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Résumé-driven development: A definition and empirical characterization

Using the latest tech is a bit like smoking in the ’80s: it makes you look cool, but it might not be the smartest thing to do.

Depiction of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union
The war is on hold right now, we’ll resume it later

You’ve probably already heard of the agile manifesto, but did you know there’s also a manifesto for resume-driven development?

  • Specific technologies over working solutions
  • Hiring buzzwords over proven track records
  • Creative job titles over technical experience
  • Reacting to trends over more pragmatic options

Fortunately this one’s just satire, but does exist. The term describes a phenomenon where developers choose tech stacks, architectures, methodologies, and protocols not because they are the best tools for the job, but because they look good on a resume.

Why it matters

Hiring is a process that involves two types of stakeholders: employers and applicants. In an ideal world, the employer lists the skills they need in a job advertisment, while job applicants promote the skills that they have in their resumes.

But we do not live in an ideal world: The hiring process at tech companies is often flawed. Moreover, both employers and applicants tend to oversell the “cool” skills in their advertisements and resumes.

Such overselling may lead to (costly) disappointment for both parties.

How the study was conducted

The researchers conducted an exploratory survey to gain insight from both the hiring and applicant perspectives. Their survey received 591 responses, of which 130 answered for the hiring perspective and 558 for the applicant perspective.

About 90% of the participants stated Germany as their country of residence, while about 7% is from some other European country. You may want to keep this in mind when you see the results.

What discoveries were made

The results tell us there’s some sort of arms race going on between employers and applicants, without actually telling us there’s an arms race going on between employers and applicants.

Employers

Employers generally value both broad (73%) and deep (66%) knowledge and experience in technologies. When they have to decide between the two, 42% prefers applicants with broad knowledge, while only 22% would choose an applicant with specialist knowledge.

When asked whether they believe knowledge and experience in latest/trending technologies or established technologies are important, 85% indicated that the latter are important, while only 59% valued latest/trending technologies. About 39% of respondents prefers applicants who are experienced with established technologies, whereas only 20% prefers applicants who know the latest/trending stuff.

A majority (59%) of the respondents in this group admits that technology trends and hypes affect what they advertise in their job offerings. An even larger majority (71%) believes that applicants like working with the latest/trending technologies.

In other words: employers say they want applicants that have experience with latest/trending technologies, but what they want are applicants who know established technologies and (that can easily learn) a broad set of different technologies.

Applicants

The employers’ belief that applicants enjoy using latest/trending technologies in their work is largely correct. About 73% of them does, while 18% finds it inconvenient or stressful to constantly learn new technologies.

A large majority (82%) is convinced that using latest/trending technologies in their work makes them more attractive for potential future employers.

Curiously enough, only 42% of applicant respondents believes that using these novel technologies actually makes them better developers. Moreover, only half (49%) of them had mostly positive experiences with latest/trending technologies. About 20% reported that they once used latest/trending technologies for a project even though they weren’t ideal for the use case.

Fortunately, in most cases developers tend to select technologies based on a project’s system requirements and the skills that are already available among its developers.

This suggests that while developers believe that latest/trending technologies are very important, this often does not affect actual selection of technologies.

Consequences

Resume-driven development may have several consequences:

  • If developers choose to use latest/trending technologies that increases the technological diversity in their company. This increases complexity and may negatively impact maintainability and reliability.

  • False expectations and disappointment about the job may lead to frustrated developers when the actual work turns out to involve different technologies than what was promised.

  • A strong focus on technologies in hiring criteria may lead to neglect of other (more) important skills and traits, like soft skills, self-motivation and willingness to learn.

Summary

  1. Employers say they look for applicants with experience with latest/trending technologies, even though that’s not what they need

  2. Applicants thus mistakenly believe that latest/trending technologies are important and double down on promoting them

  3. Resume-driven development may degrade software quality, and create false expectations for employers and employees

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