When is a Junior not a Junior? When they're from Binary Studio Academy!
A common approach to building a well-balanced development team is to have an equal mix of senior, mid and junior experienced developers in the group. The reasoning is pretty straightforward - juniors are more affordable, they offer fresh insights on old problems, and they have a strong sense of enthusiasm and desire to prove themselves to their team members and clients. However, it is important to note that not all juniors are created equal! In fact, although salaries for entry-level developers are fairly consistent on the global market, the quality you can expect from new programmers can vary drastically. One case in point - our Binary Studio Academy graduates.
Originally, we created Binary Studio Academy to address the issue we were having with finding qualified developers in our home region of Donetsk, Ukraine. Finding an experienced programmer is actually a pretty straightforward process: review a candidate’s CV, have a look at their portfolio, and conduct an in-person interview. But what if they are fresh out of university and don’t have a fleshed out portfolio or previous job experience? It’s hard to determine whether a person will not only have the technical capabilities, but also the skills necessary to work in a team and meet deadlines. Binary Studio Academy was our answer to this problem.
A coding crucible
Founded in 2011, BSA was designed as a free annual intensive course that combined detailed technical instruction with a real-world simulation of working on commercial projects. Students are assigned to groups based on their technology stack specification - .NET, JS, or PHP development - and then challenged to build a test product within a set time frame and using modern agile development methodologies under the guidance of our experienced developers. By the end of the course, students receive a deep understanding of their selected frameworks and have a real product that they can add to their professional portfolio, while we are able to monitor and evaluate them throughout the entire process.
This provides a unique opportunity to develop a meaningful connection with our students as they are challenged with a variety of difficulties that natural present themselves in real world development. We get to see how candidates communicate remotely in teams (as they will most likely be working with clients which are located around the world), and how they handle the stress of meeting a deadline. We also learn how to react to constructive criticism and adapt to a dynamic work environment. These are the sort of skills that are very hard to glean from reading a resume, but become quickly obvious when you’re working in the same team with someone.
From many, few
We have always prided ourselves in being very selective at our company, and the Binary Studio Academy selection process is no different. Every year, an average of two to three thousand applications are received from students of the top universities across Ukraine. After a very demanding screening process, we admit around 4% of applicants into the program. After a brief introduction, the program begins on the first week of July and lasts for three very intensive months. At the conclusion of the program, we graduate around fifty to sixty of the original applicants, and from those, we select only a few to be members of our company. The applicant-to-hire ratio is less than half a percent of the original pool of candidates - demonstrating that we accept only the cream of the crop from each year’s class.
A good developer is a well rounded developer
While operating Binary Studio Academy for over seven years, we’ve learned a lot about the different calibers of programmers who walk through our doors each year at the start of our summer program. We’ve had students who hadn’t even finished university finish the BSA program with flying colors and been offered job offers - while other candidates with several years of work experience washed out before the first week of the course! From this experience we understand why juniors have such a bad rap with clients - they are terrible inconsistent and a big risk for a customer who wants a certain standard of quality and responsibility from all the members of his development team.
Another important point is that you cannot judge a developer solely on their ability to write code. Although we have very high technical standards of employment at Binary, we also make sure that the developers we bring into our crew are good communicators and are capable of interacting directly with our clients. Many development companies use “face” personnel to interact with clients, which increases overhead and dramatically ups the chances of miscommunication and bottlenecks between the customer and developers. This is why we insist that even our junior employees have at least an intermediate level of English and are able to directly speak with their client-side team members.
Recruitment process on steroids
During Academy, we get a very good idea of who is going to be capable of building a quality product as well as be a solid team player for our clients. On more than one occasion we’ve dropped a candidate who was technically brilliant but awful at working in a group setting, or someone who was just incapable of operating independently without direct and constant supervision. These sort of drawbacks are show stoppers for clients who don’t have the time nor inclination to babysit their developers on a daily basis, especially when differing time zones are a factor.
Once Academy finishes at the end of summer, the educational process continues through our Academy Pro program. This is our internal training system which is taught by the same instructors as in Academy, but directed at our already-existing employees in order to “level up” their abilities. During Academy Pro, we discuss current trends with technology frameworks that we specialize in and new challenges or innovations relating to each coding language with which we operate.
We believe that our employees - junior and senior alike - should constantly be looking to improve their abilities and sharpen their skills in order to stay ahead of the fast-evolving IT sphere. A developer who isn’t growing is going to become obsolete very quickly, which is why we nurture a culture of “eternal students” that starts in Academy and continues throughout a developer’s career here at Binary Studio.
Trained to a higher standard
This mentality that we have fostered over the years has proven to be incredibly beneficial for our team, with over half of our current employees being graduates from our Academy program, including our current CTO and many of the senior staff that now conducts the courses offered during our summer program. As for the juniors which come out of Academy, all of them have proven themselves as being perfectly capable of working in a real world environment, producing commercial-quality code with minimum supervision and management from a client. It’s also a huge benefit that they are “primed” by the Academy experience and are eager to prove themselves after completing such a rigorous and demanding training course.
In the end, we firmly believe that this sets the gold standard from which a junior developer should truly be judged. We understand that a client who takes a junior onto their projects is assuming a risk, one that we take great efforts in eliminating by only accepting the finest new talent into our ranks and testing them thoroughly before ever placing them on a customer’s project. This is why we can say with confidence that the programmers that graduate our Academy or more than capable of being a valuable asset to any development team.
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