Hiring trends in the software development market

Industry Insight: Elemental Concept

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Bimal Shah, Phil Jacobs, Marc Jewitt and Anna Wright built the basis of Elemental Concept in 2011 when Bimal took over a small development house, LeoTech, in Singapore.

Over the next 5 years, LeoTech transformed into a business-led software design and development consultancy with +150 employees, including the future founders of EC. Their clients rang from start-ups to multinationals with Standard Chartered Bank, Manulife, Verspieren and Visa, to name a few.

The founding team then took the opportunity to establish Elemental Concept and continue to evolve their vision for how consultancies can help organisations of all sizes innovate in a fast-paced and ever changing world.

Ahead of the launch of our latest technology insight report – UK Software Development: Coding the Country out of Crisis – we spoke with CEO & Founder of Elemental Concept Bimal about the findings from our report:

 

We saw a 130% increase in UK development jobs advertised in the past year - what types of projects are driving the need to hire development talent?

There are two factors really that have driven this increase. Firstly, many businesses refrained from investment in 2019, for reasons including Brexit. From mid-2020 onwards the capital floodgates opened; a lot of people who had been sitting on their money began investing into start-ups, fintech, health tech etc. all of which demanded developers.

Secondly, across 2020 people realised the direction needed to change – everything became more remote, so finding means to get to people digitally became more vital.

I wouldn’t say it’s been a specific type of project that has driven this need to hire, it’s more so been a realisation of needing to get there quicker, coupled with the fact that a lot more money is entering back into the market.

In the UK specifically, series A and B type companies have been seen to receive quite a lot of funding which has driven recruitment.

 

Emerging languages such as Rust, Golang & React or growing in demand, while languages such as C++ & PHP are declining. How do you see the development language landscape evolving?

How we build software has evolved enormously over the past 20 years. There are now frameworks and libraries that enable developers to build business logic quicker without having to write the baseline code to manipulate databases, etc. This has meant PHP is increasingly seen as outdated and costly and therefore just isn’t suitable. C++ is also following a similar trajectory.

In terms of emerging languages, I would put Dart up there as a one to watch. Dart is used in flutter, which essentially is Google’s answer to building hybrid mobile apps.

Rust is also up massively, which is very similar to Java - just slightly lighter, quicker and easier to use.

If you look at the established front-end frameworks, I’d still say that React and Angular are still growing.

Both are somewhat under threat from Flutter – whereby I expect the Flutter community will grow, and it will become increasingly adopted. There are a lot of languages that come and go, so for a company like us we don’t adopt to them very quickly. For example, both Golang and Dart have come out of Google - which brings the fear that Google will stop supporting it and then it will die.

Golang became quite popular around four years ago and started growing but from a very small base, where today it is popular within the Blockchain world. It is still undecided whether it’s going to last or not and the community isn’t very big, whereas Rust is growing its community at a much quicker pace.

It is generally these reasons why we don’t want to ‘jump’ - many developers think “I’d like to use this new language” and soon after realise their limitations because no one has yet solved and shared solutions to problems developers encounter (e.g. how to integrate with Facebook) and the support communities are limited.

So yes, there are new languages and frameworks emerging, but there's also traditional ones still growing like Javascript which you currently use within a framework like Nest, React or Angualar etc. As technology changes you will be able to use these languages differently. For examples browsers have better capability so you can build straight from Javascript without the constraints of a framework.

 

How do you judge where you need to put that investment in, in terms of upskilling in these new languages?

A good example would be Flutter; we saw it was growing, has a big enough community, and more capabilities than it once did - so we did a controlled experiment to measure the output, outcome, and learning curve for support ability, to ensure it actually adds value to our developers.

When new languages are introduced, they are generally brilliant for one thing. However, if you’re building big systems, you want predictability and knowledge of how it can interact with all components and that is generally where the problem lies.

 

With the development candidate pool increasingly candidate short, which specific areas do you perceive a skill shortage?

The pricing of a developer has gone up incredibly in the last year, pretty much in every country - but the output price hasn't changed. My customers are still going to want me to charge the same rates even though I'm having a 130% increase in my cost. So, what you’re finding is you’re having to pay more for the same.

There is a real lack of really experienced developers, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as experience is only relevant if it’s the right kind.

What we’re finding is that professionals are expecting senior roles with little experience or only experience in one language/framework, and so therefore their ability to lead, carry, and communicate is going to be lacking for the amount of money you’re going to be paying.

