How People Get Programming Jobs Without Being Able To Program

Are you shocked by the number of people you know who can’t program yet have a fancy IT title?  How did they get a programming job?  Realistically, there are very few people in the overall population who can program well.  The reason that people who can’t program get programming jobs is because half of the time technical interviews are a joke.

As someone who started out their career as an IT recruiter, I’ve conducted thousands of interviews.  I’ve also seen tons of candidates BS their way through them based of things they picked up on Google.


Poor Screening of Applicants For Programming Jobs

The story begins with one out of a million people who will apply to a programming job that they are extremely under qualified for.  The story continues when one out of thousands of hiring managers call back the under qualified applicant for a phone screen.  The hiring manager might not know much about programming themselves and gives the applicant the benefit of the doubt when they shouldn’t be.  This is just a waste of time for both parties.  By the time the phone screen takes place, the hiring manager often has no idea what the candidate is talking about.

What does the interviewer decide on for whether the candidate moves forward?  A lot of the time it comes down to how confident the candidate sounded when answering their questions.  A company might be so desperate to fill the spot for a programmer or developer that they aren’t putting in the effort required during the hiring process.

Recruiters and Programming Jobs

Recruiters from staffing companies have one goal in mind.  Getting paid commission.  They have their eye set on the prize, getting their spread.  Recruiters are skilled at knowing how to format your resume, exaggerate your skills, and pitch you as the perfect candidate to a client.  They probably don’t even truly understand how to identify a good programmer, outside of knowing to look for certain keywords on your resume and hear you reference specific terminology during your interview. They are on a time crunch to fill a position and are willing to throw whoever they can at the client to make sure that they succeed.

They’ve also built relationships with the client.  The client most likely feels confident that if the recruiter has presented them with a candidate they have the technical background required for the job.

A lot of recruiters are excellent and truly care about providing the best customer service to their candidates and clients.  They can usually get you a higher rate than you would get if hired directly by a company.  There are pros and cons to working with recruiters.

The Companies Definition of “Programmer” For a Programming Job

 A lot can weigh on what the company “defines” as a programmer.  A newbie might apply for the job who learned some basic code in college, but they’ve never built a program.   Would I consider this person to be a great potential candidate for a “programming” role?  No.  However, some companies might be okay with this.  Some employers might be open to the option of teaching candidates programming after they’ve started.  They could even plan to train them on their home-grown system.  However, when those candidates are instructed to create an entire database from scratch, they flop.

On the other hand, a company may have unrealistic expectations when it comes to a programmers salary.  Codeburst wrote a great article that points out that many companies are amazed by the cost of hiring an experienced developer.  This is a great point on how developers who can’t code get programming jobs.  They’re accepting less than an legit developer would.

Simply knowing how to code in a language doesn’t make you a programmer.  That being said, a great programmer could be tested and write an over-complicated code for a program that confuses hiring managers.  A lower level programmer that’s given the same test will write a simple clean code.  Sometimes you will get someone who is one extreme or the other.  Knowing interview tips and tricks can go a long way in the process.  Read my article for more programming job interview tips.

Companies Might Actually WANT To Hire them

A lot of employers might see a future in a “programmer” without skills or prior experience.  If they are likable and come across as professional during their interview, then an employer might see them as a good fit long term for a programming job.   They might even choose them over a seasoned programmer simply because they have a better attitude and have potential.

Some “Developers” Are Smooth Talkers

It’s not impossible to research tech and programming terminology and learn how to recite it during an interview.  I’ve seen plenty of people act like they know what they’re talking about and seem extremely confident. In reality, they don’t have the slightest clue.  Even personally I know I’m a great programmer.  Do I know everything?  No.  Could I try and pass an interview with flying colors by pitching some additional experience I have about programs I in fact know nothing about?  Absolutely.

 People try to create opportunities for themselves all the time by pretending to know how to program.  They apply to programming jobs they’re totally unqualified for and BS their way through the interview.  This is why a technical employee of the company should sit it on the interviews with potential candidates, or at least “double lock” them during the final steps to make sure they’re legit.  Otherwise, there is a good chance the person can get the job just by being clever.

It’s Not Easy To Identify Qualified Computer Programmers

Being able to tell whether someone is qualified isn’t easy, even for experienced hiring managers.  Finding a qualified computer programmer is like finding a needle in a haystack.  While interviewing potential candidates, some could have a strong background in coding a particular system, others could have extensive knowledge in various programs, another could have an impressive master’s degree from a prestigious school.  The self-taught developer sometimes is the most qualified person for the job and extremely skilled but overlooked.

The point is that someone can look good on paper for various reasons, but not perform well.  This is how unqualified candidates land programming jobs.

How To Identify A Bad Programmer

 You will know if you hired a bad programmer if they need to be handheld through every assignment.  They are more concerned with creating the code before identifying how it works and they won’t test their code.  Check to see if they wrote comments for their code.  If not – that’s a bad sign.  Did they create code that is able to work, but has issues and isn’t written the correct way?  Code should be readable in case others on the team need to go back and check on things if an issue comes up.

If a candidate doesn’t have an extensive understand of a platform that they claim to be experienced in – that’s another red flag.  If you’re a data architect and you have no understanding of SQL then that’s a problem.

Having a technical person sit in to test the potential candidate’s skills will be extremely beneficial.  It will save companies money, time, and most importantly headaches in the long run.  Most importantly, it will prevent nontechnical candidates from getting into programming jobs.


My word of advice for hiring managers is to have realistic expectations for compensation if you expect to hire an experienced developer.  Don’t rush the process.  My best advice to those seeking a programming job – just take the time to actually learn to code.  There are many resources available for you to learn such as Pluralsight, and it will save you tons of stress in the long-run.