7 Top-of-Mind Career Discussions Among Software Engineers

Software engineering talent is in tremendous demand. New crops of software engineers are graduating from college, and others are being cultivated through the self-taught route or by pursuing academic study. Today, programmers can find jobs that cater to their talents and passions on nearly every corner of the Internet. Naturally, that makes it either super-easy or super-difficult to find and retain good talent. Either a software engineer is comfortable at his job, or she is ready to take the plunge into new territory.

At CareerDean, a career-minded Q&A site for software engineers, ongoing discussions exist about all elements of getting a great job as a developer and at succeeding at it. We’ve seen questions that cater to the first-time job hunter as well as questions that face every single type of software developer. Here are some career discussions that affect software engineers typically before their first job or about the lifestyle and culture of working for years at the office, and we’ve added some advice on how employers can handle these very common issues.

Does degree or internship matter?

A number of aspiring software developers want to take the Mark Zuckerberg route. They firmly believe they can succeed in creating the next best thing, and they will drop out of school in order to show their commitment.

But then they return to the job market, because it simply doesn’t work out, and they wonder if they’re going to be penalized because they don’t have a degree. Will you overlook their resume if they don’t have a BA or BS?

On a similar note, most software engineers recognize the value of internships. But some simply haven’t done any. Will they have a harder time finding a job?

Employers can specify in their job listings if a degree is absolutely required. Job listings should also specify if prior internships are desired or preferred—or if everyone is on equal footing regardless of internship or not. Perhaps it can be communicated as a bonus (“bonus points if you’ve completed an internship.”) This topic can also be broached during the interview, but it may result in far more resumes than you can handle if the job description isn’t as specific.

Value of Coding Bootcamps

There are a plethora of developer bootcamps out there. These are intensive coding experiences that last weeks or even months that prepare developers for a career in software engineering. But can you truly be the cream of the crop with only a bootcamp under your belt?

We hosted an AMA (ask me anything) with Dave Hoover, co-founder of Dev Bootcamp, who shared some insights on the experience that he created for aspiring developers. Many questions on bootcamps revolve around whether it’s an affordable alternative to college, if credentials matter when being accepted into one (or finding a job thereafter) or whether there’s a stigma associated with software engineers who have more unconventional backgrounds.

Bootcamps seem to be more popular than they used to be, and there are dozens of questions that address this type of educational pursuit.

Do you prefer that your prospective employee attend a bootcamp? Communicate to them via job posting or in their interview that you value the unconventional educational path so that they are not intimidated.

Successful Negotiations

Salaries for software engineers are all over the map. An engineer could be working for Google with a great compensation package and shares, or they could be working for a small to midsize company with an average or good salary, or they could be working at a startup for peanuts (and maybe a good equity package). Of course, they could also be working at a small to midsize company for peanuts and at a startup for an amazing salary (and equity) package. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution on salaries, but many online sources can (http://www.payscale.com) give a good indication of what an employee should be making.

One of the most frequently discussed conversations revolves around negotiation, before securing the job, when dealing with low-ball offers or once your foot is already in the door. Developers wonder if they should be negotiating at all, negotiating with recruiters or if they should simply wait and go at it after they’ve established themselves as solid contributors to the team.

Employers can bypass the topic of negotiation by setting expectations early. Is there a salary range for the position? Give as much detail as possible so that prospective applicants know whether to apply or to pass. Of course, you can’t eliminate the negotiation process entirely, but it’s possible that you’ll save some time.

The Reality of Overtime

One of the biggest discussions to date has been that of the myth of the 40-hour workweek. Is it a reality, or is it unattainable? In short, the answer depends on the type of environment the software engineer works in.

Either it will be a corporate environment with many developers and more structure, or it will be in the startup environment with very little structure and a lot of room to make a difference. Those who want to work fewer hours (a full-time 40-hour day schedule) should seek a more structured environment. Those who want to make a difference but who should expect to work longer hours would thrive by taking the startup route.

Everyone starts off by working longer and harder, but over time, they establish a routine. Developers should expect to spend a lot more time initially when being on-boarded and learning more about the company culture and the code base.

Not everyone thinks to talk about overtime in their job interviews, especially someone who is joining the job market for the very first time ever. New job seekers don’t know what to expect and may not ask about company culture. As an employer you can give the employee a bit of insight into they will be working on and how long their workdays will be. You can also give employees access to their future colleagues so that they can get a first-hand understanding of life at the office.

Prejudice against Women

Let’s face it. There aren’t many female developers out there. A recent legal trial highlighted how much of a gender gap exists in technology and other male-dominated careers. Women feel that they can’t be successful as coders because they are in the minority. This stigma extends to women who later become mothers. As a result, women shy away from becoming developers because they feel that they can’t successfully navigate the career without some sort of discrimination in the workplace, be it harassment or by being paid less than they deserve.

The best way to put female engineers at ease is to create a company that welcomes female engineers. Consider putting your resources where your corporate values are by supporting non-profit organizations such as Women Who Code. Become known in your industry for implementing equal salaries by publishing salary ranges in your job descriptions.

Dealing with Frustration

Software developers have a pretty challenging task. They are working on a problem that may take hours or even weeks to solve. That can be incredibly frustrating. If you’re not a developer, think about it this way: you’re trying to build a house, and you can’t get a square peg into that round hole. How do you build it so that it works? Programmers do get discouraged, and that’s part of the job. But it’s all about the challenge and the learning experience. When you do overcome this annoying hurdle, how much better do you feel?

Often, this is a topic best navigated by the software engineer himself. But give emotional support to the developer. Having an office culture that lends itself to a bit of relaxation when the going gets tough lets the very frustrated employee know that he is valued. Small things like having a foosball table or even a punching bag can help. Organizational psychologists tell us that the color of an office space can have an impact on how people feel when they work.

Contributing to Open Source

Developers can build for their companies or their clients, but they can also contribute to the open source movement, which provides a universal license to software that is accessible to everyone globally without a fee. Some developers question whether contributing to the open source movement is worth it (and can it even help you find a job?), and others might be so devoted to open source work that they commit their working hours to it. Developer opinions are mixed in terms of whether open source has value or not. There are definitely those who are truly all about open source projects, but there are other coders who simply don’t have time for it. Still, open source is a major topic that many developers broach, as it helps them secure or advance their careers.

As an employer, you can be supportive of the open source movement. Give the employee confidence that participation in the movement is encouraged (some companies, especially Google, allow for 80 percent of company time for work and 20 percent for side projects that speak to their interests and passions), but be clear that you don’t encourage it during work hours if the developer needs to focus on her work.

The software development space is forever changing. As software development evolves, so too does the industry. But there are some underlying topics that continue to be top of mind in the industry that affect newbie developers and seasoned professionals alike, and if employers are mindful of these themes, it will make the job application process easier for not just the applicant but the hiring manager and employer as well.

Tamar Weinberg is the Director of Marketing for CareerDean, a Q&A career community focused (for now!) on software engineers. On CareerDean, anyone can share their job experiences with aspiring job seekers and those struggling in their current jobs. It’s open to everyone and completely free.