Recruiting Tech Talent: 10 Tips From The Stack Overflow Developer Survey

By January 15, 2022IT Recruiter Tips
Top recruiting tips

Did you know the majority of developers are early-risers?

That’s just one of the interesting facts we learned while reviewing Stack Overflow’s 2018 Developer Hiring Survey.

This year, more than 100,000 developers in 83 countries contributed to the annual survey. Nearly 60 percent of respondents identified as back-end developers, while 20 percent considered themselves mobile developers.

Stack Overflow is the world’s most popular online community for developers wanting to enhance their professional knowledge, grow their personal networks and explore potential job opportunities. More than 50 million programmers visit the site each month. Peruse the community’s message boards, and you will find discussions pertaining to everything from coding problems to upcoming technological innovations.

In this article, we will summarize the survey’s key takeaways for those recruiting tech talent. After reading it, you will have a better understanding of what matters most to tech developers, how to communicate with them and how to improve your response rate.

Let’s get started:

10 Things You Should Know When Recruiting Tech Talent

  1. Developers want to hear from you.

stackoverflow developer surveyGood news: Nearly 60 percent of respondents said though they are not actively looking, they are open to hearing about new job opportunities.

Additionally, nearly 34 percent of respondents said they aspire to be “working in a different or more specialized technical role” within the next five years. Translation: The majority of developers want to hear from recruiters despite their seeming disdain for headhunters.

It’s no secret that IT recruiters have an image problem. Conduct a simple Google search, and you will find several articles like this one: Why so many developers hate recruiters.

IT recruiters blasting 1,000 “InMail” messages a day — with zero personalization  — have created a seemingly uphill battle for those who want to build solid relationships with the right candidates.   

However, recruiters who approach their jobs with a win-win mentality can turn that perception around in a heartbeat.  

As David Mercer, experienced tech entrepreneur and blogger, told Stack Overflow, the key to landing top tech talent is to a). Deeply understand the role you are hiring for and b). Begin the conversation by asking about the candidate questions like:

  • What projects have they most recently completed?
  • Can they describe the types of projects would they like to work on?
  • Do they have hobbies, interests, and aspirations?

Not only does such an approach save time by eliminating poor fits early on, but it also earns the trust of the ideal candidates you are after. 

Get a few tips on screening developers in our “5 Red Flags to Watch for When Recruiting Tech Talent” blog.


  1. Job Priorities Vary By Gender

stackoverflow developer surveyFemale developers prioritize different criteria than their male counterparts when assessing job opportunities. Women surveyed said their highest priorities were company culture and opportunities for professional development.

Conversely, men gave more importance to compensation and working with specific technologies. Both men and women care the least about company diversity and financial performance. Though, not every candidate will fit neatly into these stereotypes, tailoring your approach with such information may be useful.


  1. Developers Love to Code

stackoverflow developer surveySurprise, surprise — most developers enjoy working on code outside of the office. More than 80 percent of respondents said coding was indeed a hobby. Interestingly, responsibilities outside of work don’t seem to slow programmers down.

Parents, daily exercisers and those who spend the most time outside seem slightly more likely to code as a hobby than other groups. Additionally, 76 percent of respondents who participate in hackathons and online coding competitions do so for fun. What does this mean?

Ask candidates what sort of projects they are working on early in the tech talent recruiting process. Not only will doing so help determine whether or not they are right for the role, but it will provide an opportunity to discuss genuine projects of interests.


  1. Levels of Experience Vary

stackoverflow developer surveyUnsurprisingly, developers working in some of the most coveted roles by IT recruiters — DevOps specialists, engineering managers and desktop applications developers — also have the most work experience. Despite the infancy of DevOps as a professional identity, the role requires a high level of expertise that is most often held by industry veterans.  

Conversely, those with the least experience include game/graphics developers and mobile developers.


  1. Developers Are Lifelong Learners

stackoverflow developer surveyConsidering how quickly the field of software engineering is continuing to evolve, it isn’t too surprising that the majority of developers are avid learners.

An impressive 90 percent of respondents have taught themselves a new language, framework or tool outside of their formal education.

Among professional developers, nearly half said they have taken an online course or MOOC. Additionally, a quarter of respondents have participated in a hackathon at one point or another. These data points should provide savvy recruiters with a huge clue: Good developers don’t just want a job — they want a challenge!

In fact, nearly 34 percent of developers surveyed want to be working in a “different or more specialized technical role” within the next five years. Almost 26 percent of respondents said they want to start their own company

Recruiters who talk about how great their organizations are (e.g., benefits, stock options, funding), without getting into the specific problems the candidate would be solving on the job, are wasting their time.

