How to Hire (and keep) Proactive Software Developers

As a software developer for an accomplished digital agency, I have the privilege to work with a truly proactive team. CQL’s developers have generated millions of dollars of ROI for our clients, including multiple premium boat brand websites, international shoe apparel websites, and custom Product Information Management solutions. Even in lulls between projects, our developers expand our toolsets, building new tools that give us an edge, and contributing to open source software. What do we all have in common? How did CQL manage to attract such proactive developers.

Is it magic? Did we get lucky? No. There are a few basic principles anyone can follow to identify proactive developers during the hiring process, and to promote proactive behavior in the work environment.


Give candidates and employees an executive view of your work. Let them see how your business operates. Take extra time if necessary to let them get to know key people within the company. Show them what tools you use. Get to know them in an informal setting, such as over lunch. Let them see you at your most vulnerable. This will assure them of hour honesty, and sets the stage for the next tip.


Treat your developers as partners in the business. Look at Facebook. Look at Amazon. Developers have the ability to make businesses succeed or fail in a big way. You need them on your side in order for your company to reach its full potential. They will need intimate knowledge of your business goals and values in order to perfectly align complex technology with it. When a developer starts a sentence with something like “I’ve been playing with [technology] in my spare time, and I really think it could do [benefit] for our company,” listen. You may hear something that nobody else in your industry can.


The reality is, unless you are Google or Facebook, you can’t afford to pay all of your developers six figures, and fly them all to Vegas or Vietnam for 3 or 4 weeks out of the year. This means that you have to compete with these companies in other areas. While these companies offer salary, which lasts as long as it sits in your bank account, before you buy an amazing boat with it, there are plenty of intangible items you can offer that have longer lasting effects.

The two most effective are relationships, and knowledge. Give them time to hone their craft or attend conferences. Spend time with them. Kick them out of the office at 2 PM on a sunny Friday a couple times per year. Make sure they are well rested and have space to focus, and get help when they need it. If they’re sick, let them work from home. When they mess up, stand by them and support them.

Avoid Buzz Words

There is nothing developers hate more than hype. Avoid calling developers “rock stars”, “ninjas”, “wizards”, “gurus”, or anything starting with the word “super” (yes, I have been called all of these things). Unlike most people, developers don’t see themselves as geniuses. Ok, sometimes they can be opinionated and think the rest of humanity is wrong. But that doesn’t mean that anyone who can write JavaScript or C# is allergic to kryptonite, fell into a vat of strange chemicals, or has a magical affinity for bats.


We live in a rapidly changing world. What’s right now might be wrong in 6 months (or 2). There are 100 tools and 100 practices for any given task. Everyone is skilled in different tools, and used to different practices. What works for one person may not work for another. One person may be energized by noisy bustling spaces. Others may get more focus out of a quiet hole with no people for miles. Allow developers to pick their own tools and methods as much as possible. Let developers set best practice standards as a team. Encourage frequent knowledge sharing and discussion around team practice.


You’ll never see what people are truly capable of until they’re on the ropes. Give your developers more and more independence (not just more busywork) and see how they react. Are they excited and energized? Do they respond creatively? If so, give them more independence. It will save you time, and will help them learn to lead. Are they frustrated or indifferent? They may need more oversight, and probably won’t do well in leadership positions.

Here’s another secret. A large, large percentage of developers have side projects, and hope to launch a successful new product or company one day. If you discourage these activities, you will promptly lose all of the most proactive and innovative developers. They will avoid you like the plague. Or you can invest in them and their projects. When one of them gets millions of dollars in investments a few years from now, you’ll get to be part of that success.

Are you a developer? Do you have anything to add? Are you a business owner? Have you managed to find (or keep) proactive developers? Leave a comment, or drop a note.

Originally published at Robby’s Blog.

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