Who’s a Good Developer?

I hear people in all industries and careers say that all of us should hire the best person for the job. We should pick the most qualified person and engage their services. However what’s left out of most of this advice is the most important question: how do you measure the best?

We talked about this recently in a DLM Workshop led by Ike Ellis. He asked the question: how do you tell who’s a good developer? Think about it for a few minutes. I’m sure you (think you) know who the best developer or DBA is in your company, but how do you know? What’s the measure?

I suspect you’ll find it to be a very abstract idea. Perhaps it’s like pornography, where you know a good developer when you see them, but if so, then have you always been able to tell a good developer right away? In an interview?

Embedded in the idea of determining who’s good and who’s not is the idea of ranking. Is there any way to rank one developer over another? I think you might be able to do so, but only in broad ranges. We (as a group) might feel Developer A is better than Developer B, but not necessarily better or worse than Developer C. However, do we have any way of ranking these two that would stand up to outside analysis?

I don’t have any great ways of measuring one developer v another. A best I think you can trust a developer to get a particular project done, and to the satisfaction of the client. However the trust would be based on previous experience and not any objective measures.

This isn’t likely to be a problem that we will solve anytime soon, in any industry. I think the best way to gain confidence in someone is to examine their body of work. See how it matches up with the work expected from an individual and then cross your fingers, trusting they continue to perform as expected.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

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2 Responses to Who’s a Good Developer?

  1. Yaroslav says:

    Is indeed difficult to be able to say it. Lot of factors involved, not only technical skills but also the so called “soft skills”. If anyone is working on a team, relationships will be involved, is impossible to separate them. Maybe a really skillful dev doesn’t have good social skills or is not good at working on a team, making others annoyed or angry or uncomfortable. But you can have the most wonderful person and then his technical skills are mediocre. But hey, the team is going for beers each friday, but work is not finished on time, so client or users will not be happy. I think we need something in the middle. And management should be capable of redirect or reorient each person according to their capabilities and find the best spot for them.

  2. hmm, ranking developers? It may be difficult to quantify, but you can get spot one easily enough. For example, there was a time when after 6 months of searching we couldn’t find anyone to fill a DB developer spot. So this guy shows up for an interview, and I’m up to my elbows in a problem and didn’t feel like wasting another hour on an interview, but what can you do? After few basic questions, I just threw the problem at him. I figured if he can solve it in 5 min or less we’ll hire him. He did, and we did and everyone was happy.

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