Computer programmes and applications work through a series of instructions designed to prompt specific outcomes, all written in a language a computer can understand. It is the job of a programmer to write, test and maintain the information – known as code – that drives these instructions.
A programmer may specialise in a specific area or may work more generally, writing and deploying code for a variety of programmes. They may work on websites, mobile applications, video games or software, and must combine technical know-how with creative problem-solving.
In an increasingly digital world, the call for skilled programmers is high, but as more candidates enter the profession, the challenge lies in sourcing the most promising talent. In this article, you’ll find guidance on the skills to look for and how to effectively test for them in recruitment.
What should a programmer be able to do?
A programmer's job is all about implementation. They work closely with web developers and software engineers to construct and refine source code, bringing ideas to life. It’s a role that requires both critical thinking and creativity, often referred to as a meeting of art and science.
Daily tasks are varied and specific duties will depend on the nature of the position, but generally speaking, a programmer’s main responsibilities are:
- Troubleshooting programmes to identify and correct any coding errors.
- Refining code for existing programmes, designing updates to improve functionality or for debugging purposes.
- Rewriting code in multiple languages to suit different operating systems, for example, iOS and Android.
- Protecting programmes and applications by writing specific code to mitigate security risks.
A programmer may also work closely with non-technical teams, either to understand their needs and write code for increased efficiency or to explain complex technical processes, so they must be able to communicate clearly.
Additional tasks for a programmer may include the preparation of reports or instructional material, training coworkers on the use of specific software and programmes, and overseeing junior staff.
Skills to look for in a programmer
Technical know-how is a must for anyone working in this field, and the most skilled candidates will be proficient in multiple programming languages. Depending on the nature of the role, you may also be looking for particular software skills like Google Cloud Platform or Microsoft Azure.
However, before you consider role-specific criteria, there’s a set of core skills you’ll want candidates to demonstrate:
- Problem-solving: as the primary function of a programmer is to implement effective solutions they must be highly skilled at problem-solving, exploring multiple ways of reaching the desired outcome.
- Critical thinking: a programmer must apply critical thinking to assess the strengths of any given solution compared to its alternatives and ultimately settle on the best course of action.
- Attention to detail: is another must-have skill since the smallest coding error can cause programme failure, and finding those errors takes a sharp eye.
- Systems analysis and evaluation: a programmer must understand how a system should operate and any factors that will influence that operation, as well as have the skill to assess performance and identify areas of improvement.
- Communication skills: both written and verbal communication skills are crucial, as programmers will need to collaborate with other members of the development team, as well as convey complex information to non-technical colleagues.
Useful abilities for a programmer
Alongside a core skill set, programmers will need a range of abilities that enable them to fulfil their duties in the most effective way possible.
These abilities include:
- Selective attention: the complex and detail-oriented nature of coding means a programmer must have the ability to focus on a single task for a prolonged period, without succumbing to distractions.
- Logical reasoning: both deductive and inductive reasoning are key abilities as they determine how well a candidate is able to piece together information, identify relationships, and form logical conclusions - which is essentially the process behind writing quality code.
- Organisational ability: a programmer must be able to work in a structured manner, prioritise and manage their own workload, and meet deadlines.
- Adaptability: tech is a fast-moving space and anyone working within it must be able to adapt accordingly. Programmers also need to be flexible in their approach, accepting when a solution is flawed and adapting accordingly.
- Creativity: the ability to come up with multiple ideas for any given problem, and then develop them into a single quality solution is what separates talented programmers from mediocre ones.
Which soft skills tests could I use to hire a programmer?
Testing for soft skills is an important part of the recruitment process, as these are the skills that dictate how effective a candidate is likely to be in a workplace setting.
It’s difficult to judge these skills on paper, but with professionally designed tests you can get an objective view of an applicant’s strengths.
Soft skills tests useful for assessing programmers include:
Teamwork: collaboration across multiple departments is a key requirement of the role, and the strongest candidates will be able to show highly developed team working skills.
Time management: a programmer may need to juggle multiple projects and deadlines at any one time, and will often have to adjust their plans to meet changing demands, so time management skills are needed.
Interpersonal skills: these are an applicant’s people skills, such as listening to others and building workplace relationships. They tell you how an applicant will work with others, as well as how they’ll fit with your organisational culture.
Which technical or aptitude tests could I use to hire a programmer?
For a well rounded candidate profile, it’s recommended you combine soft skills tests with technical and aptitude tests.
On the technical side, you’ll of course want to look for language proficiency and may consider any or a combination of the following:
You may also want to incorporate framework-specific tests such as:
Useful aptitude tests when recruiting programmers include:
Logical reasoning: these measure problem-solving ability by asking candidates to identify sequential patterns and rules.
Verbal reasoning: used to determine critical thinking when faced with new information in a written form.
Error checking: results here give a strong indication of an applicant’s focus and attention to detail.
Our recommended test battery for a programmer
Every programming position will have its own requirements for coding language and software proficiency, and you should look to incorporate skills tests specific to these.
Alongside these technical assessments, we recommend the following test battery:
Logical reasoning: to ensure the non-verbal problem-solving skills required to write quality code.
Verbal reasoning: to assess a candidate’s ability to interpret objectives from verbal communications.
Teamwork: to give assurance they can work effectively with colleagues.
Time management: to ensure they can plan accordingly and meet key deadlines.
Error checking: to test their eye for detail and selective attention skills.
For more information on hiring a programmer, check out Picked’s page on programmer tests.