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Guide to Hiring C Developers

  • What is C, and how is it used?
  • Why is C popular, and how will it benefit your business?
  • Roles and responsibilities of a C developer
  • What skills should a C developer have?

What is C, and how is it used?

Most existing programming scripts are pretty easy to classify as high-level; not so for C. Although it is machine-independent and technically a high-level language, it is much closer to assembly language than it is to any higher-level script on the language spectrum. Software written with C can directly drive computer hardware without the need for any software translation layer or the associated overhead. Instead, the software runs through a C compiler, which converts it into a computer-executable program.

The term for a language like C is ‘middle-level,’ and it is generally considered foundational to learning any other language. It is an imperative procedural programming script with a static type system and supports variable lexical scoping and structured programming. Programmers use it to write operating systems like Windows and Unix-based ones, as well as programs like Git and the Python interpreter. Moreover, its built-in features are intended to jibe perfectly with the capabilities of target CPUs, including those of supercomputers, embedded systems,  and programmable logic controllers.

Having been created in the 1970s, C is easily one of the oldest programming languages still widely used. Although its use in developing application software has waned in the past couple of decades, many businesses worldwide still hire C developers to build protocol stacks, operating systems, and device drivers. It is still remarkably popular for such an old language, and is currently used by 19% of software developers in 2023.

Why is C popular, and how will it benefit your business?

In 2021, the TIOBE Index for January ranked C as the number one most popular programming language, a spike in popularity linked to the computational needs of COVID-19 vaccine research. In the rankings for October 2023, the programming language ranks number 2, just under Python.

Moreover, all the most popular operating systems, from Windows and Linux to MacOS, as well as mobile OSes like Android and iOS, are written partly or wholly in C. Evidently, the relevance of the language has remained, despite its being older than even the internet itself, and major tech startups still hire C developers to write and maintain aspects of their digital architecture.

It may not be so surprising that this is the case once you understand certain things that this legacy programming language brings to the table.

  • Proximity to Memory: Not many existing programming scripts work as close to low-level computer operations as C does; this is especially true regarding computer memory.
    Being as close to assembly as it is, C makes the programmer more memory-minded, so to speak, than they’d typically be when using most newer programming languages. C allows programmers to interact quite directly with memory, allocating it dynamically and altering the size of data arrays as necessary during runtime. This happens via the available functions, namely malloc(), calloc(), free(), and realloc(). Moreover, while it does have the downside of tending to foster memory management bugs, its memory-safety issues offer useful insight into how many such safety issues arise and the need for memory-safe languages.
  • Speed: C is a compiler language; it relies on its own compiler to translate code into computer-executable binaries, unlike interpreted languages. This results in faster execution, which is why startups often hire C developers for digital operations that require fast execution. For instance, C is a programming script of choice for high-computational uses like Mathematica and MATLAB. Additionally, the closer control over memory and processor usage elements means the developer can manage such elements as much as needed to increase the speed of execution for C-based programs. Moreover, C favors the inclusion of only essential elements, thus freeing up processor power and improving speed.
  • Structured Programming: C is a structured programming language, and every C program follows a well-defined structure. There are generally six sections to a C program: documentation, postprocessor, definition, global declaration, main ()  function, and sub-programs. This structuredness makes the program easy to read, understand in a given format, document, and modify when needed. It also makes debugging a lot less of a stressful and insufferable task.
  • Efficiency and Portability: Some developers describe C as being almost a portable assembly language, and there are two reasons for that description. First, as mentioned before, it interacts with the computer hardware almost as directly as an assembly language. Secondly, it is machine-independent and very versatile; C supports a vast range of processor architectures, and will run on any computer that supports it without needing a single modification. Moreover, the primary implementations of most current interpreted programming languages, including Python and Ruby on Rails, are written in C.
  • Small Memory Footprint: Compared to most other languages, C code requires very little memory to run, and its runtime is significantly small. A C-based executable for embedded systems will have a substantially smaller size than, say, that of C++, which is more than twice its size. It's also possible to further optimize memory consumption by applying various coding techniques. For example, you could use multiple 'if' instructions (without using 'else') instead of a switch instruction or use shorter mathematical expressions. However, some of the possible techniques are relevant in some situations but not in others. For instance, replacing a switch instruction with multiple 'if' ones is only relevant if the former terminates with a default case.
  • General Purpose: Because C is a highly efficient general-purpose language, businesses in different industries hire C engineers to create a broad range of programs. These include everything from enterprise applications and operating systems to embedded system drivers and games. It can even be used to create graphics.
  • Recursive Programming: As a recursive programming language, C allows a developer to call a function within itself as many times as is needed to fulfill a given condition. This recursive programming feature has two notable advantages: it enables code reusability, and makes C very useful for solving many simple and complex mathematical problems. For example, C can be used to find number factorials and generate Fibonacci sequences. It is also useful for backtracking, a brute-force solution technique that involves compiling a set of all the possible solutions to a computational problem.
  • Extensive Libraries: Anyone coding with C enjoys access to its extensive set of libraries, rich in easy-to-use functions that make life easier for developers. There are enough built-in ones to use, but developers can also write their own custom functions, add them to the libraries, and use them when needed. This extensive and expandable, function-rich collection of libraries is another reason C is so versatile.

