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Becoming an 'Adaptive' Expert

two darts in dartboard bullseye

Credit: Peter Crowther Associates

In today's software development industry, jobs have become more cognitively complex and require workers who are more collaborative and creative in their problem-solving techniques.14 Employees also must be able to combine diverse specializations rather than just having routine knowledge in one domain.22 While the "hard" technical skills associated with programming remain a prerequisite for new hires, the industry also wants software developers who can readily demonstrate a range of so-called "soft" skills, including the capacity to communicate clearly, facilitate an open and inclusive workplace environment, and demonstrate the resiliency and flexibility to work on a range of tasks.24

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Our own past research4 interviewing software industry hiring managers indicates that discerning such soft skills among new hires is an overwhelming priority across companies. The industry hiring managers and directors we interviewed over the past two years stated that while the capacity to code is a necessity for employment, these managers actually spend the vast majority of their recruitment time assessing a candidate's soft skills, as these suggest the presence of adaptive expertise (AE) and the candidate's potential for persistence and continual learning on the job.4 What was also intriguing to us in discussion with a wide range of hiring managers was their expressed willingness to consider graduates from alternative educational settings—in particular, so-called "coding bootcamps"—alongside more traditional hires from undergraduate computer science (CS) programs.4 While there is no single representative model of a coding bootcamp, these intense training programs extend, on average,14 weeks in duration, cost approximately $12,000, and emphasize teaching the programming skills that employers look for from new software developer hires (particularly front-end programming) while also enabling their graduates to grasp the most essential aspects of coding.6 Much of this expressed willingness to hire codecamp graduates stemmed directly back to hiring managers' perceptions that what boot-camp students may lack in rigorous CS knowledge is counterbalanced with greater work experience and the interpersonal and intrapersonal skills to join a wider team while remaining resilient in the face of unexpected challenges.


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