Why Can’t Some Devs Land Full-Time Gigs?


Given the number of constituencies looking to hire programmers and developers, it may not come as a surprise at just how difficult it is to hire and retain tech professionals who can actually write code. In fact, a new survey of 200 IT leaders and hiring managers conducted by TEKsystems, a systems integrator, found that programmers and developers are once again the hardest tech pros to hire; software engineers came in fourth on the list, just after security professionals.

One of the primary reasons that programmers, developers and software engineers are always at (or near) the top of this list is the level of competition for developer skills among vendors, IT services providers, and organizations. That level of competition makes organizations less inclined to hire developers as full-time employees, rather than freelancers.

Case in point is Rick Castro, CIO for Par Pacific Holding, who frames out why his company relies on third parties for application development. “There’s a lot of talent available offshore so it’s not really that difficult to find developers,” he said. “It really only make sense to hire a developer full-time when the application is really core to the business.”

As Castro notes, most organizations tend to hire full-time devs to create core backend services, while contracting out to build front-end applications.

A separate survey of 1,200 CIOs and senior IT leaders, conducted by Deloitte Consulting, found that only 16 percent of IT budgets are actually allocated to business innovation, with another 27 percent devoted to “enhancement”; the vast majority (57 percent) is reserved for IT operations. Unless CIOs find a way to cut operations spending, they tend to have little left over to invest in innovative projects that would require them to hire more developers.

Matt Nachtrab, COO for ConnectWise, a provider of professional service automation (PSA) software, believes most small integrators, who use his company’s software to run their business, also generally wind up contracting rather than hiring developers.

“Hiring technical staff is always the biggest financial challenge for these organizations,” he said. “Developers are simply out of reach for most of the smaller IT services providers.”

Jason Hayman, research manager for TEKsystems, thinks that many of the same economic issues that affect decisions to hire developers are also starting to raise their head in realm of Big Data. In theory, an explosion of Big Data applications should be driving a major spike in developer hiring; in fact, Hayman noted, positions associated with Big Data cracked the top-four list of most difficult positions to fill.

A full 65 percent of the IT leaders and hiring managers surveyed by TEKsystems identified Big Data architects as the most difficult role to fill. Data scientists (48 percent), data modelers (43 percent) and Big Data developers (40 percent) ranked second, third and fourth in terms of difficult Big Data positions to fill.

“A lot of those Big Data positions tend to work closely with developers,” Hayman said. “But just like developers, it might not always make financial sense to hire people with those skills even if you could find them.”

Put it all together and it becomes apparent that the biggest drivers of developer hiring are vendors, followed by high-end IT services providers (located both on-shore and off) and IT organizations that have a lot of internal talent dedicated to applications that actually drive revenue. For example, massive-scale companies such as Google tend to hire thousands of developers, while the number of developers who are hired as full-time employees by the average Fortune 1000 company is usually much less.

The rest of the technology industry seems content to rely on application-development services provided by third-party vendors. By their very nature, those service providers tend to maximize the business value of a limited pool of developers, while at the same time acting as a governor on programmer and developer salaries by making resources available almost anywhere in the world.

Not every IT services provider can afford to invest in hiring developers; but those that do, such as Accenture and Tata Consulting, tend to do so at a level of scale around the globe that make it difficult for other companies to cost-justify hiring developers as full-time employees.

Not every developer may appreciate the role those firms play in tamping down application developer salaries. At the same time, however, many developers appreciate being able to trade off a potential higher salary in favor of being employed by an IT services firm, where the projects are large and (often) significantly more varied.

There’s no doubt that the unemployment rate for developers will remain fairly low for years to come. But that unemployment rate may not directly result in developers commanding any salary they desire; application development, by definition, is a global marketplace full of freelancers and contractors in addition to staffers.

8 Responses to “Why Can’t Some Devs Land Full-Time Gigs?”

  1. Joe/Jane Doe

    This article makes it sounds like developers are to blame for only being offered contracting gigs. The fact is, there’s few full time employment opportunities for people in this type of work. There never really have been FTE positions for folks in dev.

    Let me assure anyone reading this, people do not prefer to live in hotels and travel all over the place. At first, this might be interesting but, after a lifetime of it, it gets old. Contractors are expected to relocate anywhere and leave friends, family, behind (or, just be perpetually transient).

    Those who want to stay employed have acquiesced. They travel, relocate, stay in hotels again and again. Until recently…

    Contractors are now seeking telecommuting positions. Most IT professionals know the best meeting are conducted via conference call and with a shared screen. In short, there’s no need to show up at an office.

