Should We Worry the ‘Junior Developer’ Role Is Dead?

Is the junior developer position dead?

The actual title of ‘junior developer’ is one that many seasoned tech pros have held, but there’s increasing concern it’s a title new developers won’t hold. Indeed, a pass through Dice shows the actual title of ‘junior developer’ yields fewer results than you might think.

Using ‘Silicon Valley’ as a location filter on Dice.com, we found just under 2,000 open junior developer roles; a search for ‘junior web developer’ resulted in roughly the same number of jobs, as did ‘junior iOS developer’ and ‘junior Android developer.’ While it’s difficult to nail down the total number of jobs (open and filled) available in the Silicon Valley area, an analyst for Forbes put it at 220,162 in 2016 (and it’s surely increased since); that’s a pretty stark ratio.

In a blog post published earlier this year on Medium, developer Melissa McEwen writes about her first “real” job out of college: junior application developer. But junior roles, she adds, are drying up. Why? Companies have told her: “’We don’t hire junior developers because we can’t afford to have our senior developers mentor them.’”

She goes on to say: “I’ve seen the rates for senior developers because I am one and I had project managers that had me allocate time for budgeting purposes. I know the rate is anywhere from $190-$300 an hour. That’s what companies believe they are losing on junior devs.”

Yes, many companies may operate under the assumption that junior developers need too much training, and might leave after only a year or two for another firm. That sort of mentality has helped power a years-long debate over whether junior devs are worth it, or if companies should focus the entirety of their recruiting and hiring efforts on midlevel and senior developers.

But that doesn’t mean hope is lost for junior developers searching for a first (or second) job. Recruiting is an under-appreciated aspect in this discussion; recruiters do look at your experience when deciding whether to reach out, and are often willing to consider things such as freelancing projects and bootcamp stints, not just previous full-time jobs.

When searching for a new gig, also keep an eye out for developer roles that fit your experience, skills, and interests, but aren’t necessarily listed as ‘junior.’ You might be surprised at how many ‘full’ developer roles actually meet all of your specific metrics.

And if you need to build up your portfolio, or you’re simply not interested in a full-time position, there’s always contract work and freelance gigs to consider. Companies wary of investing in junior developers may simply want them to earn a reputation elsewhere first, and contracts are a great way to get experience under your belt.

So while landing a ‘junior developer’ role may seem problematic at moments, the opportunities still abound.

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6 Responses to “Should We Worry the ‘Junior Developer’ Role Is Dead?”

  1. Marcus

    Accord to this article Phds should not get a job at all considering all of there experience is academic not professional just like someone with a BS in computer science. Hey companies everyone is a junior at one time.

    • Agreed.
      ‘Management’ the world over are all apparently cast in the same mould – easiest/quickest/most profitable (in the short term) approach to anything.
      Always amazes me how they get paid tons for the ‘responsibility’ they have yet somehow manage to avoid any….

  2. wadgeslave

    The wall that college new hires hit after graduation is a real problem and if managers have any interest in the labor supply chain they would be worried too. The problem is that mangers for the most part don’t think of the labor supply chain at all. Maintaining a labor supply chain for developers is expensive and requires forethought. It is so much easier to call a head hunter and wait. Today’s managers just want and when wants are not met the cheapest solution is to cry for government education subsidies. Which do not work well if the wall exists.
    The wall is a labor market obstruction. The reason the wall exists is because the head hunter business model is designed to provide only skilled labor for a price and they control almost all job listing. Most head hunters have no interest in filling junior/entry level positions because there is no money in it. There are no skills to sell at a price. Juniors are a dime a dozen. Why pay a commission when you don’t have to.
    As a result, there has been a fundamental shift in the cost of learning and the amounts are substantial. It takes about a thousand hours a year to keep up with technology changes. If you’re a $35 dollar an hour worker that is $35,000 a year just to stay on the bleeding edge. Getting onto the bleeding edge is much more expensive and the costs have been shifted entirely onto the developer. Four or more years in school and about two more years learning one each specific technology on your own. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost opportunity costs. You have been commoditized. Pay the price and you too can now be sold to the highest bidder.

  3. AndrewA

    This is crazy. I started my career as a software engineer when I was 18 years old, no degree, not even a year out of high school. Back then, it was green screen 80 column VT100 terminals on serial ports; remote clients via 9600 kbps modems and leased-lines. I wasn’t called a “software engineer” – that’s a relatively recent title inflation thing; I was called a “programmer”.

    I feel like I was among the last in my generation to squeak thru a rapidly closing door (and I didn’t even know it at the time); it almost (almost) feels like this can’t be done any longer, that companies expect you to have a ton of experience (as I do now), or to have a degree…plus a ton of experience.

    What they possibly lose out on, though, is the “outside of the box” thinking that a fresh recruit without any “academic” or “corporate” experience can bring to a project. Those without preconceived notions or experiences can sometimes surprise (things can also go the other way, too).

    Lastly, recalling back to my first position – those guys, those “senior developers” I interacted with – they helped to shape my direction and form as a developer, that continues to this day. Furthermore, I still keep in touch with those guys, who at the time seemed “old” – but I now know, having long surpassed their ages today, that they were anything but old.

    Those experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything; rhose just starting out in their careers may not be able to have similar experiences any longer, and won’t know just what they are missing.

  4. The all mighty profit speaks again. Gone are the days where learning on the job was a thing. You better know everything under the moon and your crystal ball into the future must be 20/20 or we’re not hiring you. This is one major reason why i’m not in anything tech anymore. The absolute crushing demand on employees to perform multiple roles, while getting paid a fraction of what their responsibility is really worth. No wonder we live in a stagnant wage era.

  5. The all mighty profit speaks again. Gone are the days where learning on the job was a thing. You better know everything under the moon and your crystal ball into the future must be 20/20 or we’re not hiring you. This is one major reason why i’m not in anything tech anymore. The absolute crushing demand on employees to perform multiple roles, while getting paid a fraction of what their responsibility is really worth. No wonder we live in a stagnant wage era.