When benefits-over-features selling doesn't work for devs


I’ve come to realize this post is based on my own bias against old, “mature” technologies. Maybe most people don't care as much.

A while ago, I had a chat with a hiring manager who reached out to me about an opportunity to work at his company as a software engineer. During our meeting, he spent a big chunk of the time talking about the business model of his company and the services his team owned, which all sounded pretty exciting and novel to me. I was almost convinced that his company was going to be the next big thing and I began relishing the prospect of actually working there.

However, things went downhill when we finally switched gears to talk about the actual tech stack his team was using and the technical challenges the team was facing. He told me that his team was using Redux and he thought that was still the shinny new thing in today's web development landscape. And that alone made me want to just end this conversation. I completely lost interest in this opportunity because of this antiquated tech choice his team had.

There is a prevailing marketing/sales tactic to sell benefits over features. When a salesperson introduces a product to potential customers, they normally don't focus on how the product works and what functionalities or features it has. Instead, they tend to focus on how it benefits the user and how it would change their lives. That has been proven to be an effective marketing strategy. However, when you are pitching to software developers/engineers and ask them to join your team, this traditional benefits-over-features selling strategy doesn’t seem to work anymore. Sure your startup might have the potential to change the world by decentralizing and democratizing e-commerce or it is going to reach a $10 billion valuation by the end of year. But all fancy business outcomes aren’t likely going to make up for the pain one has to suffer through of developing and maintaining your legacy codebase with last-generation tech stack. No amount of decentralization or democratization is going to change that. Here I am not advocating that devs shouldn’t care about the product and the business itself. I definitely think devs should engage with the “why” of the work and develop the empathy to become more product-minded. But at the end of the day, we are still doing engineering work and things like technology choices do matter a lot to us.

Maybe for developers, the tech itself becomes part of the benefits. After all, who wouldn't enjoy working with cutting-edge technology and be at the forefront of industry changes? Developers do get nerd-sniped by those. So my advice for hiring managers about recruiting developers/engineers, is to talk more about the technical side of things - what are the new technologies your team is using and what are some of unique technical challenges that your team is facing. Your time is way better spent than talking about vague business objectives.