Not every Developer is Bill Gates

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Warning: You may read things that will disrupt the way you view software developers. You have been warned!

When one hears the title ‘Software Developer’, what instantly comes to the mind of many are super-geniuses that sit in their basements coding away, that breezed through high school and college academic classes specializing in math and/or science have never gotten less than an A- in any given subject.


This is not true, while there is a percentage of those with much higher than average intelligence who choose to work as developers, the average developer is just that… average but extremely hardworking, persistent, and resilient. I think it would surprise most people to learn that most developers work really hard and collaboratively to get to where they are. Oftentimes they put in the extra time learning outside of their regular 40 hours/week to keep up with the latest technologies and to work on things they could not figure out during the workweek. That second part is mainly in an attempt to meet the demands and expectations of their nontechnical corporate leaders that assume things can be built and features pushed out to meet business deadlines/needs without regard to the complexity of the request.

When we talk about providing opportunities for a more diverse set of development applicants — everyone is looking for the Black, Latino, Female, or Over 30 version of a young Bill Gates.

It would appear, as with most industries tech being no exception, in order to be provided with the same opportunities, nontraditional developers must be super exceptional.

If you walk around the average software company and meet their development staff you will hear from people with varying backgrounds, intelligence levels, and experience but the common thread is that they are white males (who may or may not be rocking really cool beards) that were given the opportunity to grow within one or several companies and steadily grew into the developers you see today. Some of these guys are what most would consider “average Joe’s”. However, when/if you find that person of color for example amongst them… they will most certainly not be average. If they’ve landed this gig it’s because they are way more than the average Joe…. give it a try!

This myth that all developers are super coding geniuses that sit alone and code in a silo just oozing genius into a blank text editor has also led to unfair hiring practices and RIDICULOUS interviewing techniques. Companies are now requiring that a single junior level applicant whiteboard complex algorithms fr0m scratch (while senior developer(s) watch — but it’s only to see how the applicant thinks of course), build full MVP web applications (which can take 24 hours of coding or more) as part of their “vetting” process and other torture sessions. Most of the people administering these challenges would never have been able to pass them when they first started at the same companies they are now working for.

If more people understood the lifestyle, psyche and stress that a nontraditional junior level applicant was under they’d also know that yes this is not a fair request nor is it an accurate measurement of their ability to perform on the job or learn as a developer.

These hiring practices only serve to further filter out diverse talent from entering tech and serve to reduce opportunities for entry-level developers from nontraditional backgrounds. It’s also very unrealistic — this is not how software is built, this is not how developers work and this is not the culture that most developers wish to propagate. Developers are some of the easiest people to get along with and open to trying new things, very collaborative and always learning.

There is room for the mediocre traditional developer…. but no room for the mediocre nontraditional developer!



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Kimberly Lowe-Williams

CEO at The Difference Engine. Providing real-life software development to nontraditional developers and nonprofits. #PipelineBuilder #NonprofitLeader