Student Hacker Report · Spring 2016

How do developers feel about, look for, and evaluate their career options?


Student Survey

Devpost is the home for hackers and we help developers find fulfilling work. You probably know us from the hackathon scene, where we power the majority of the world’s college, high school, and civic hackathons. We also run longer, online hackathons like Samsung’s Gear App Challenge, Oculus’ VR Jam, and Uber’s Request Hackathon.

Last summer we released our first student hacker report, ranking the top technologies and APIs used at student hackathons during the 2014–2015 academic year. This year, we decided to investigate how students feel about, look for, and evaluate their career options.

During the 2016 spring hackathon season, we asked U.S. students to answer 3–4 different questions about recruiting every time they submitted a hackathon project. Afterwards, we scrubbed PII, excised erroneous data, and analyzed it. In total, we surveyed over 1,700 students at 80 hackathons.

We hope our findings and recommendations will encourage hiring managers, recruiters, and HR to be more productive and help them attract better hires. Please email us at if you have any feedback or questions.

What developers want

Strong relationships, not marriages

83% of students said they were looking for fulfilling careers, not jobs.

Students plan to stay an average of 2.9 years at their first full-time job.

Students predict that they’ll stay at later jobs for 5 years on average.

People are the key to culture

Top 5 things students want to know about their future colleagues before accepting an offer:

  1. How well they interact with each other
  2. Favorite part of their jobs
  3. Skills & background
  4. Hobbies / interests outside of work
  5. General personality

How many people do students want to meet at a company, before accepting an offer?

What matters to students most when considering a job

  1. People
  2. Learning
  3. Impact
  4. Culture

Developers care more about your team than your perks. It’s easy to fix a broken ping pong table, but it’s not so easy to fix a broken development team. Additionally, many students said they believed people and culture are the same thing.

Your developers are the best recruiting asset you’ve got. Get them involved and in front of developers whenever you can: career fairs, phone screens, interviews, conference talks, mentoring, etc.

Experience & learning

Developers, especially students, are eager to learn. It’s the most important thing they’ll do during an internship or first job.

What students want from a 10–12 week internship:

  1. Learning
  2. Experience
  3. New skills
  4. Networking
  5. Making an impact

What they want to learn:

  • How to do a good job
    (best practices and how write code well)
  • Specific technologies
    (languages, frameworks, concepts, etc.)

38% of students said learning was more important than compensation when comparing internship offers. That said, you should definitely be paying your interns. 😁

Appropriate compensation

Students expect to earn between $70–100K right out of school.

Expected full-time starting salaries

Students expect to get a $20–30K raise within their first 5 years on the job.

High earners, with starting salaries over $150K, expect to jump at least $50K.

A 40% jump over 5 years ($50k→$70K) may sound extreme outside the tech industry, but today’s students are in high demand and their expectations reflect it.

For all the founders out there, equity compensation is definitely important, but don’t overemphasize it. Cash is still king:

Is company equity important to you?

For internship salaries, we’ll refer to Rodney Folz’s crowdsourced report. Also, don’t be afraid to #talkpay!

Developer recruiting

Students identified 3 key issues with recruiting:

  1. Difficulty finding desirable job opportunities due to lack of information
  2. Job applications don’t represent them effectively
  3. Interviews are stressful and unproductive

Finding opportunities

Job descriptions and career sites are missing key information:

  1. Description of company culture
  2. Pay / compensation
  3. Job duties & responsibilities
  4. Experience / education requirements
  5. Company / employee contact info
  6. Description of what company does / type of projects

That’s pretty messed up. How are students supposed to figure out if they want to apply without knowing what the job is? We think there’s a lot of room for improvement here.

At a minimum, job listings should include:

  • Who the hiring company is
  • What they do
  • Which roles they are hiring for
  • What will someone in this role actually do
  • What types of experience / education do you need to succeed in this role
  • How to apply / get more information

Company career sites should tell you:

  • About the people who work there
  • The types of work the company does
  • Employment benefits
  • Company culture
  • How it operates
68% of students have looked for a job at a hackathon.

While career fairs and word of mouth are the most popular ways that students look for jobs, hackathons are coming up fast. Mid-size events can bring in 100–200 students. On the high end, PennApps and MHacks have gotten up to 1,400.

Applying to jobs

42% of students said writing cover letters and résumés was their least favorite part of job hunting.

25% said behavioral and technical interviews were their least favorite part.