    Personally, sitting in traffic jams to show up at a building with canned air, vying for freezing cold conference rooms and trying to block out office noise distractions does not make my life complete. I’d be far more effective and loyal to a company if I’m able to work from home.

    Thanks for reading my $.02.

  2. Steve [ stumondo.com developer ]

    You’re absolutely RIGHT!! But I think the C-Levels mostly believe you’re working if you’re in the office. They have very little faith in “remote” workers. Not very smart of them even though they graduated form some school with a degree that only fluffs their resumes. They feel “better” if they know you’re giving part of your time to commute and talk around the water cooler. I’ve been in corporates and I know I produce more code at home then I ever do in a cubical.

  3. I’ve been on the development side of IT for a long time. Development technologies and languages have increased making today’s software stacks more complex while corporate expectations for IT productivity have grown. Long ago corporations retrained their best people, given that we can learn a new language in a few weeks of intensive study. Now even if we learn at our own expense and on our own time they will still go outside! There are a number of reasons why this is happening, primarily the mistaken view that developers are like manufactured robots, all equal, when studies show that the best are much, much better than the worst. IT Management today is often full of people
    who actually don’t even understand what developers do. Companies will gladly pay mediocre marketing, sales, finance and HR people huge salaries while believing that developer salaries should max at $70,000.

  4. Paul Becotte

    I must have missed something. It seems like your argument is that “developers are in very high demand- so it is hard to get a job as a developer” … that can’t be what you were saying, right?

    I work in New York and it often feels like I can’t go to lunch without getting tackled by a recruiter, and hiring devs has taken us a very long time… there are so many job openings for so few qualified people.

    You can’t have it both ways… freelancers can’t at the same time make it harder to get a job AND harder to hire someone. Only one or the other can be true.

  5. I find it funny how the article barely touches on offshore workers and totally omits the H-1B workers put into direct competition with us. Tata Consulting, mentioned in the article, is one of the most egregious abusers of the visa. They’re involved in a number of discrimination suits in Canada and the US for refusing to hire skilled local people, preferring to bring in people on H-1B visas.

    This race to the bottom has to be stopped before we’re happily accepting Indian wages and getting nothing but contract work.

  6. When will companies realize that outsourcing is a really really bad idea. The quality of code is often times a lot less, there are language barriers when two people can’t understand the others accent, and the time difference often means you have to have people up at night. And then when there are problems, good luck. In order to sue the overseas company, you would have to go there, and you would still be screwed anyways.

    But as already mentioned, one article will say developers are in demand and companies are having a hard time filling positions and then this one says the positions just aren’t out there. Which is it?

  7. I was living near Las Vegas, and getting ready to go on a trip with a family member I was helping, our airplane tickets bought, when I received a telephone call. It turned out to be an HR guy from a northeastern company that saw my resume online, said resume-version was 2 years old even then. They wanted someone to write some C# code. One additional phone interview, a submission of my ‘portfolio’, and they hired me for 2 months, I had to work at their facility on the excuse that government security required I be on site. I told them there would be a lot of expenses involved, did they pay for my room and board? Would they pay for a car? The answer was, we thought you could drive your car (3000+ miles), and we can locate the hotel for you. I told them my car is over 20 years old, and can only do local trips. So they agreed to pay my airfare 1-way out to them (it was a miserable plight), and to pay me $50 per hour instead of $45 per hour. When I arrived at the airport, I still had a 50-mile drive to their facility, it was the middle of the afternoon, the wheels were broken on my suitcases, and the rental car agency I’d booked in advance for 2 weeks refused to honor my reservation. I was ready to get on the next plane and return home, but my sister said over the phone “You aren’t seriously saying you are walking away from $10,000 for 2 months work?” Nobody had paid me this rate before, and all I’d had since graduation were temp-jobs. I’d learned the C# on my own, for fun. So, I found another car rental agency who rented me a car at double of what I had reserved. I called the new employer, who told me they had gotten me a rate at the hotel ($70 per night, breakfast and internet included), and I headed off to the hotel, which I had to find in the dark (it was a long drive in a state where I’d never visited, and lot’s of unmarked country roads. Well, the work was OK, the hotel was ok, and except for the hotel’s breakfast, I had to eat out at every meal. The $50/hour wasn’t approved, so I was paid the $45/hr. The nature of the work was not gui development but mathematical algorithm programming in their core code. I did complete the work. My gross pay was around $11,000. My net pay, after the meals, the car rental, the hotel bill, income taxes (‘nother long story), and my airfare home, was about $1,000. Most of the expenses, like the hotel, gas, transportation etc. were denied by the taxing agencies as excessive and over the federal guidelines! Let’s just say it was a learning experience.