Tech Hiring Guide: 4 Steps to ‘Speak Geek’

Technical Hiring Guide
Learn to ‘speak geek’ in 4 simple steps


Kate Matsudaira, former CTO; founder of Popforms

By Kate Matsudaira

Download a printable PDF of this post here.

Recruiting for technical roles can feel like being in a strange place and not speaking the language; the acronyms and jargon can make it challenging to navigate a candidate’s qualifications beyond matching buzzwords on their resume to a job description.

This Technical Hiring Guide explains different tech roles and how they relate to one another in plain English. Plus, use our handy Tech Role Cheat Sheet for quick reference.

Before we get into specifics, let’s take a top-down approach to the roles.

Step1Understand Technical Departments

First, it helps to understand the departments within a company, as different divisions have different goals and responsibilities.  Most technical hires fall into one of two camps:  Building Software or Operations and Support.

Building Software encompasses all the roles related to creating software. “Software” could mean desktop applications, mobile apps, websites, and other tools.  Basically, the output or result from “writing code.”

BuildingSoftware_OperationsSupportOperations and Support represents the logistics needed to keep things running.  “Things” could be software, hardware, or processes in a business or organization.  A great example is IT or tech support teams – their primary job is to keep things running smoothly, rather than writing code or building software.

One big difference between these two categories is that Building Software often (though not always) generates products, features, or revenue, while Operations and Support is generally a cost center to a business. Both groups are essential, so it is important to know how their different goals fit into the overall organization.

Step2Know the Team and Tools

Once you understand the technical areas of the business, the next step is to gain a deeper understanding of the team and the open position.  Get a solid handle on the technologies in use and the desired skillset of any new hire.

Since job descriptions don’t always paint the whole picture, dig deeper into what the hiring manager is actually looking for in a new hire by asking key questions:

  • What is their technology stack?TechStack
  • What skills are their team missing?
  • What technologies or tools will this new hire use on the job?
    • Will the person be able to learn any of these on the job, or do they need to come with a mastery of one or several of those skills?
    • If a candidate doesn’t have all the requisite skills, what other technologies or comparable skills might still make them qualified? If so, what are they?
  • What are the skillsets and backgrounds of the current team?
  • What are the skills, experiences, and traits of your most successful team members?

Not all hiring managers will be able to answer all of these questions, but this line of questioning will help you understand how eligible they consider different candidates, and help you identify the true “must-haves” in the position.

Step3Match Resumes to Roles

Now for the tricky part – matching candidates to roles.

One easy way is match a candidate with a job is to see if the candidate has a requisite skill on his or her resume.  However, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good fit.  For example, a person may not have mobile programming experience, but may have a strong C++ background, a deep desire to work in iOS, and a great attitude that could easily fit into the role of iOS engineer.  To see this potential match, you have to understand the open role and all the candidate’s previous positions.

Below are some common technical job titles, overviews of what each job entails, along with sample interview questions and answers for each role. These will help you dive deeper into understanding what each position requires and better screen and filter candidates for the hiring manager.

Click on a link below to get a position overview.


Step4Ask Good Questions

Regardless of the resume or role you are hiring for, remember that every candidate is just a person with a collection of skills and strengths. Therefore, the best thing you can do is ask lots of questions and try to hone in on what makes each person special.

Consider some of the following questions when you’re meeting with a candidate:

  • Could you put them in front of customers?
  • Do they explain things well enough to talk to a CEO?
  • Are they curious and have a strong desire to understand how things work?
  • Have they ever been on-call before and would you rely on them?

For each role, dig into the must-haves versus what can be learned then devise specific questions to help draw that out from a resume.  Try to create questions that specifically target the key aspects of the role the candidate is applying for. Rather than asking everyone if they are detail-oriented, focus those kinds of questions on QA candidates and other people for whom being detail-oriented is a critical part of their position.

For example, you can still be an excellent software engineer even if you aren’t detail-oriented. For those candidates, you would be better off asking how they approach problems or collaborate with a team.

Although it takes extra time to customize your interview questions for every candidate based on the role, it will help you make better, long-lasting placements and hires. And that is what excellent recruiting is all about.

CheatSheetTechnical Roles Cheat Sheet

When it comes to tech hiring, many positions overlap one another. This Technical Roles Cheat Sheet is a recruiters’ guide to some of the more common languages, frameworks and tools. It provides a baseline for matching up keywords on resumes and job descriptions to different tech disciplines. It isn’t fully comprehensive, and different organizations may have different needs. However, if a candidate fits into one role, they will likely be able to learn the other skills listed.



Since every role is different, and each candidate unique, the best thing you can do is to be great at understanding those differences and communicating them effectively. By doing the work many other recruiters won’t be willing to do, you’ll increase your ability to make outstanding placements and hires. That deep understanding of the roles, technologies and teams will help you make the best matches with the best candidates.

Image Credit: Shutterstock


9 Responses to “Tech Hiring Guide: 4 Steps to ‘Speak Geek’”

September 23, 2013 at 9:20 am, James Sousa said:

Hi Kate,

I have a team of Recruiters with less than 12 months experience. I have shared this excellent resource with them.

Thank you,

James Sousa
Account Manager
Revolution Technologies, LLC.


September 24, 2013 at 2:55 pm, Damien said:


Thanks! Your article, “Tech Hiring Guide: 4 Steps to ‘Speak Geek’”, stood out as really well written, clearly laid out, and informative. I appreciate it!

Damien Masterson

Sourcing Tech for Dinan & Associates Recruiting Agency


October 17, 2013 at 10:32 am, Geekology said:

Good article Kate, thank you for that. I just found out that you were VP of engineering at SEOmoz. How cool is that!


October 17, 2013 at 11:19 am, Lisa Green said:

Hi Kate,
This is a very informative hiring guide – thank you for sharing it! I thought your Technical Roles Cheat Sheet was extremely helpful too, especially to the recruiter who receives those bare minimum requirements!
Lisa J. Green, Principal
Green Technologies, Inc.


October 17, 2013 at 11:39 am, Kevin Studer said:

Thanks for the feedback Lisa. We are looking to develop additional pieces that will supplement this Guide in the future.


November 27, 2013 at 10:39 am, tommychheng said:

Great guide, I recently wrote a book that helps recruiters understand the technical terminology:

Hope it’s helpful!


April 28, 2014 at 8:27 am, The Recruiting Power of Pervasive Technology | Dice Resources said:

[…] in a MOOC class such as MIT’s Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Python. >Read Dice’s Tech Hiring Guide. If you are going to play in the space, skill up or you won’t be […]


October 25, 2014 at 4:30 pm, Stacy Emmons said:

This is great! Very thoughtful and concise.

Thanks Kate!


January 26, 2016 at 11:16 am, Damini Bahulekar said:

I found this article very informative, thanks for sharing. Recruiter’s cheat sheet helps understand the role better.


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