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I wish I knew how the Googles and Facebooks hire a crowd of junior programmers and have them do these amazing things.

I am in the 5th year of leading development teams and have more than 5 years to go until my half-life is over. Yet, I have not figured out how to run a team entirely of junior programmers. Yes, they come with a lot of energy and current knowledge but there is also so much missing that people gain from, well, experience. In the field of software but also in all the adjacent domains that are so crucial for being successful as a team. I cannot image how I would do without having a few senior people around who can give things a little structure and a little broader understanding of things.

Also, most experienced folks, even if not super up-to-date with fancy technology, are a hell of a lot more productive than the shooting-from-the-hip youngster. They don't need to put in 12 hour days.

My other problem is that it's so hard to actually find good senior programmers. There are also a lot of people who got stuck more than ten years ago ...




My experienced as an unofficial team lead of a few programmers with various experience (which I conclude that they were Jr. Programmers with a few years of lack of mentorship) was to do the following:

1) Define structure

Set some rules. Coding styles, check-in etiquette

2) Find tools to limit mistakes

Static code analysis, automate build that breaks when #1 fails.

3) Always on alert

Do a lot of code reviews. A lot. Argue and fight over little things (variable naming convention, missing documentations, unclear code).

Now this might not sit well with others so get ready:

4) Become a "drill" sergeant

I find that becoming the "bulldog" sometime works. You've got to become some sort of "drill" sergeant. People may dislike you at first but if the project is successful, they can hate you all the way to the exit door all they like.

That was my experience. I made a concious decision to put the success of the project as the top priority. Even if it means breaking some bridges with other programmers. I hope they learn why I did those things in the future. If they don't, I won't quarrel or regret my action.

5) Be nice on other occasions

I may be the biggest jerk during code-review and check-in commits but when my co-workers stuck, I'll be gladly help them even if it means I have to sit with them and do my overtime. This can gain you some respect after confrontation/intense debate/being a jerk.

I always try to be friendly during office/release party. Give credit to the team, etc.


Just an alternative to #4 (which I have been on times with various degrees of success).

What's the #1 thing people are afraid of? Public shame. I have a theory that Scrum primarily works because of this. Just have daily Scrum-light meetings with your group. If you have 15 minutes with a group of 5-6 people and everyone has to say either "done" or "not done"... the not dones will of course have some silly excuse, but because of the time constraint you must cut them off, be curt, and say to the effect "so John can you help Dan with that right after we break?". And then everyone would make commitments on to what they would do that day. I guess in a way you can say this was being a drill sergeant, but the thing was I wasn't an a-hole, that 15 minute meeting every morning was just part of the process, it was expected.

After a few weeks of this everything moves at twice the speed. I had a team of 6 devs (including myself) burn through nearly 200 bugs in 2 months. That's every engineer fixing about 4 bugs a day. There was a hug chasm of talents on that team... we had the top guy in my dept as well as one of the weakest engineers on the same team. Everyone performed.


Perhaps there is a more euphemistic term than "shame", but I agree that Scrum and code reviews harness this shame in a positive way.


Nice list! That is pretty much what I am expecting of myself and other more senior developers.

I guess, I am not a super good "drill" sergeant, though. All I can do is leading by example, mainly doing a lot of pairing. But that is time consuming, so I might try to develop more of a sergeant attitude.


> I wish I knew how the Googles and Facebooks hire a crowd of junior programmers and have them do these amazing things

Volume. You are forgetting (and/or haven't been privy to) all their failures. Statistically if you do 100 things 1 or 2 of them will be amazing, the rest are crap. We've seen publicly a few of those companies' failures. I'm sure there are many more we haven't.

They haven't managed jr devs any better than the rest of us. They just brute forced it with shed loads of money and people.


  >> it's so hard to actually find good senior programmers
Most of them either find jobs through referrals, or have become consultants in order to avoid the unwritten rule in many companies that you can't make a higher salary than your manager (yes I know there are exceptions).


The junior programmers I worked with at Google were far better than the senior programmers I worked with at other jobs. Experience has value, but it's not the only attribute that matters when it comes to skill and ability. Taking the best kids out of MIT, CMU, and Stanford is a lot different than the junior programmers you'd encounter at most places.


We don't.

The most effective teams I have worked on at Google have a healthy balance of experienced and inexperienced engineers.

Senior engineers are in extremely high demand at places like Google and Facebook precisely because of the points you bring up.


Why do you have teams "entirely of junior programmers"? Maybe that's the problem to be addressed, not running them.


I don't know about Facebook, but Google doesn't seem to be hiring many college kids these days. It's hard to find a 22-year-old with both the skill and desire to work in Google's main languages (Java and C++). Also, what you said is quite true: a team consisting entirely of junior programmers is difficult to manage.


I found the hardest part to be the impatience :) But then one has to be fair and look at one self at that age and acknowledge that one was just as much a pain in the ass at that age. Karma pays forward.


iPhone programmers that interface with C/C++ code do, and they're young.




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