Roles and responsibilities of a C developer

It costs quite a bit to hire C developers, especially given how valuable an understanding of this programming language is for almost any company that operates software. As of October 2023, the average annual salary for top-earning C developers is $154,500, while that of the lowest earners is $32,000.

Before you begin budgeting to hire a dedicated C developer, it’s important to have an idea of what tasks you’ll be needing one for. Besides, it’s also vital that the roles be well-defined so your developers can deliver optimally without setting themselves to tasks they don’t really need to touch.

  • Designing and Creating Efficient, Reliable, and Reusable C Programs: A C developer’s primary job is to design and deliver reliable and efficient C code to power various uses. Moreover, these codes are also reusable, so they can not only be used for the current project but also stored in directories for later use. This is especially true for the libraries, and it’s another way C enables faster programming.
  • Building Kernels, Libraries, Compilers, and Embedded Systems for Other Languages: As we’ve established, C works very closely with computer hardware. This is why any startup creating its own programming language will almost certainly hire dedicated C developers to design aspects of its architecture that interact with the machine. For example, a C developer has all the tools they need for writing compilers that will translate source code in the relevant programming language into binaries the machine can run. Moreover, they can not only write compilers with features like parsing, code generation, and lexical analysis but also write support libraries, kernels, and embedded systems. These can power things like traffic controllers, smart watches, fitness trackers, and even GPS trackers.
  • Maintenance of Code Quality: The business with the code of a C program (or any program at all) doesn’t end after the development cycle; it continues into the future, as it becomes necessary to ensure the code continues to function properly. There are many tools and practices that allow a C developer to see to the quality of their code both during and after development. For example, documentation and clear naming of variables, arguments, and functions make it easier and quicker to identify its purpose so that it becomes easier to maintain. Additionally, the coder can also leverage dynamic and static code analysis tools to refine code quality further and ensure the program continues to function optimally.
  • Brainstorming with the IT Team Concerning Application Projects: The job of a C developer also encompasses group sourcing of ideas for projects. Before the team begins to build the needed programs, it is necessary to have some meetings to discuss the specifics and requirements of the project and decide how to approach it. This is why businesses tend to hire C developers who are good at communicating their ideas effectively to others.
  • Testing the Quality and Durability of Code: When you hire a C developer,  it will also be their job to test the quality and integrity of any new or previously existing code. This means measuring some vital metrics, including code reusability, testability, security, functionality, consistency, and bug-freeness. With these in the right order, the program is more likely to meet users’ expectations, and transferring code becomes a breeze since high-quality code is easier to transfer. It’s also worth noting that such quality policing ultimately benefits your business’s wallet since it spares you the funds you’d otherwise have spent having low-quality rewritten.

What skills should a C developer have?

There are nearly 27 million software developers in the world, and many of them are proficient in C. Programmers that work with C-based languages are also often adept in the mother language, further increasing the number of potential C developers for hire. Before you start casting your net for some C talent, it’s important to know not only the tasks a C developer does but also the skills needed to perform them. So, what vital skills should you look for in your candidates?
  • Proficiency in C and Related Programming Scripts: It goes without saying that the primary skill that C developers for hire should have is a solid command of the C programming language. This includes its syntax, architecture, operators, variables, type definitions, command line parameters, strings,  arrays, loops, and conditionals. It is also very useful to have a similarly solid command of other programming languages based on C, such as C++ and C#. After all, many C-based projects will also involve various degrees of interaction with these other scripts.
  • Skill with Writing Compilers, Libraries, and Embedded Systems: Another reason companies hire dedicated C developers is that mastery of the language is often accompanied by skills that are useful for writing utilities for other programming languages.

    For example, a skilled C developer understands memory management, runtime environment initialization, stack frame structure, assembly language, hardware analyzers, 12C and SPI protocols, and low-level I/O. Significant mastery of these and more allows a developer to be effective at writing compilers, embedded systems, and even custom libraries.
  • Experience with Analysis Tools like Valgrind and Lint: Valgrind and Lint are useful tools for analyzing C code, and they make quality monitoring and testing so much easier. Valgrind, for instance, simulates the host processor in order to run code. It then tracks all the memory usage, validates all arguments, and flags errors and bugs in the code. Familiarity with these tools affords programmers an easier time with testing and debugging and testing.
  • Good Understanding of Memory Management: Since C is usually used to write underlying programs and utilities that interact more directly with memory, the language requires the developer to understand the things of memory. This especially means knowing how to subdivide, allocate, and coordinate memory elements to ensure the optimum working of relevant programs and processes.
  • Familiarity with Code Versioning Tools: Version control is another thing startups hire C engineers for, and handling that job requires the developer to be adept at using code versioning tools like Git, Mercurial, and SVN.
  • Teamwork and Problem-solving Skills: When recruiting, you want to hire C developers who are skilled at coordinating with other members of the IT team. This means they should be able to communicate effectively and sync their efforts with others. They should also be quick-thinking, able to look at problems objectively and generate effective solutions.

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