Is This The End of The Road for The Lone Wolf Tech Developer?

Written by Michael Catford

December 14, 2017

Front-end vs. back-end vs. full-stack developer

If film and TV are to be believed, the stereotypical developer is a solo operator. A lone wolf who isn’t interested in finding a pack, and when one presents itself will join reluctantly.

While the archetypal developer is still in existence, the modern realities of dev life are about as far removed from this cliché as they can be, As this hilarious video from Kantega shows.

In fact, it is difficult to think of a more collaborative exercise than developing particularly with Scrum methodologies necessitating constant, high-quality teamwork in order to produce the required results.

So how has the tech world gone about reconciling developer personalities with the overtly collaborative landscape in which they now must work? We spoke with Gidon Cain, Backend Engineer at Canva, Riley Smith, Technical Recruiter at Versent, and Jason Fischer, Head of APAC Development at Bambora, three tech professionals tasked with that exact challenge, to see how they go about it.

The flexibility to allow personalities to collaborate

There’s no real formula to predict how two different personalities will work together, thus there’s no hard and fast set of rules to get the most out of any one development team.

With this is mind, Canva has set up a particularly flexible structure to enable their development teams to work in whatever way suits them best. “We are not overly prescriptive on project management tools and specific team processes. Each team can bend things a little to suit their team makeup,” advises Cain.

Cain also notes the role of company culture in inspiring a similarly collaborative attitude company-wide. “In terms of collaborating across teams, I think an open culture is the real trick. People are pretty generous with their time, and if you need to get the assistance of other parts of the engineering team this is usually offered with great enthusiasm.”

The perks of being diverse

Variety is the spice of life – anyone who’s purchased a pack of Arnott’s assorted creams can tell you that. A good dev team is like a packet of assorted creams is how the Forrest Gump quote goes I’m fairly certain. As this article from the Harvard Business Review outlines, diversity allows the whole to become greater than the sum of its parts, and can actually make for smarter teams.

Canva makes a point of hiring an Arnott’s assortment. “We are definitely quite a diverse workplace when it comes to personalities,” says Cain. “Introverted or extroverted, conservative or carefree. Some people here have a real eye for detail. There are a few perfectionists. There are people who are super driven and will do anything to get a project over the line. Some people question everything. Some people go with the flow. It’s a big mix and I think it works pretty great. People who fill gaps in the company’s existing skillset or mindset are extremely valuable.”

For Fischer, the very definition of a successful team is one that has great diversity but that still manages to work well together. “They’re not afraid to challenge each other. They fail or succeed together. They learn from their failures (which will certainly happen) and they grow together. They take pride in delivering the solution together and celebrate the wins as a team, not individuals. They are able to check their ego at the door.”

“A successful and high performing team looks similar to what we have now,” adds Smith. “We do more than we should be able to for our size and the team click really well. A successful team needs to have strong leaders who listen, but also cultivate a culture of openness so employees actually raise concerns or suggestions.”

A basic need for soft skills

While variety is undoubtedly a good thing, team members still need to hit some personality minimums in order to gain a seat at the development table. As levels of collaboration have risen in recent years, so too has the value of so called ‘soft skills’ – the ability for a person to work well within a team.

When hiring new talent, soft skills have overtaken hard technical skills as the priority for our experts. “There obviously needs to be a fundamental level of skill that allows someone to do the job, but we can help round them out technically if they have the right attitude and are a good culture fit” advises Smith.

Fischer agrees: “I definitely lean more towards soft skills. In my experience, it’s far easier to teach someone the hard skills. Teaching someone personality, however…”

For developers who may see themselves fitting into that clichéd developer mould, the writing’s on the wall. The lone wolf, ‘I’ll deliver the work if you just leave me be’ type arrangement may have cut the mustard in the early years of tech, but now a professional developer must be open to engagement, both with the tech stakeholders and with the other developers within their team.

Developing yourself – your soft skills, your openness and your levels of engagement with your team – is the first step to ensuring that you’ll continue to develop tech for years to come.

Written by Michael Catford

December 14, 2017

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