Finding the right ?fit’

Self-taught programmer: Teng has built multiple web applications and is now the founder of a tech academy.

Employers wanting to hire those with technical talent and skills are finding it increasingly difficult to get suitable candidates.

WHEN it comes to looking for a career in programming, having the skills alone is sometimes not enough. Employers also look at whether a candidate is able to work with the team.

NEXT Academy founder Josh Teng, 27, is frequently on the lookout for technical talent for his team. They include mentors (who teach the coding bootcamp), web developers and data scientists. The challenge is in finding the “right fit for the right people”.

“It’s not about the skills alone, but the passions and personality traits that candidates possess, and how best they can fit into the team.

“For example, hiring someone to be the engineering head for a kids’ education app may require the engineer to be empathetic towards children. He also needs to have the charisma and technical ability to lead a team,” he adds.

For employers, the task of hiring good technical talent is a difficult one.

“There is a huge shortage of tech talent, so much so that some employers are offering salaries way above regular rates,” says Teng.

“I’ve heard of software engineers in their mid-20s making RM15,000 per month!

“Of course, a higher salary alone is not the best solution in attracting the right talent.

“The other problem is that good employers struggle to distribute workload because of their inability to recruit good talent, resulting in extremely long hours for existing employees.”

According to the ICT Job Market Outlook in Malaysia 2014 report published by the National ICT Association of Malaysia (PIKOM), the number of computer science and ICT graduates in the country had reduced significantly in the last decade.

According to the report, there were 119,000 students enrolled in ICT courses in 2002 that produced over 53,000 graduates. By 2012, both figures had fallen to 80,000 and 19,500 respectively.

Some of them may also choose not to take up technical roles, which has led to a further demand in the industry for technical talent.

Teng also questioned the quality of Computer Science courses in Malaysia.

No challenge

“Having spoken to many Computer Science students who opted to leave their universities to join our academy, we’ve learnt that the teaching methodologies (in the courses) involved too much spoon-feeding and didn’t help evoke the curiosity and intellectual capacity of the students,” he said.

“On top of that, because of the nature of technology and how it evolves, combined with how traditional educational institutions are structured, higher education institutions have trouble keeping their curriculum up to date.”

This is why, when it comes to hiring technical talent, many employers look beyond degrees and paper qualifications.

BBD Labs CEO Andres Ghani Weiler, 27, said that when identifying suitable candidates, he looks at whether the candidate has the relevant technical knowledge.

Other factors like the candidate’s attitude and ability to work in a team, are equally important.

He said that candidates with good grades in university might not necessarily be the best choice.

“We just hired someone who was midway through university and had no interest or intention in finishing the course because the syllabus was not up to date. Instead, he was doing other short courses and freelancing.

“To us, this was more important as he was gaining hands-on knowledge and actually coming up with solutions rather than having a degree,” said Weiler.

Teng agrees.

“We look for people who take the initiative to learn and have the ability to understand problems and solve them,” he said.

“Attitude is definitely far more important than their inherent ability.”

While there may still be a lack of technical talent available in the market, Teng said that he’s starting to see more interest to learn coding among young people.

He believes that both employees and employers have their respective roles to play when it comes to attracting and keeping talent.

“Employers need to create a good working environment that encourages growth for talented individuals. They must also have good compensation plans that will help align the long term interest of the company and the employee’s goals.

“At the same time, young talented individuals need to foster the collaboration spirit to build something bigger than what they can build alone.”

This is the fourth in a series of monthly articles on programming. Jeannette Goon is a freelance writer and web developer.

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