Tactical Challenges In Hiring Junior Engineers

Who even is a Junior Engineer?

If you, like me, have worked in San Francisco, especially at startups, then it’s not unusual to meet a 24 year old “senior” engineer with 2 years of industry experience. Many organizations lack meaningful career development plans or even career ladders. At a lot of companies, even if said career ladders exist, they’re steeped in politics. I’ve myself got offers to be a “senior engineer” when I didn’t even have 1 full year of industry experience, making me very sceptical of “titles” in general.

Hiring a Junior Engineer is a 1–2 year Commitment

Hiring any engineer is something of a gamble. Engineers hired at a certain level might end up underperforming (despite acing the technical whiteboard interview), or might require more mentorship/guidance than initially anticipated by the manager.

  • not having enough bandwidth for mentorship
  • not having enough senior engineers on the team who can be effective, empathetic mentors
  • not having a clear product roadmap

You Need Experienced Managers

A bad manager has been a horrendous formative experience for many folks I know.

Remote Work Presents Unique Challenges

For the foreseeable future, most tech companies based in the Bay Area are entirely remote. Abruptly being thrust into a remote work environment has been a deeply disorienting experience for even many of the most senior engineers. But I fear the ones most impacted by this turn of events will be junior engineers.

Well-Defined Starter Projects or Bugs

Any new engineer on the team will take at least 4–6 weeks (in the best case scenario) to fully onboard onto the team and become self-sufficient and productive. When it comes to junior engineers, it often takes much longer.

Senior Engineers Will be Less Productive

On one of the teams I worked on during the course of my career, I had a colleague mention that hiring a junior engineer brings down the productivity of a senior team member by at least 50%, at least initially.

Product Roadmap

Having well-defined projects which can be delineated into “critical” projects and “non-critical” projects often requires that the team have a strong product roadmap. A lot of startups, especially ones trying to find product-market fit, usually don’t have clearly defined goals or projects. This can compound problems for junior engineers, as many (but by no means all) simply aren’t well-trained to multitask on multiple goals or switch context effectively. This can lead to a very chequered experience where an engineer might end up working on a hodgepodge of different projects without a clear narrative or clear learning opportunities. This does little to help the junior engineer identify and grow skills if their focus is split or if they’re unable to focus on a problem for extended periods of time.

The Payoff Might Not Be Evident

Also the average tenure of a Silicon Valley engineer at many companies (especially startups) is 18–24 months. There are exceptions to this rule, but this is how it plays out at a staggeringly large number of companies. Engineers either leave for greener pastures or are let go (“fire fast” is a mantra many companies have internalized to the point where they default to firing).

Conclusion

Large companies are already well set up to do this effectively and successfully hire thousands of fresh grads and junior developers every year. But many teams are also simply not in the position to successfully hire, mentor and grow junior talent. Such teams should not hire junior engineers before they get their house in order. A bad formative experience can leave long lasting scars. A lot of bad practices and behaviors take years to unlearn.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Cindy Sridharan

Cindy Sridharan

@copyconstruct on Twitter. views expressed on this blog are solely mine, not those of present or past employers.