Employers Can’t Find Enough Scala Talent

Some have wondered whether the recent release of Java 8 could be bad news for Scala, which gained fans with its functional programming capabilities on the Java Virtual Machine.

Scala LogoScala’s creator Martin Odersky doesn’t believe it. He’s said the release will bring the Scala and Java communities closer together. And Typesafe, the company Odersky created to support and promote Scala, is touting it as good news for all.

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“Typesafe is excited to see Java 8 make it to market and the interest it’s receiving from developers for a number of features that come directly from Scala’s feature set,” Typesafe CEO Mark Brewer told Dice. “Java 8’s support of lambda expressions is Java’s first big move toward functional programming. For not only Scala, but also other functional programming languages — like Erlang, Haskell, and functional libraries like Google Guava — that’s a huge opportunity, not a threat.”

Odersky told ReadWriteWeb he sees Java 8’s capabilities bringing more interest to functional programming and tools supporting the whole Reactive movement, in which applications adjust to deal with the load placed on them. That’s been Scala’s strength.

Building for Scale

In terms of popularity, Scala can’t come close to rivaling Java. Paul Jansen, TIOBE Software managing director, says that 10 years after its release, Scala is still considered a second-tier language: It ranked No. 42 in his company’s latest Programming Community Index. Nevertheless, some clients are using it to build industrial applications, he says.

While the TIOBE index is based on the number of skilled engineers worldwide, courses and third-party vendors, the RedMonk Programming Language Rankings are based on a language’s popularity on GitHub and Stack Overflow. RedMonk, an industry analyst firm, ranks Scala as No. 13.

However, Scala made the top 10 list for software skills in Boston last fall, according to an analysis by Ben Hicks, a partner in the Software Technology Search division of recruitment firm WinterWyman. Hicks is seeing no sign that Scala’s popularity is waning as companies use it when they need massive scale and for projects in analytics/Big Data.

“I’m seeing it with startups and small companies – those with a clean slate,” says Hicks. “I’m not seeing it with companies that have been around for decades and have an installed base of other code. It’s with companies building a brand-new product, it’s a clean slate and they can use anything they want.”

Twitter, Netflix, Comcast, Gilt Groupe and Walmart are among the companies using Scala, according to Typeface’s Brewer. “Scala is entrenched at many of the companies with the highest site traffic and peak usage, that have the most rigorous scale and performance requirements,” he says.

In addition, he notes, Scala is used across industries, not just in financial services and the Internet. The Reactive movement is being adopted across sectors, including what would historically be considered laggard areas such as retail, manufacturing and media.

Enterprise developers face challenges surrounding trends including Big Data, mobile development and massive scale. Companies that choose Scala see it as a more modern way to address these issues. Brewer cites these examples:

  • The Guardian news organization made Scala the foundation of its digital-first transformation. Scala was used to re-architect the company’s monolithic online system into a suite of micro apps for more rapid innovation, resilience and scalability.
  • Scala provided shopping site Gilt with the elasticity to handle a two-orders-of-magnitude increase in traffic over the course of a few seconds.
  • It’s a core component of industrial Internet software platforms for running large-scale analytics and connecting machines, data and people.

Reacting to Demand

Scala developers are very much in demand, Brewer says. “We’re hearing about startups choosing Scala specifically because that’s where the best developers are now,” he tells us. “We’ve also heard that Scala developers are consistently fetching $110K+ salaries, because they are in such high demand.”

Another indication of demand: Finding programmers with Scala experience has been “nearly impossible,” Hicks says. “With the exception of one candidate we’ve placed with Scala experience, most of the people we’ve placed in those environments have experience with Java or other technologies.” To get around that, companies are hiring people who have shown that they can rapidly learn new technologies, betting they’ll pick up Scala quickly.

“For whatever reason, the people we’re finding who have Scala experience have been academics,” Hicks says. “Functional programming is something that’s being used in academic environments — things like Haskell or Erlang or other functional programming languages. The people we’ve found with this experience have been Ph.D. students fairly late in their dissertation process.”

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5 Responses to “Employers Can’t Find Enough Scala Talent”

  1. IronChefCannotMakeHamSandwhich

    Most decent to good software engineers can learn Scala within days . The much more important concern here is why the recruitment process in USA cannot comprehend that simple fact, start respecting that most good engineers work and study on the level of physicians, and stop whining about a completely false narrative of a ‘lack of available talent’. Recruiting has become so utterly ridiculous that many are quitting the field!

    • Excellent point! Even if one did junk with language-x for y years, s/he is considered a better talent pool than someone who aced in a closely related language-y for same y years, and is smart enough to pick up language-x in days!

  2. They can’t find the talent or they can’t get them to uproot their families, move to another city, only to be outsourced after 6 months (for the salary and signing bonus they are offering {if any})? Have they heard of remote employees, results-only work environments (gorowe.com)?

  3. I would argue that only the cream of the crop will become productive Scala developers. The language is incredibly complex and unless you’re a genius it will take you weeks to pick-up Scala. If you are good at math, you will probably grasp Scala with relative ease due to its mathematical nature dating back to Alonzo Church. That said the biggest point against Scala has nothing to do with the language itself, but with its technical limitations, namely two:

    – It takes much longer to compile than Java source
    – Hot swap is virtually useless due to the quantity and scope of generated meta-data.

    These two critical blows are productivity killers as programmers are forced to sword fight on office chairs waiting for their apps to recompile and redeploy.

    Other than that, I highly recommend Scala, it is a beautiful language that had me saying “YES! finally!” very frequently as I was getting acquainted with it. If the Scala engineers solve those two issues and perhaps even branch the JVM technically speaking, then Scala has a future. Otherwise higher-level managers will only find the drop in productivity frustrating (if not the corridor sword fights).