firm to do it on your behalf. 

For smaller, and more contained projects it can make sense to hire an independent contractor/freelancer rather than an employee. For more substantial or ongoing projects it is better to employ a software engineer or use a PEO solution (see above).

The most recent data from Glassdoor shows that the average time to hire was 40.8 days for software development engineers. This was the 6th longest time-to-hire of all professions. 

An in-depth 2015 study of hiring times across IT-related specialties showed a range of 12.3 days (for a web designer) to 35 days (for a software engineer)

These long hiring times can present an opportunity for firms with the capacity to hire more quickly than others. 

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