Growth Talent

Published by Norberto Herz on

We often find companies or teams reluctant to hiring growth talent (A.K.A Juniors or Trainees). Among the typical excuses, the most common ones are “the team has a very aggressive roadmap” and “the problems the team solves are too complex.” Although these might be legit, I’m biased towards thinking that most of the times it’s just management unable to working with different seniority or insecure about the ROI.

But this is a fact: We all have been growth talent (we might still be at some skills). It doesn’t matter when it was, or how talented we are right now, there was a time in which we gave our first steps in our field. It’s also a fact that, if nobody hires new talents, nobody will continue with the area once we (the experienced) retire. Finally, in fields such as software, there are more job offers than people fulfilling these. It means that starting up and training growth talent is not optional.

How to identify growth talent

In my experience at evaluating candidates, I am biased towards looking to professional achievements over academics. It’s a policy that helped me identifying and hiring great professionals and building high-performance teams. So, with that bias, how is it possible to evaluate talent without professional experience?

Although it might sound obvious, the key is looking for potential, meaning, the probability for any given person, in the proper environment, with proper mentorship, and required resources to achieve excellent results in a relatively short period (and with “relative” I mean an acceptable ROI).

There are some visible attributes we want to pay attention to when identifying potential:

  • Willingness/Passion for doing: professionals trying to learn and make some experience will usually have found personal and open source projects to contribute to
  • Actively participating in communities: a learning professional will try to connect with others (probably more experienced ones) looking for help and mentorship
  • Learning: to talk about what they have recently learned (workshops, tutorials, careers, etc.) can help us to understand their determination to become a professional
  • Analytical/logical skills: there are some attributes that, although can be learned and perfected with time, can be considered foundational for the software industry. Identifying problems, solution design, and finding defects are some capacities that most of the competent professionals count with since the beginning.

Even though this is a general description (and there could be so many other attributes to consider), it’s hard to think of the right growth talent candidate lacking all of these.

How to work with growth talent

Short (and a bit useless) answer is “just like with any other professional.” While that’s true, there might be other concepts that worth describing. For instance, if you think that a more experienced professional must have more ownership/responsibility than a growing one, I’d like to propose a different approach. All team members are responsible for their work and the team results. In other words, everyone is the owner of what they build. Instead of associating responsibility with seniority, let’s think it in the following way: the senior professional is responsible for the most complicated thing. At the same time, the growing one is equally responsible for a simpler one. Afterward, complexity will increase, but responsibility will remain the same. In a harmonious counterpoint, what will do vary is “autonomy.” Although every professional should know when is the right time to ask for assistance (not too soon, not too late), it’s expected from experts to solve a more considerable amount of problems by themselves. It’s crucial to identify agile communication channels to avoid blockers that could be very frustrating for anyone trying to evolve (in addition to jeopardizing the project roadmap).

About the company

Every time an organization shouts not having room for hiring growth talent, I use to think that it’s a symptom of a more significant issue. Let’s first stress out that people and their culture build the organization. The most experienced professionals should be balanced in their soft and hard skills. At some moment of our careers, unwillingness to mentor others is a lousy sign. However, it’s valid for a reduced group or, otherwise, we would be saying that every competent professional should be interested in teaching. But, if the entire organization (or most of it) is formed by uninterested people, there is an imminent issue: If there is a group with a null drive to perpetuate, that group is contempt to extinction. In other words, professionals simply don’t pop spontaneously and forever. Either we make them, or they won’t exist. It’s also true that we must make mentors. If companies don’t prioritize it, it’s expectable that such an important aspect might remain unattended by many of us (which would start a loop).

Of course, there are some prerequisites for being able to foster talent within a team. A good indicator is the ratio of potential talent of the organization. Different levels of complexity might require a higher or lower value for this indicator. We should also take into account the phase the company is going through. It’s different having a 1/5 ratio (one expert, four growth) on a team with momentum than one on ignition.


Companies that already know how to foster talent usually design short term programs for massively hiring and ramping them up with an acceptable impact. These programs imply costs (salaries, trainers, materials, etc.) With maths well done, these costs have high ROIs in minimal periods (usually less than six months).

Talking to growth talent

If you are willing and have a chance, my advice for you is to come on board the industry:

  • Take training (there are high-quality ones for free)
  • Publish your exercises (GitHub, GitLab)
  • (Think and) Have ideas and execute them
  • Copy projects
  • Apply to some positions
  • Join communities and ask for guidance

This market is continuously growing (more job offers and more specialties range), and it doesn’t seem to have a soon break.

Some final thoughts

In my opinion, the term “Junior” is not very representative, and it could be a bit demotivating. It also has a (not that) tiny relationship with people’s age. Lots of companies opted for removing from the entry-level positions and started using modifiers for more expert positions (Senior, Staff, Principal, etc.) I like to think of this kind of professionals as “potential” and “new.” Those who are on their way to becoming future experts. Because of that, I propose the term “growth talent” (analogously to “growth markets”), and I hope I hear about it more often than “junior professionals” or “young professionals.”