22/01/2023 8 min read

Hiring software engineer trainees: avoiding common pitfalls and ensuring success

As we entered 2022, the IT job market was thriving in a way that we hadn't seen in a while. Companies were offering generous compensation packages as they competed for top talent, and LinkedIn was flooded with job postings as a result. By spring, cracks began appearing as economic uncertainty loomed and companies began tightening their financial plans and budgets. By the end of the year, the number of jobs had dropped by half.

Just take a look at supply and demand in December’22

According to Jinni, a popular IT job portal in Ukraine, by the end of 2022, there had been a 50-60% decline in vacancies for almost all levels of experience, except for senior candidates with a good command of English. Moreover, the share of senior vacancies has grown from 13 to 24%, indicating that companies are hiring less but with increased requirements.

Meanwhile, the competition among trainees and juniors is higher than ever… Here's a response rate to job postings by experience level

On the one hand, it feels like the right time to hire motivated entry-level engineers. On the other hand, businesses are not seizing the opportunity eagerly. Why so? The discussion on why the industry does not want Juniors and why it should have changed started back in 2020, right after the Covid-boom, and the jobs market for entry-level specialists hasn’t changed noticeably since.

We’ve been hiring entry-level specialists for years now

We have a long-lasting and well-established culture of mentorship in our Core team, and a plethora of KPS school graduates have built prominent careers in IT. We believe that mentoring experience is essential for senior engineers, it contributes to soft skills development (who) and helps to widen technical expertise (where). It is cost-effective and employee retention is admirably higher than average. Last but not least, raising juniors is essential for a healthy balance on the workforce market.

I remember a coming-out story at (popular media for and about IT in Ukraine), where a DevOps bragged on how he managed to get a 9k offer for doing nothing. This is what happens when everybody’s chasing seniors instead of educating motivated newcomers!

Anton Trakht, CEO at Kultprosvet

Everyone wants to have senior engineers, because they provide value

In order to train junior developers, we need to invest in the working hours, effort and attention of the experienced engineers. That’s kinda obvious. Is this a risky investment? In our experience, it‘s a low-risk adventure with a high ROI.

Yes, there is always a risk that you might invest in a developer but not profit from them. They could leave as soon as they gain proper experience to apply for higher wages. Such attitudes used to be quite common a year ago, and knowing all that top companies and rapidly growing products were competing for the best seniors, sometimes luring software engineers in Ukraine with astronomic wages, changing the balance of the market, in a very dangerous way.

War in Ukraine and the global recession have changed this dynamic for good. Finally, product owners of a rapidly growing product we work with stopped running away when hearing 'junior’ or ‘trainee’ next to hiring. Recently we engaged some of the product teams in an experiment. We’ve hired a bunch of trainees and junior QAs and worked out an approach on how to hire an entry-level employee and succeed. In brief: keep it simple, make it fast.

We hired two QA trainees and one junior PM for a fast-growing product and the results are great now

Besides the basic hard skills, there are three traits we are looking for while sourcing and interviewing for entry-level jobs:

  • Intelligence
  • Motivation
  • Good command of English

Intelligence is simply an ability to acquire new skills, an ability to learn. Motivation is what drives intelligent people to perform. Being able to communicate in English is essential within the industry since we export our services globally.

Yes, that's simple. Just choose an intelligent motivated English-speaking person and look where it takes you. But don’t wait too long, a month or two is usually enough to see whether a newbie fits your company’s culture and is eager to thrive, perform and develop a career path with you.

Proper onboarding and training are essential for success

In our teams, each newbie is assigned a mentor. It doesn’t have to be the best (meaning, the most experienced in hard skills) person in the team, it could be a middle-leveled specialist, yet sociable one. Someone, whose job for about a 20% of the time is dedicated to a newbie’s success. The mentor’s responsibilities are setting and reviewing tasks, monitoring the training progress and helping out with all the logistics.

We begin with small, well-defined tasks to ensure a smooth transition for new employees. During the first month, we closely monitor progress and pay special attention to formal theoretical training. Observing the new employee's approach to tasks and processes is also important, as it helps identify potential challenges early on. We understand that the first month can be overwhelming, so we dedicate time to review and training, and then focus on ways to improve efficiency and speed of delivery.

After the first weeks, we move to well-scoped and well-designed tasks, aimed to discover the heart of the business. There are gonna be tons and tons of questions at this point, so it may take weeks or even months. Once we get through this point and reach a steady pace in day-to-day tasks it’s time to move up the ladder to more complex tasks, aimed to give a sense of ownership and commitment. By then we usually realize whether a newcomer is a good fit for a project.

What if it didn't work out?

The Ukrainian workforce market is bursting with intelligent and motivated newcomers eager to build careers in the IT industry! Let go for good and make another try. The testing curve is fast enough to make this trying process cost-efficient in the end. And pleasant too since it’s all about meeting intelligent people.

The thing is, IT is the only industry in Ukraine, which can provide a decent level of life for intelligent educated people. Here are some numbers. Trainee's wages for QA engineers range around 500$ per month and the median salary for, let’s say, a university professor can rarely reach 600$. That is why most intelligent people in Ukraine opt for a career in IT.

Dasha Parshina, HRD at Kultprosvet

Great developers are not only expensive but also hard to find. So, if you have a high-quality screening and hiring process, hiring entry-level developers can be a great way to find those up-and-comers and turn them into great developers.

If you are ready to invest in entry-level talent and want to learn more about our approach to hiring and training junior developers, reach out to us at Kultprosvet. We would be happy to share our experience and help you build a dedicated team of software developers from Ukraine.

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