2 min read

Why nobody wants to hire junior developers

Startups don’t want to hire junior developers. And I get it.

Bringing a junior developer on board is a huge commitment - far larger than the salary bill would suggest. Often the value of their work is less than the ongoing cost to level them up, at least initially. So you end up making a big upfront investment hoping that you’ll reap the rewards in the long term.

This would be fine if the equation balanced out in the end. But the damn thing is that you often end up losing those developers just as soon as they start making real contributions to the company. It hurts even more when they join a company that you know for a fact wouldn’t have been willing to train that developer up in the first place.

It’s unsurprising then that many startups avoid hiring junior developers altogether. You can’t blame the juniors either - it’s only reasonable to consider a job that pays much better.

So how do you solve this situation?

Unfortunately, there aren’t easy solutions here. There is, however, one very interesting (and controversial) solution to this problem found in American history.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, American craftsmen had a similar problem to tech companies. They wanted to bring on new trainees, but the risk of investing in their training only to have them leave was too great. So these craftsmen started offering something called "indentured apprenticeships."

In order to get a job, trainees would need to sign a 7-year contract to work for the tradesman. The trainees were locked in for the contract duration and the only way to get out was to work for 7 years or pay a huge exit fee (far larger than most could afford). In return for this commitment, the master would teach them everything they knew.

This model worked because both sides had clear upsides:

  • The master craftsman knew the trainee would stick around and could justify a huge amount of training
  • The trainee would get to learn everything about the craft at no cost

With the benefit of hindsight, we can see many problems with this setup, such as the fact that the tradesmen had little incentive to provide a great working environment because their trainees couldn’t legally leave their employment.

But looking at this model does make me wonder if there isn’t another model, perhaps something we haven’t tested yet, that could make it easier for junior developers to get their start in tech. Any ideas?