How do I find Subject Matter Experts in software development?

If you didn’t spend your childhood isolated in the cave, you have probably seen all of the classic 90’s movies and are aware that every hero needs his master.

Jedis had Yoda, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had Splinter, and what about software development companies? They also have their Yodas, and they’re called Subject Matter Experts.

By reading this article you’ll find out:

  • Who’s a Subject Matter Expert
  • Required skills & responsibilities set
  • When to hire a SME
  • Where to find a perfect candidate
  • How to make sure if you’re hiring an expert or a scammer
Subject Matter Experts in software development

Photo by Alberto Bigoni

Who’s a Subject Matter Expert?

A Subject Matter Expert (aka SME) is an authority in a particular technology, process, function, machine, etc. It’s said that SMEs in software development are individuals with the greatest expertise in technical topics. They’re often asked to review, approve or improve technical work, also to guide and teach people with smaller experience.

Basically, it’s someone like Yoda for Software Development.

SMEs are usually found among the people (call them Jedis if you want 😉) who have been in their roles for a long and intensive period, so their skills and knowledge are their second nature. The ‘chosen’ person should know their field of expertise so well, that rarely needs to look up information because everything is already in their head. But, besides the knowledge, what skills do a great Subject Matter Expert in Software Development should have?

  • Ability to clearly define the procedures or standards
  • Ability to define performance objectives and determine performance levels
  • Ability to provide recommendations for improvements
  • Ability to perfectly understand the jargon in their area of expertise
  • Ability to make decisions, knowing the process and its dangers perfectly
  • Ability to become a mentor for people searching for answers or inspirations
  • Ability to communicate clearly
  • Ability to answer not only HOW, but also WHY things are done

SMEs responsibilities

The main responsibility of a modern software development Yoda is ensuring that everything is done correctly and the project’s deliverables will meet the client’s needs. To achieve this goal, good SME should:

  • Take an active part in defining the process, roles and procedures
  • Be able to accurately present their needs to the project team
  • Validate the requirements and deliverables of products/services that the team will produce
  • Provide input of test cases and scenarios and later validate executed test results
  • Be able to guide other professionals on the project
  • Provide training material for less experienced people
  • Test the product/service and providing feedback and tips to the team
  • Resolve any issues within their area of expertise

When should you engage Yoda for your employees?

It’s pretty common to hire a Subject Matter Expert when facing a difficult challenge or problem. Before you decide to hire anyone, remember that some professionals are cross-trained in their particular functions, so some problems will call for highly specialized knowledge. That’s why you should decide which area of your company/specific project could use a SME’s guidance.

In software development, Subject Matter Expert is usually responsible for defining business requirements and recommending a technical approach to meet them. He can also generate design specifications which typically involves translating business needs into detailed algorithms.

Subject Matter Expert also usually oversees the development, testing, and deployment of the technical solution and validates if the product meets all of the requirements.

There are three basic and most popular fields where you could use a SME’s help:

  • INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY – SMEs for insights into integrating software apps, fixing bugs or anomalies that have been discovered during the tests
  • ARCHITECTURE & ENGINEERING – SMEs as experts in building new technologies or approaching new design techniques/trends.
  • PROJECT MANAGEMENT – hiring SMEs as knowledge extension tools when your Jedi team’s knowledge or process is insufficient for the problems they’re facing

Where to find a Subject Matter Expert?

This may seem easy but is not. Not every experienced person can work as a SME, but every SME should have a wide experience. Where to look for a perfect candidate without the risk of being overwhelmed with applications of inexperienced people?

  • Professional associations

Some of the professional associations’ websites give you the ability to post an employment listing and that is the perfect place to look for a potential SME. Although it’s highly possible you will have to pay for posting it, but using these websites will help you to narrow the candidate pool and find the perfect person for this position.

  • Niche job boards

Of course, there are a lot of advantages of massive mainstream job search engines, but I wouldn’t recommend it in this case. Unless you want to drown in a sea of unwanted job applications… 😉 Niche job boards for professionals of particular experience are a valuable source of candidates with specialized knowledge and/or career interests. And in most cases they are free!

  • LinkedIn

When aiming to hire an expert in the specific field of expertise, add Linkedin to your traditional candidate search strategies. There’s an option to pay for an employment ad to reach a large number of potentially qualified candidates. Linkedin groups also allow to post job offers, although the reach can be limited, but it’s still worth a shot.

  • Blogs and industry publications

Do the good old google searching. Look for blog posts or publications by typing relevant keywords to the search engine. You can also search for blogs using a tool such as Blog Rank. The next step is simply reaching the blogger and offering him a job.

How to choose the perfect candidate?

SME should serve your team as a never-ending source of knowledge, insights, and advice, that’s why it is CRUCIAL to choose not only the most experienced candidate but also a person that’s great with people. Take a look at what’s most important when choosing the right person for this position.

1. HANDS-ON APPROACH

The person that you choose should be excited to dive into the project and prepared to give it the new quality. A great SME is a proactive one, so even when you meet a genius, make sure he’s an involved member of your team, not a passive observer.

2. QUANTITY and QUALITY

The length of SMEs experience is very important, but the breadth of this experience is as much important. Make sure to hire a person that fits your expectations and has the potential to go beyond them.

3. WORKFLOW

A great software development Yoda will be able to outline every single step of their work process – make sure that this kind of process will help you to solve the problem you’re facing.

4. STREET CREDS

Finding the right person is like mafia’s recruitment process – verifying your SME’s-to-be references and credentials should help you in making the right decision.

5. COMMUNICATION SKILLS 

Even the biggest expert in the world would be useless for your company if he’s not able to share their knowledge properly and clearly. That is one thing. 

The second is communication flow – make sure you’re hiring a person that is able to provide comprehensive answers quickly, so the development process runs smoothly.

6. TEAM FLOW

Interviewing your future Subject Matter Expert in 1on1 meetings or via Skype/e-mail can give you a general idea of your candidate’s experience, but not of his ability to cooperate with others. That’s why introducing a SME to your team before hiring would be a good way to reveal important character features and collaboration abilities. The perfect candidate is not only experienced, but also respectful, patient, empathetic and determined, as people skills are as important as the knowledge itself.

Subject Matter Experts in software development

Source: https://www.kesselrunner.com

Ok, so now you have all of the theoretical knowledge to hire a master Yoda among Subject Matter Experts. But I have a sense that the Yoda himself would recommend you to trust your gut, so just combine the substantive requirements with your intuition and I’m sure your business will be fine!

Are you looking for your own Yoda in the field of software development? Do you want to consult technical aspects of an ongoing project or are you looking for a team to create a new product? Don’t hesitate to contact us. We’ll help you.

May the force be with you. Let’s Software

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