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Attitude adjustment time

rwoodnz profile image Richard Wood ・5 min read

Massive skills shortages. Huge demand for staff. High salaries. Global mobility. Then why are so many software developers happy to be treated as the office equivalent of railway workers of centuries past and work for little more than their other white collar associates?

In a former life I was editor of a number of industry technology newspapers including Computerworld New Zealand and Computerworld Australia. Many times we'd hear about the massive 'skills shortages' in the tech industry. I often felt like I was the only skeptic in the room.

Having done some basic stage 2 economics at university I was well aware that if there's a shortage of skills in a market then prices should go up to ration in response until everything balances. My theory then was that the titans of industry were not happy paying high salaries and contract payments for their projects.

They wanted the amount of supply to increase so they could screw down the cost. Ideally they wanted the government to pay for more education and wanted newspapers to help pressure government and also help encourage youth to choose technology careers.

Does that sound cynical? I'm pretty sure if any of these 'desperate' employers had offered double the pay rate then people would have been knocking at their doors. I recall writing an editorial to that effect.

That might have made their projects unviable but so would a gold plated bridge across the English Channel be unviable. We don't say there is a lack of civil engineers because we cant get that project off the ground.

Jump to today and little has changed. Or has it?

Industry still seems to say it is struggling to get technology employees, despite massive additional flow through universities and bootcamps. Now though we have larger teams and it can feel like you are in a canning factory. Fill up this tin with code, then move onto the next tin. Make sure the lid is secure. Put a fancy label on it and get it out there.

With large numbers has developed a systematic attitude problem that starts with recruitment. Young developers promised the good life are put through the ringer of tests and compatibility meetings where it reinforced that they will be so lucky to come and work here with free coffee, fizzy drinks, pool tables and any other comforts that can substitute for cold hard cash. Then corporate bosses forget about them until they leave.

They get locked into working with such nice colleagues and interesting challenges and constantly encouraged to feel good, unless they are working for one of the asshole companies that treats people like shit. Sometimes they shift to other companies and are still being tested first like they are a prize bull and perhaps offered a bit of equity here and there to keep them sweet.

But hang on, who has the power here? If you are a developer then you are supposed to be in global high demand. You should be setting the rules, hours, rates or at least in cooperation with your employer. Perhaps the employers should be lining up to be interviewed by the developers before being presented with a charge out rate similar to the medical profession.

Of course there is also supposed to be thousands of low cost potential employees in Eastern Europe and India. These poor souls could be earning many times their salary if they lived in California but the US creates a few obstacles. They can still do well if they can get to the UK, Scandinavia or Down Under. This would suggest there is not really a shortage, perhaps a misplacement.

But even then, I come back to if companies need employees then they likely just need to pay more, and get flexible. UK companies often advertise 400 pounds a day 'remote' contract work but you will have to come into the office regularly. Please! Lol. Meanwhile experienced developers are working for less than half that a few hundred kilometres away but can't afford to get to London on a regular basis.

Personally I prefer to work as a contractor to my own hours and rhythm. I recently set up my own company where I live in Cyprus. I have a lot of global work on and will need to be looking for help soon rather than ranting on this blog site. Note I don't charge the Earth - yet.

I am doing just as well financially as when I was last employed in New Zealand - which was at a rare company that kept it real and paid good wages to get and keep the best developers. Now I have the benefits of setting my own hours and having sunshine and more holidays whenever I want. This provides for a superior lifestyle.

The key has been to do truely remote work for people who are open to it, don't expect you to log into a standup every middle of the night, and know what trust is.

I seriously suggest that if you are in the slightest bit unhappy with your job or lifestyle then make an effort to use the leverage you are supposed to have. I realise that for many, family considerations will keep them in low wage locations. So try for that remote work. Start in the evenings while keeping your current job. I applied for over 50 remote jobs in the US and UK before I went contracting.

I struck a lot of confusion about what remote means, extremes of the code skill testing approach, and poor attitudes. But amongst that, and especially through forums, there is work with people who will let you get your hands dirty and see what you can do for them, and pay a reasonable global rate - which to be fair will likely be less than peak UK and US rates as you are part of the global pool now.

If you are happy to work in the concrete jungle with bad weather then do what it takes to get yourself to a prospering city and go in guns blazing, proud of your skills. Find an employee that respects your confidence, pays peak rates and will give you a trial both to prove yourself and for you to check them out, and then a job with regular reviews built in.

Set the relationship on the right track from the start with your demands. Be part of forcing an attitude adjustment. Be an example to others around you. Help to change the culture and salary expectations and tell your story to everyone else looking for inspiration.

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Richard Wood

@rwoodnz

Remote developer working in Elm and JS for clients globally.

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