Remember the great Furby Frenzy of 1998? Toy stores were stormed, fights broke out, and the price of those $30 chatty creatures shot up to nearly $200 on the secondary market. The reason was simple: Hasbro simply couldn’t make enough Furbys fast enough, and when demand exceeds supply, prices rise. Fifteen years later, Furbymania may be long gone, but we’re seeing a similar shortage today in a very different context: the developer job market.
If you’re a talented developer today, you’re a Furby. Each year, there are more than 150,000 new computing jobs in the U.S., but only 40,000 computer science graduates. We’re in the midst of an epic talent shortage: There aren’t enough of you, but everyone needs you. In theory, this means that life as a developer today should be wonderful and include endless showers of candies, Cheetos, Ping-Pong games, and the best recruitment practices of any field. So why does everything about finding a new job still suck so much?
With four open jobs for every developer, it shouldn’t be so hard to get what you want. But there’s a lot broken in recruiting today that’s making this process frustrating and inefficient. Here’s what’s going wrong:
How often are you contacted by recruiters on LinkedIn? One woman found that even her fake programmer profile received messages once every 40 hours. Even worse than the frequency of messages is the content: "Is this William Gates? I’m calling to share an exciting opportunity for a hackster like you that will give you invaluable experience using the Microsoftware stack!" It’s usually pretty obvious that they have no idea who you are or what you really want. Which makes sense. You see, from their perspective, it’s actually easier for them to harass every single developer they can find rather than take the time to find the right developer. They benefit from playing the numbers game—to your disadvantage. It’s one thing to commoditize a product; it’s another thing entirely to commoditize people.
Think about what’s included in a typical job listing: A section that explains the responsibilities of the job and another section that details required experience. This is essentially a list of demands—not a great way to attract the most in-demand talent. Job listings also don’t tend to explain anything about what it’s like to actually work for that company, making it impossible for you to figure out if the culture fit is right. This process may work for companies who need to fill roles in an average labor market. But with so many programmer jobs available and not enough programmers to fill them, newer companies can’t distinguish themselves from better-known brand names, and established enterprises can’t cut through the corporate legalese to show off their work environments.
Matching up specific skills and keywords works great—if you want a job doing exactly what you already know how to do. When employers use keywords to find you, they can only search by skills you’ve already listed on your résumé rather than cool new languages or technologies that you’d love to learn. And since most talented developers want their next role to be somewhere they can learn more, keyword punching is not a good way to investigate growth opportunities. This leaves plenty of room for candidates and employers to skip over each other like a Craigslist Missed Connection ad.
If cold emails from contingency recruiters weren’t bad enough, now there are companies that offer employers the ability to scrape the web for developer footprints and sell their profiles with contact details to employers. Let’s be perfectly clear: Messages and emails are fair game when you register for lists, résumé databases, or social-networking sites like LinkedIn. But if you’ve never opted in, any unsolicited message walks the fine line along the boundary we all hate the most: Internet spam. A world where career advancement involves unsolicited spam seems backward. It takes the control away from you and makes changing jobs even worse for the talent that’s most in demand.
There’s a lot happening that’s turning this ripe market a bit sour. All of the recruiting noise distracts from your primary goal as a developer: building cool things. So the bigger question still remains:
First and foremost, recognize the power you have at your fingertips. Being a developer in a market this competitive means you don’t need to settle until you’ve found what you’re really looking for—whether that’s a set-your-own-schedule remote job or a 9-to-5 job with amazing family benefits. So go out and get it. As the power player, you can also apply pressure to employers who haven’t stepped up their A-Game.
However, some of this process is still out of your hands: You can’t control what messages recruiters send or how employers contact you. That’s one of the things we tried to change with Stack Overflow Careers 2.0. For the first three years, we spent most of our time fine-tuning a hiring product by doing little more than asking developers, "What do you hate about recruiters and changing jobs?" Last year, we started focusing more on what you care about at work, and 9,000 of you told us the elements of a job that are most important to you include the opportunity to learn and grow, a chance to work with a smart team, and good management. Based on that feedback, we introduced Company Pages to encourage companies to think more about how to position themselves in a way that attracts developers and to give you a better idea of what might be a good culture fit. This year, we’re adding even more features, with the goal of keeping your needs top of mind. While we haven’t figured it all out yet, we’re getting closer.
Today, the process is still broken, which means you need to adapt around it. Don’t expect amazing employers to find you. Instead, the most valuable thing you can do for your career today is think about what you want the most. Do you want a new job where you can learn new languages, or would you prefer to build on the ones you’ve mastered? Do you want to learn how to mentor and manage others, or would you prefer to write code all day? Would your life be better if you could work remotely? Don’t forget that you’re a Furby (circa 1998), and if you take the time to think about what’s important to you, odds are pretty good that you’ll be able to get it.
Bethany Marzewski is Segment Marketing Manager for Stack Overflow Careers 2.0.