The salaries you are currently having to pay for a developer you would historically have expected them to have a strong understanding of how everything fits together the same way as a full stack developer. They need not be experts in all of it, but they should have a decent understanding across all aspects of a software build. It is this level of experience or confidence that is missing when trying to recruit, so now it is more about what you can do with that price, and how do you manage and lead people.

 

Are you doing anything internally in terms of what you ask for from a skills aspect?

Communication is the core one for all firms but again this is difficult as it is important to appreciate that some personalities are amenable to certain things and its more about helping to find the right path for them.

Some prefer to lead by example rather than explain to people how they should work, and therefore they are only suitable for working with certain other developers.

What we really drum into people is you must ask the questions to learn, just because it'll speed things up for you and us.

 

You have a base in Singapore as well as London, what is your recruitment and working methods?

Until Covid struck we had physical offices. We are now 100% remote in both Singapore and London, which has opened up our talent pool significantly, with employees now based around the UK as well as Singapore.

We do also have team members from other parts of the globe, but this hasn’t been simply a search for low-cost talent, it has been because these team members are good or have experience that we require. An example might be where our work involves taking over an existing PHP system to maintain and build upon. In these instances, we have had good experience of bringing in offshore team members who are more cost effective and equally very adept at PHP.

In terms of our core languages like Java and JavaScript, we are finding the talent not too dissimilar in eastern Europe to London. However, there is no real cost saving to be had here.  People have now realised they can apply for jobs in London and live in Poland - it might not be at 100% of the same salary but it will be at least 80%.

When we recruit it’s more about the skills rather than money.

 

Have you found any disadvantages from remote working?

If you have a 100% remote team, no matter how hard you try it becomes a bit more of a transactional relationship with your employees.

Even with regular employee socials online, you’re never going to build as tight of a bond as people who meet in person in the office. There’s a feeling of belonging, with more collaboration on projects.

Whilst we haven't seen it yet, my gut is that our average length of employment will drop from four years to two years (though I hope I’m wrong) – and we will build that into our plan. Although remote working opens up our talent pool, we appreciate it can create a disadvantage for us elsewhere. It is more about being realistic and managing the impact of our chosen business model rather than being blind to it and hoping for the best.

 

Are there any other things you expect to see this year and beyond 2022 that will impact the development market?

New technologies and concerns are continuously creating a boost. In the past we’ve seen demand pick-up because of Blockchain and AI, whereas now the newer focus is on Cybersecurity and soon AR/VR. AR/VR will really boom when the Oculus Rift or similar hardware become a bit more mainstream, then we will see the new boom of where talent is needed.

Blockchain also still has a way to go, we’re just now seeing it maturing enough for people to be able to use it. It will keep growing, just not at the rate it did in the past.

 

What tactics will you employ to tackle the skills shortage?

We’re always taking on graduates or people who want a career change, and we are planning to increase our programme of work with clients to put their employees through our programme too.

When recruiting it’s all about identifying the really determined people - and this doesn’t mean they come from the best colleges, it is the mindset and thirst to learn. We’re still always on the lookout for the really experienced seniors too who like passing on knowledge.

When you’re looking at new technologies, we have so many developers who are motivated and curious who will play with the technologies in their own time. That doesn’t mean that we are ready to deploy any of them, what would generally happen is we wait until we know that they are mature enough to really implement. The worst thing you can do is say to the customer “we'll do this VR world” and it be a disaster.

Our reputation is too important, so we'd rather say “if you want to try something that new, there are other companies who would do it for you.” We will do things that are very difficult but within the areas that we know.

 

What would you say is your typical lifecycle of a grad or a junior developer so someone who's had a career change?

Before we started Elemental Concepts, I ran a company called LeoTech and all of my current founders were part of my management team and a lot of our staff were at our old company.

We are lucky that so many amazing juniors and seniors have stayed. The right people can start as a junior and perform like a senior developer within three years.

A good example of our lifecycle would be that of one of our juniors who started with us at the previous company around 8 years ago as a grad. After 8 years of progress with us he's now been headhunted to be the CTO at a very well-funded company. He is a great developer but also an excellent communicator.

 

Has that time shrunk from what you’ve seen in all your years of experience, starting off as a grad/junior to becoming senior level?

The career path has certainly been accelerated as of late, not least because of the amount of money coming into the area. At Elemental, our developers perform like a senior in their core stack but that doesn’t mean that they are a senior developer outside of that remit. In order to grow into a senior developer, it is important to have exposure to a wide range of languages, frameworks and domains so that you really understand how things fit together. 

 

For more information on development hiring trends, download our Software Development Market Report. 

 

 

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