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Why your team members shouldn't be treated equally

The title of this article might be quite controversial for you but let’s think about it for a while. When you have two developers, the first one with five years of experience and another one with two months of experience, you should not give them equally difficult tasks and expect the same result.

Therefore, instead of treating people equally you should treat them fairly.

But there is a catch, you cannot treat people fairly unless you know their life situation and their skill level.

How to assess skill level?

Let’s state it clearly: it is an extremely difficult task. You can conduct a long interview and still grade someone’s skill level higher/lower than it actually is. You can provide someone with a programming challenge but the result might be misleading. Both, the interview and programming challenge, will provide you with some insight but you should never stop there.

According to my experience, there is only one reliable way that helps you gather all the necessary information. Schedule a couple of pair programming sessions. Ideally, on production tasks with a different difficulty level.

Pair programming will answer many burning questions:

  • can she/he type on the keyboard fast enough?
  • does she/he know IDE well enough to be productive?
  • is she/he proficient with GIT?
  • does she/he know the programming language?
  • does she/he know any best practices?
  • does she/he know and can use in real life any design patterns?
  • can she/he divide problems into smaller pieces?
  • is she/he able to provide a good solution to the problem?
  • how much help does she/he need in order to complete simple/difficult tasks?
  • how does she/he handle new challenges?
  • how coachable is she/he?
  • how nice is to work with her/him?

What else do you need to know?

When you have all the answers to questions from the previous section for all your team members, you will have quite a good understanding of their skill level and work attitude. But there is one more thing to consider which is the life situation of your teammates. I always try to know as much as possible about my team. Especially, the information about the place of living (how much they have to commute to work, what kind of transport are they using) and their family (how many children and what age are they, does someone can take care of them in case of emergency) are super important.

Consider this scenario. It is 4:45 PM and your team is leaving in 15 minutes but you just found out that there is a bug in production. You estimate that it will take 2 hours to do it but it means that somebody will have to work extra hours. You have three developers with the same skill available. Two with small children and one that is single and has no commitment at the moment. What would you do?

I think that the best way to handle this situation is to actually ask all of them at once who would like to stay. But if all of them would like to stay, then the more information you have the easier it will be for you to choose and explain why you are choosing one over another. In our example, it might be easy to point out the developer without commitments but maybe you know that one of your developers would like to earn more money this month because he is going for a longer vacation with his family and he will be the best fit this time.


You should always aim to be as fair to your team as possible and in order to do it, you ought to gather as much information as you can. So schedule a pair programming session and some “team meetings” after hours.



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Ireneusz Skrobiś

Team Leader / Ruby On Rails Developer / Martial Artist / Photography Enthusiast / Marvel & DC Comics Fan / LEGO Master Builder