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What Startups Look for in Software Developers

Considering working at a startup as a developer? Here are some of the characteristics most startups look for in a developer (beyond purely technical)
What Startups Look for in Software Developers
SO
Sohail Pathan
Last updated on April 26, 2023
Tired of the uneventful corporate life?
Considering working at a startup as a software developer?
First I would request that you think about it again. Startups are not (always) fun and they are certainly not for everyone. I have been working in startups and scale ups for the last 10-12 years and I have worked with small teams and bigger software engineering teams. One of the key challenges we constantly faced was: how do we hire the right software developers? How do we make sure that we create engineering teams that will take the company to the next level while at the same time making sure we maintain a company culture that will help the company scale? Should hiring software developers be all about programming languages, operating systems, and other technical skills? Or should it be something more holistic, taking into consideration things like good communication skills, or empathy? I tend to think that the while the hard skills are important, there is not enough focus given to the soft skills.
Here are some of the characteristics most startups look for in a developer (beyond purely technical)

Introduction

Are you a software developer/software engineer currently in the job market? Overall, thats good. The market for software engineers is quite hot and it's expected to stay that way for the foreseeable future. If you're considering becoming a software developer in a startup, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Startups are generally all about being nimble, scrappy, and able to pivot on a dime. That means being willing to try new things, learn quickly, and work long hours without complaining (too much). So if you're ready to embrace the chaos and dive headfirst into the world of startup development, buckle up and let's go! Within our team, we have a rather straightforward process for hiring software engineers. During the interviews and technical challenges, we are of course looking to assess if the candidates have the necessary technical skills based on the role (hard skills). While this part is important, we also spend a lot of time and effort trying to understand if the candidate has the right essential soft skills and mindset that can make them thrive in a startup setting. Below are some of the characteristics most startups look for (beyond purely technical). Don't get us wrong here: There is no question that the technical abilities are important. In fact they can be quite important for many startups. However, here we are going to focus on the soft skills, the skills that not many people talk about, however important they may be.

Flexibility and cross functionality

Startups are all about change, they are all about pace. Therefore, software developers in startups should be adaptable and open to change as well. A successful software developer must be willing to wear multiple hats, take on different responsibilities, and try out different (and many times new) stuff. Sounds easy? It's definitely not. Being able to wear multiple hats and at the same time keep the focus on the right stuff can be rather complicated. This is why flexibility and adaptability are the most important soft skills for software developers.

Strong communication and interpersonal skills

Now this is a tricky one. Communication skills are easy to be overlooked by startups during the hiring process. However, communication is super critical in a startup environment, especially when this is a remote one. Developers need to be able to formulate and communicate their ideas clearly, listen actively, and work collaboratively with other team members. Especially for remote first teams, this is super crucial (and applies to everyone, not only developers). Good communication within a software development team can do real magic when it comes to the ability of the team to find its way out of every day work and tackle complex problems. This is ultimately what real teamwork is all about.

Advanced problem-solving abilities

The development process can be an adventure for most startups. Complex project requirements, uncertain timelines, are just some examples of any startup every day life. The ability to think critically in such occasions is such an important skill for developers. This skill paired with creativity, can help developers and startups come up with innovative solutions. This skill comes mostly with experience, however, a strong analytical mindset can be rather helpful.

Technical proficiency and attention to detail

In addition to proficiency in the core technologies used by the startup, developers should have a broad understanding of software development practices, frameworks, and tools so they are able to adjust when required. Since a lot of the startups bootstrap a lot, dev productivity tools can be a life saver. Startups need to build faster, ship to the market, learn and grow. Moreover, since most startups like to innovate, being able to code in multiple programming languages can be a strong plus.

Passion and motivation

Successful startup developers are passionate about their work and are driven by a desire to create something really meaningful. They are self-motivated (as startups have very little management time) and have a strong work ethic. Developers who are able to self manage, create work (instead of being appointed with work) and are driven by their passion are a startup's CTO dream.

Ability to learn (and unlearn) quickly - continuous learning and unlearning

Strong developers will be quick learners, able to pick up new concepts and tools with ease. At the same time they will be open to “unlearn” old habits and ideas, adapt to the situation and move forward. While this applies for every role, this is particularly relevant for software developers. New tools appear every day, new technologies take over the old ones at light speed, artificial intelligence dominates everything, and software design and implementation approaches become outdated at a blink of an eye. In order to keep up with all that, software developers must be willing to constantly learn, constantly adapt, constantly forget. Startups who want to stay relevant and keep innovating will then need developers who keep themselves constantly up-skilled. You know the saying that curiosity killed the cat? Well, this does not apply to software developers 🙂

User obsession, empathy and focus

Startups exist to solve problems for their users. That's all. So, developers should have a deep understanding of the user's needs. In our case at ApyHub, our users themselves are developers so it's super cool that we are building stuff for the people we know most about.

Pragmatism and practicality - a great way to stay relevant

Startups are moving very fast. Therefore, developers must sometimes be pragmatic and adapt in order to move on. Being ideological about how things “ought to be” is sometimes a roadblock. Precision to one's values and ideas is always important but at the same time, being practical and realistic is what will move a startup to the next big milestone. Ultimately, this is a time management exercise and focusing on spending the time where the impact is greater.

Entrepreneurial mindset

Finally, it is very nice when developers think like founders, having an entrepreneurial mindset. As a co founder, I like working with software engineers who are willing to take (calculated) risks, be comfortable with ambiguity, multitasking and be able to work in a fast-paced, constantly changing environment. They are armed with patience and curiosity, passion and courage.

Conclusions

We had a very brief look at the most important soft skills for software engineers in startups in the tech industry. Personally, I firmly believe that effective communication that is backed by some degree of emotional intelligence is the foundation for anything. We also should not underestimate the role of the company in nurturing a safe environment that promotes open good communication and encourages mistakes and innovation. In the end, (almost) all skills can be taught, can become a habit. Sure, you can not really tech someone "critical thinking" or to have "excellent communication skills" but what you can do is create a space for them to observe others, to learn and to adapt. Sometimes thats enough.
Intrigued? Interested in taking the step?
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