The Deep End: Identifying #winning Developers

What it takes to pass the test


I often characterize the MustWin interview process as “The Deep End”. We throw candidates into the metaphorical deep end of projects and see how they perform.

The candidates we hire can navigate the lanes and jive with the team enough to seamlessly participate in our award winning synchronized swimming routine. We contract with candidates that can swim laps, and flunk out candidates that drown or require rescuing. This post is about the traits that those who pass the test tend to have.

Effectively solve problems

Be tenacious

An ideal employee is one that can take a list of goals and then achieves or exceeds them. The biggest factor in achieving goals is an unwillingness to give up. MustWin likes to work with people we can depend on. These people tend to be tenacious, because even when things don’t go as planned, they’ll come through.

Most of the best engineers I know feel a sense of euphoria upon successfully solving a problem. This rush is a part of their nature and gives them something to chase after. It doesn’t prevent boredom, or provide any guarantees, but for people that are wired this way, it provides a deeper level of encouragement than anything an employer can provide.

Deliver the Right Thing

This is important because anytime we have to redo something it adds expense that wasn’t part of the original budget plan. So having enough understanding of what’s desired to get the client what they want is important. This is also way easier when combined with a strong product sense. Often, clients don’t know what they want, so if you make correct decisions (or at least justifiable ones) along the way, you end up at the right place.

Always be productive

Ask for help/guidance

The worst thing an employee billing by the hour can do is spin their wheels on problems for extended periods of time. Our team has a broad range of expertise, and often problems that are hard for one person are easy or trivial to another. Team members with the self-awareness to realize when they’re not making progress along with the humility to ask for help are actually much more productive team members.

Stay unblocked

When project dependencies are mismanaged, it’s possible for someone to be waiting on someone else before they can proceed. When this occurs, usually one of these has occurred: 1) someone should’ve anticipated the dependency and done something about it ahead of time or 2) the person isn’t really blocked, they’re just too lazy to circumvent the issue. We look for people that anticipate blockers, schedule accordingly, and do what they can to resolve or circumvent blocking issues quickly.

Focus on Humans

Even though we write computer code, everything we do is actually for consumption by people.

Code for people

Writing well-factored code with good names, clear design, and decent documentation all makes it easier for other developers to work with the product. This is also obviously important in product design as well. Excellent written communication skills are a must for our remote team and for interfacing with clients.

Be Intensely pragmatic

I covered most of this in my Delivering Software on Time series under the developer. But just to recap:
• A focus on customer value
• Good tool selection
• An ability to simplify

Continue learning

The software development landscape has a tendency to re-create itself every few years, so #winners will take an active role in continuing their learning as they go through the motions of their day job. Developers that don’t do so quickly fall behind the times and are less productive for it.


Want to work with other Winners? MustWin is always looking for employees and contractors to join our growing team. Send us an email today!


Mike Ihbe is a founding partner of The Must Win All Star Web & Mobile Consultancy.

Mike is an expert in a dizzying array of technologies and has loads of experience managing fast-moving dev teams, designing systems, and scaling large applications. When not on the job, he can be found cooking delicious meals on ski slopes in exotic locales.

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