Over the years we’ve seen the emergence of so many different shapes of developer; from I, to T, to π, to M, and comb. After hearing businesses and developers talk about these different shapes, and more, I wanted to really look into these models to assess what each shape really means for Software Developers and how useful these models are when hiring Software Developers.
I could go on for pages about all the different ‘shaped’ developers, but I have opted to summarise the most popular models: the T-shaped, π-shaped, and comb-shaped developer, and investigate the benefits of each.
A T-shaped developer would typically specialise in one specific area, whilst also having a broad range of more basic skills and experiences in other areas. Whilst they are deeply specialised in one area, they will be able to collaborate on projects that fall outside their niche but is still in their broader toolkit.
For example, a Software Developer might specialise in PHP, but are still able to work effectively on projects using Java, SQL, Python, or Ruby. These Developers tend to be more well-rounded and can contribute comfortably across a variety of projects and they can more easily communicate with teams across different specialism as they have the basic knowledge to do so.
Soon enough, a T-Shaped Developer wasn’t enough for businesses who instead were instead looking for π-shaped developers. π-shaped developers, similar to T-shaped developers, have a broad range of knowledge, but rather than specialising in one area, they specialise in 2.
A comb-shaped developer has a broad base of knowledge and several specialist areas. These specialisms won’t be as deep as someone who singularly specialises in one area, but this is by no means a disadvantage. Having a deeper knowledge across several areas allows them to cross collaborate and effectively leverage someone else’s expertise in that area, whilst still having a thorough understanding of all the processes and the language.
The letter shaped model is a great starting point to describe the type of developer you are, or to describe the type of developer you want to hire. However, as with most models, they are highly oversimplified and very idealistic. Whilst demand for comb shaped developers is on the rise, they are currently relatively rare, and those that do exist probably don’t yet have that consistent depth of knowledge across a number of areas. Instead, I would argue that a comb-shaped developer looks more like the model below, in that they have a different level of expertise in each of their ‘expert’ fields.
It’s also important to note that a developer who specialises in multiple areas, will never have expertise that match a sole specialist, or a T-shaped developer, because their knowledge spans a number of different areas and therefore they won’t have dedicated as much time to those areas in isolation. Where the true magic happens is when comb-shaped, π-shaped, and T-shaped developers all collaborate, because they all have a deeper level of understanding across a broad range of areas, and can therefore fill in each other’s knowledge gaps, leverage each other’s skills, and drive continuous learning and development for one another as well as working across different teams.
Therefore, it’s naturally beneficial for businesses to build teams of what I will call “generalised specialists”, as they become the key to high performance, speed and agility, creative problem solving, and learning and development, which all results in a better and faster delivery. They also become a great source of knowledge for the wider business.
Hiring a T-shaped, π-shaped, or comb-shaped developer can be challenging because of the subjectivity of the models. What I would argue, is that it’s better to build and nurture your own team of generalised specialist developers who all have a great attitude towards, and passion for, learning. You can then nurture this passion and attitude and provide frequent opportunities for continuous development and learning by implementing projects such as Communities of Practice, buddy systems, and pair programming. It’s essential that the workplace is psychologically safe, and that leaders enable the sharing of knowledge between teams and individuals.
Businesses can also fund courses and conferences for developers to attend to widen their technological skill set or learn a completely new skill which will benefit the team and wider business. In addition to this, businesses should provide clear career paths for developers to ensure long-term engagement and commitment.
By building these teams in house, you are simultaneously building brand loyalty, showing dedication to your employees, and cultivating a high performing team with a range of skills which will drive your business forwards.
Software Developers are in high demand, and that demand is only increasing, meaning that finding the right software developers is becoming more challenging.
Maxwell Bond have supported a large number of international businesses secure top tech talent, including the placement of full tech squads into organisations that needed urgent talent to deliver on time critical projects. If you’re looking to recruit exceptional software development talent across perm and contract, partner with Maxwell Bond, the award-winning specialist recruitment partner of choice for the UK and Germany. Our bespoke staffing solutions have helped businesses grow by up to 200% during the COVID-19 pandemic, reduce time to placement, and save on recruitment costs.
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