The most important part of a résumé:

34.5% Projects

33.2% Experience (internships, jobs, research)

9.03% Skillset

7.74% Organizations (activities, events, hobbies)

6.45% Personality (attitude, passion, leadership)

5.48% Hackathon involvement

3.55% Education

The data suggests that students would prefer if their work spoke for them.

What a cover letter should convey:

46% Passion / energy / interest / desire

35% Your skills / qualifications / accomplishments

20% Why you’re the best candidate

18% Why you are applying

17% Introduce yourself

17% Personality

11% How you can contribute

9% Past experience

8% Understanding of company

3% Things not included on résumé

2% Education

We’re not surprised that “passion” topped the list. With limited professional experience coming out of school, it’s a student’s biggest asset. But it’s also a cop-out. Identifying how you can contribute in this role, why you’re the best candidate, and linking your understanding of the business to your own experience / abilities is, in our opinion, a much better approach.

What students want employers to know about them:
things that can’t be conveyed in a cover letter or résumé

  • Passion for computer science
  • Being a quick learner
  • Personal work ethic
  • Flexibility
  • Sense of humor
  • Hunger for challenges

How students feel about applying online:
e.g., Jobscore, Jobvite, and Greenhouse

  • Too time consuming
  • Job posts are often out of date / already filled
  • They are cumbersome and duplicate information / tasks
  • No way to apply to lots of jobs all at once
  • Platforms lean too heavily on résumés

How long a cover letter should be:

33% 1 page

18% Other / as long as it needs to be

15% 1–2 pages

11% 2–3 paragraphs

7% A few sentences

7% half a page

6% 1 paragraph

4% 2/3–3/4 page

What would make writing cover letters easier:

29% Standard format / automation tool / examples

19% Practice / training

18% Better info on company / job

16% Other

8% Not having to write a cover letter

7% Feeling qualified / confidence

5% Interest in company

2% Peer review

Yikes on bikes! No wonder students hate cover letters. They’re trying to write novels about their “passion” because nobody is teaching them, they aren’t getting enough practice, and they haven’t seen any great examples.

In our opinion, you can write a compelling cover letter in 6 sentences–2 paragraphs. We suggest cutting out the “I’m a quick learner” tropes too.

Students don’t want to define themselves on two sheets of paper or by filling out forms online. They’re looking for a simple way to connect with employers and use their actual work to represent their capabilities. Perhaps it’s time to reinvent the résumé.


Developers typically face two types of interviews: technical and behavioral. They can be live and in-person or remote via Skype / Hangouts. Technical interviews often include whiteboard problem solving, logic questions, pairing sessions, or even a take home exercise. Basically, there’s no one-true-way to do interviews, but there does seem to be one-true-attitude toward them:

Students said anxiety is the worst part of interviewing, followed by:

  • Irrelevant questions
  • Post interview suspense & waiting for response
  • Answering questions (technical, behavior, and any)

65% of students said they’d prefer a take home coding project versus a technical interview.

Students said take home projects are more representative of a real-world assignment, less stressful, and allow them to focus. Technical interview proponents preferred the social interaction and opportunity to demonstrate their problem solving skills in real-time.

So, on one hand, developers want an opportunity to show their true personality, but they’re also petrified of potentially stressful confrontations. Consider informing interview candidates of what to expect and how to prepare.

A summary of today’s student developer

Software developers are in demand and today’s students are acutely aware of their value in the marketplace. They’re interested in learning from and developing a strong working relationship with colleagues, but will probably not begin and end at the same company.

When assessing a company’s “culture,” students are actually talking about the people. And they also expect to get paid well, with above average growth in compensation.

Students are eager to enter the workforce, but find the process stressful and cumbersome. It’s hard to convey their best traits in résumés or cover letters, because they have limited experience marketing themselves professionally. Additionally, job listings and career sites fail to convey what’s important to developers and the application process is riddled with repetitive / inefficient steps.

Interviews are a source of anxiety, likely due to irrelevant questions that don’t reflect real life problem solving.

Developer first recruiting

If you’re trying to hire and reach more developers, Devpost can help. We’re currently building team pages, a developer focused recruiting tool that gives job hunters the info they want—who’s on your dev team, what they’re like, what’s in your stack, how your dev & interview processes work, and more—before they apply.

Team pages complement your existing recruiting efforts to attract great talent and improve the quality of inbound applications. We’re currently beta testing team pages for free in NYC. Contact us at to get started on yours!

Check out team pages