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As more companies focus on integrating DevOps into their software development life cycle, there is a greater need for a different type of developer; one who is comfortable doing work in any part of an application, from the front end to the back end.
This does not mean everyone on the dev team has to have 10+ years experience and be a “full-stack developer”; instead, managers are looking for team members who have some familiarity with all of the components within the company’s software platform, and the confidence to do certain things in nearly every layer; from the database to the UI.
“The increasing prevalence of microservice-based architecture (versus older, more-traditional monolithic-designed applications) means the demands on the developer are different than they used to be,” says Justin Herrick, founder of Lunar Collective, a software consultancy in Austin, TX. “A lot of companies are emphasizing broad, technology-agnostic skills over deep expertise in a particular programming language. The desire and mindset of the individual for continuous learning is key to this approach.”
Depending on your current organizational capabilities and practices, here are a few ideas for bridging the tech talent skills gaps you are facing:
1) Create a short “full-stack” bootcamp
Learning & Development departments within more and more companies are partnering with IT to run front and back end developers through short, two-or-three week trainings where the participant learns and practices full-stack skills. When developers from multiple departments or product lines participate, this approach works efficiently to homogenize full-stack skills across the organization.
Since you’ll likely incorporate a fair amount of “live ammunition” in the way of real examples and code from your business, having your senior developers in the classroom to give color and context to the instruction will be highly valuable to the learners taking this information back into their daily work environments.
2) Create a culture of learning and versatility from the get-go
In today’s enterprise IT environment, there are too many things going on (from big data to security, cloud technologies to automated testing) for one person to be deeply experienced in every technology or practice. But organizations who strive to get ahead, like Moser Consulting of Indianapolis, take measures that emphasize the importance of versatility as a trait of IT employees.
In December, Moser, a provider of IT consultation and big-data analytical services, announced its plan to add 116 technologists to its staff in the coming years. CEO Ty Moser stressed the significance of first finding technologists who are well-rounded, and then training them (often at a later time) to fill any skills gaps.
“This is about offering top training opportunities to our current workforce to keep each employee at the top of their field,” said Moser in a recent interview for Indianapolis Business Journal. “To stay ahead of the curve, we can’t just attract technology professionals, we have to keep them trained up and on top of the quick-shifting nature of technology.”
The IBJ article goes on to cite two impressive statistics about Moser that stand as evidence that a focus on tech training is working for this organization:
Moser spends more than $5,000 per employee per year on training
The company has a 98-percent employee-retention rate.
By creating a culture of learning and versatility from the time of hire through the development of the IT employee, your company can go from solving to preventing skills gaps problems.
3) Create opportunities for “T-shaped” developers to become “V-shaped” developer-mentors
The T-shaped tech professional has deep expertise in one area of IT and a breadth of shallower knowledge across a number of others. Like the T-shaped employee, the V-shaped technologist has a lot of know-how in one area, but has nearly-as-high proficiencies in other related areas too.
The advantage of the V-shaped developer is that he or she is able to bring a lot of unique perspectives to the table during team problem-solving activities and can also be very effective in mentoring juniors. Here are a couple of ideas for being more intentional in facilitating this value-producing shift from “T” to “V”:
Pair-program seniors and juniors on a single machine
Sounds scary to some, but it works! At a recent talk given at Southern Fried Agile in Charlotte, NC, CEO of Menlo Innovations Rich Sheridan talked about their unique approach to custom software design, “High-tech Anthropology®.” This process includes, at times, two team members (often one more experienced than the other) programming together on one computer. He shared that it is simple practices like this that help encourage team members to share ideas and experiences, which fosters camaraderie, creativity, and productivity.
Dedicate physical space for reflection - and make it whimsical
At Red Ventures of Fort Mill, SC, developers can escape to a fantastical library in the Learning & Development building decorated in themes from Dr. Seuss stories. The books on the shelves are in continuous rotation amongst the teams. The titles are hand-selected by leaders and peers across the organization to promote thought-provoking discussion on new ideas.
These are a just a few ideas of things we’re seeing successful organizations do on the learning front to support the full range of skills required of technology employees. Whether you use one of these ideas or something different, the key is to keep a combination of formal and informal learning opportunities in front of your development teams at all times, helping technologists engage proactively in the continuous cross-training their roles demand.