Those who can broadly speak to the unique technical challenges developers would encounter within their organizations have a huge leg up on those who can’t. Does that mean IT recruiters need to devote hours learning the particulars of JavaScript, Ruby, and C++?

No, but they should be able to provide the candidate with enough technical information to make an informed decision about whether or not the role would be of interest.


  1. Most Developers Are Male

stackoverflow developer surveyPredictably, the majority of developers surveyed were male. The tally came in at a whopping 90 percent. This number is consistent with earlier findings by Quantcast, who found women accounted for approximately 10 percent of Stack Overflow’s U.S. traffic in 2018.

However, according to a recent study by HackerRank, that number could soon be on the rise. Women now make up more than half of new computer science graduates and junior developers entering the workforce. The study also found women under 25 to be 33 percent more likely to study computer science than those who were born before 1983. As Ritika Trikha, head of communications at HackerRank told CNET:

“The tide is turning. Hiring managers and anybody that mentors women have the opportunity to change everything. It’s just a matter of time.”

Organizations that want to recruit more female tech talent would do well to prioritize filling entry-level positions with females. Coding bootcamps are averaging an attendance rate that is one-third female.

As TechCrunch contributor and venture capitalist, Sharon Wienbar mentions, many of these women held former careers as lawyers, analysts, scientists, and marketers. In other words, they are mid-level professionals with the discipline necessary to rapidly progress beyond entry-level coding skills.


  1. Developers Are Early-Risers

stackoverflow developer surveyStories of late-nite coding sessions are common in the developer community; whether the cause is management deploying the latest build to production at 4:50 p.m. or an entrepreneurial idea that quickly becomes an enjoyable obsession.

With that said, the majority of developers surveyed said they routinely wake up between 6:00 and 8:00 a.m. Nearly 15 percent of them wake up even earlier! There goes the myth that tech geeks are creatures of the night.


  1. Developers Are Excited About Artificial Intelligence

stackoverflow developer surveyIn 2017, industry thought leaders like Elon Musk began publicly speaking about the potentials of Artificial Intelligence (AI). In 2018, the conversation around AI officially went mainstream.

Virtual assistant, that provides recipe ideas based on the contents of your pantry? Check. Facial recognition for credit card transactions? Check. Personalized investment portfolio reports? Yep. Mya will even engage your recruiting candidates at scale with “meaningful conversation!”

How do the men and women behind the cloud computing and software algorithms that make AI possible feel about it?

Nearly 73 percent of developers surveyed said they are “excited about the possibilities more than worried about the dangers” of AI. Conversely, a significant 19 percent of developers said they were more “worried about the dangers than excited”. And less than 9 percent hadn’t thought much about it at all.

One of the most common reasons for concern? The systemic bias being built into algorithmic decision making and the danger of AI being used without the ability to inspect and reason about decision pathways.

Expect the competition for machine learning talent to increase as companies like Google, Microsoft and Amazon continue dropping hundreds of millions on research and development.

Shannon Vize, digital strategist at Mondo, recommends recruiters source candidates with solid backgrounds in mathematics and statistics for machine learning roles. Other recommendations include prioritizing candidates with an innate sense of curiosity and creativity given the abstract problems presented by AI.


  1. Developers Stand While They Work

stackoverflow developer surveyWhile most of us now spend a significant amount of our lives staring at screens, developers might have us beat. Which is why it should come as no surprise that slightly more than half of respondents claim to use standing desks while working. Ergonomic keyboards, wrist supports, and fatigue-relieving floor mats are also popular.

If your organization doesn’t already provide its programmers with rise-and-fall desks, consider making a recommendation to upper-management. Providing a comfortable coding environment is just one more thing companies can do to get an edge on the competition.


  1. Most Developers Are Employed

stackoverflow developer surveyYou knew this one was coming, right? An impressive 89.3 percent of developers are employed, with 74 percent working in a full-time role. Of those, 9.7 percent working as independent contractors and 5.6 percent working part-time.

What does this mean for IT recruiters? You need developers more than they need you. Startups are sourcing tech talent to get their ideas off the ground. Enterprise-level companies are sourcing them in the race to stay relevant.

As talented, young developers enter the market at record rates, the biggest challenge continues to be filling senior positions. The companies — big and small — who succeed in wooing the best are the ones who can offer a competitive paycheck AND a compelling value proposition.

Developers want to work on projects that provoke curiosity, challenge skill sets and inspire innovation.

Is that something your organization can offer?

Can you provide that within a phenomenal company culture?

And are you communicating that when delivering your pitch?