aquiline ascension

published: 2010-11-13
author: Hans Nowak
tags: none

Talent shortage or job shortage?

I'm getting a bit tired of reading stories like this:
Is the Silicon Valley Talent Shortage Getting Worse?

There have been more articles like these recently, but the gist is the same: it's supposedly hard to find software developers.

Frankly, it annoys me when I see this, because I know from experience how hard it is to find a job in this field nowadays. I was laid off last year (well, what do you expect when you work for a company that has no real way to make money :-) and was unemployed for about six months, during which I kept on applying for jobs. I looked for them on the Python job board, naturally, but also in other places, like, startuply, and many others.

When I got a reply at all from a company I applied to (which usually wasn't the case), they would often remark that the response had been "overwhelming".

Now, it's likely that I had additional trouble getting hired because I live in a rural area in Florida, not exactly the center of technological innovation, so my choices are limited to the few available local jobs, and ones that can be done remotely (as I have been doing since 2002). (Or I could move, but that isn't an option right now, for various reasons.) There are not that many companies that allow telecommuting, though, and often their preference isn't mentioned in the job listing, so you end up applying to them "just in case", just to be told that they are looking for someone local. In other words, I'm just making things harder for myself by living here. :-)

Anyway, this post isn't about me; I have work now (although I am still looking for some part-time work on the side), in fact I was re-hired by the employer I worked for in 2002-2007.

No, what bothers me is the obvious contradiction here. I have evidence that job postings get lots and lots of replies. Even on the Python job board (I say "even" because Python isn't the most popular programming language, nor is the job board the top job listing site). Yet at the same time these articles show up complaining about how it's so hard to find developers. What gives?

One of my pet theories is that it's because the market is highly fragmented. You look at a job posting, it asks for experience with libraries A, B, C, D and E. (It's not even about languages anymore; "Python" jobs are mostly for Django, "Ruby" already meant "Rails".) Hundreds of people reply. With a response like this, the poster is likely to find some people who actually do know all those libraries. If you don't, you're probably not even considered. It doesn't matter if you are competent and can easily pick up these libraries; you just won't pass the first hurdle.

So, you just learn these libraries, and next time you'll have a better chance of getting the job, right? Yeah, except the market is so fragmented, that the next job listing will require libraries F, G, H, I and J. There's just too many of them to learn them all.

I'm getting the strong impression that getting a developer job nowadays depends on either luck, or knowing the right people.

The question is what happens if the company doesn't find someone who has all the requirements under their belt. I suspect many of them decide to wait (and re-list the job posting) until they find someone who does. Otherwise, they're left with a big pile of resumes, some of which may be from excellent developers who could learn those libraries in no time, but it's not an easy task to find them. Needle, meet haystack.

(Of course, there are other reasons why a company cannot find a suitable developer... Maybe they are too picky. Maybe the job is unattractive to competent developers (financially or otherwise). Maybe they're limiting their scope too much, for example by excluding telecommuters.)

If there is indeed a "filtering problem", maybe there is an opportunity for a business that helps companies find the best developers, given a stack of resumes. Not a recruiter; in my experience they're more like salesmen who don't actually know very much about what they're selling. Rather, what if you could tell someone, "we are looking for someone who knows this-and-that; give us the N best developers from this selection of resumes who match that". Or maybe a framework that helps you build "tests" online, that developers have to pass (as proof of their competence) before they can submit their resume. Hmm, startup idea, anyone? ;-)


Update: Rand Fishkin noticed the same phenomenon ("no jobs and no one to hire").

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