How Studyportals Hired a Senior Back-end Developer to Boost Their Team

by Gonzalo April 19, 2018

Studyportals, an education startup based in Eindhoven, needed a senior developer who could play an important role in developing and rolling out their RESTful API.

The Studyportals offices in Eindhoven

Location: Eindhoven, Netherlands

Positions Hired: Back-end Developer

Who was hired: Mario from Edinburgh to Eindhoven as a Back-end Developer

If you’ve spent any time in the software engineering world, you’ve probably recognize the term 10x developer. Hacker News and other online forums are filled with heated discussions around the topic. Is this “unicorn developer” even a thing?

The term might be an exaggeration, but what is certain is that the difference between a strong developer and an average one can make in any team can be enormous.

Strong programmers do more than write elegant code. They can design and architect things correctly, and they have a plethora of past mistakes they can use to take a more nuanced view of a problem and make an informed decisions. On top of that, strong developers can build teams, do pair programming and mentor junior developers in their path to seniority.

In short, the right developers can bring a whole lot more than just experience to a team, and this is something the Studyportals recruitment team is constantly aware of.

Studyportals, a fast-growing online platform where students can find and compare their education options internationally, was well aware of this and was looking for a Senior Back-end Developer to help scale their team.

More specifically, they were looking for someone who could play an important role in further developing and rolling out their RESTful API, which is the foundation of all their current and future products.

The ideal candidate would have learnt the relevant skills through a couple years of experience, but the key was what the person learnt from their experience, rather than how much experience they had.

It was an interesting challenge, since responsibilities for the role ranged from working on the core of their systems all the way up to producing proof-of-concept web applications, and collaborating with front-end developers and UX designers to turn those MVPs into true online experiences.

But at Studyportals, skill is not everything. They have a very strong set of values and a formidable mission: to empower the world to choose education.

“The fact that I am fighting with “the good guys”, helping them in making education choice transparent, globally, is really a motivational factor and I truly understand the impact of my work, every day.” mentions Alina Prapagic, a Campaign Manager in the team.

This kind of motivation is something that has to be inherent to all employees at Studyportals, whether they are a Campaign Manager or a Business Developer. So apart from the technical strength, the perfect candidate had to match their culture and values.

The problem? They couldn’t find the right combination of culture and skills. Despite offering the “whole package” — great compensation, a powerful mission, beautiful offices at the iconic Klokgebouw at Strijp-S, a fantastic team ready to tackle interesting challenges, and operations in Boston, Melbourne, Sri Lanka, Monterrey, Manchester, Stockholm and Bucharest — they just couldn’t fill the position.

Pro Tip: Being headquartered away from the main tech hub is a big advantage, but it does come with some challenge. In some case, your local talent market isn’t enough. Consider hiring remotely or relocating international talent, specially for Senior position.

From Edinburgh to Eindhoven

Sometimes you find gold where you expect it the least. In early 2017, Studyportals picked up the phone. Even though they don’t work with external agencies, they were intrigued by Jobbatical’s proposal.

“Triin gave us a call and explained the concept. It was more original than typical recruitment agencies and really focused on the international candidates which we were looking for,” mentioned Roxane, a Technical Recruiter with a passion for people and organizations, who led the partnership.

They decided to give Jobbatical a try, and the investment paid off. At the end of March, someone from Scotland name Mario Rivera applied to the open Back-end Developer position in Jobbatical. He was looking for “big challenges, more experience and exposure to the right type of projects” that would let him progress in his career and achieve his professional goals.

He was prescreened that same day, and invited to an interview later that week. From there, it was all smooth sailing. A month later he received an offer and in June, Mario jumped on a plane leaving the Edinburgh cathedrals behind to relocate to one of the most interesting cities in the Netherlands.

Pro Tip: strong candidates expect a smooth, transparent hiring process. Be upfront and explain in detail how everything works. If you think someone might be a great fit, don’t hesitate to make an offer, or express interest in discussing one. Remember: senior people have optionality.

Bringing Mario Onboard

Mario is a Zend certified programmer with multiple years of experience in PHP frameworks and bespoke applications.

He has been involved in the full development cycle of various projects and wearing multiple hats, including automated deployments with Capistrano and Git (including writing the Ruby scripts from scratch and configuring the servers), mySQL migrations, and back-end development.

When he joined the Studyportals team in Eindhoven, he immediately made a positive impact: “He joined a scrum team (agile methodology) of web developers, that was quite a young team. Mario contributed greatly to the team by adding some seniority and experience, in both behaviour and skill set,” highlights Roxane.

According to Roxane, his role and mentoring added a lot of value to the team: “Mario came to us with a little more experience than some of the other members of the team. This means he really helps to harness the strong skills of the others and help the team in general grow. For example, he is great at helping the younger members of his team think through the changes they want to make to the code and realize possible positive and negative ramifications of their technical decisions on their products and the other Studyportals products that might be affected.”

Most importantly though, Mario helps enhances the skills of his entire team: “He can harness the creativity that flows in his team and helps structure and mentor younger members so they can use their crazy ideas to do a lot of good in our product development.”

Pro Tip: Hiring senior people can bring more to the table than just their experience. The right employee can level up an entire team with their skills and mentorship, so take that into account when making an offer.

Wrapping Up

When asked about the complexity of hiring senior people, Roxane mentions that “It was very hard, and still is.”

That said, Studyportals is happy they found Jobbatical and excited about continuing the journey with Mario.

“We are not the type to shy away from a challenge. In fact, our CEO’s favorite quote is ‘it always seems impossible until it’s done.’ With that mentality, we are more than willing to continue to take up the intense challenge of recruiting engineers in a very competitive market and region.”

With our current team of almost 200 people and more on the way, from 35 different nationalities, there’s nothing our dedication and creativity can’t make happen!

They have a mission to empower the world to chose education, and they are ruthlessly going after it.

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