After a panic-firing season during the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, the market in Australia for software developers is searching for a new normal in a world where remote working is more widespread than ever.
Dane Eldridge, chief executive of Sydney-based custom web and software development company, 4mation says that while there is still a tech skill squeeze in Australia the pandemic has produced a dynamic environment where the sudden and large scale unemployment from the national lock-down period has created hiring opportunities.
“My observation of the early COVID-19 period was that a lot of companies cut contractors left, right and centre and cut some permanent staff as well,” says Mr Eldridge.
“There was panic early on which meant there were a lot of candidates in the market for a little while. But there is still a significant skills shortage and we’re starting to see companies pick up and recruit again.”
“We have managed to hire well during this period. I think companies now are starting to look further into the future and adapting to the new normal. COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon.”
“As things become more predictable, at least in Australia, there’s a more considered approach to deciding which roles are going to drive value long term,” Mr Eldridge said.
There are a range of software developers in high demand in the current Australian market, including front end/React developers, cloud engineers, full stack developers and lead engineers/developers who can contribute to architecture and technical decision making according to Mr Eldridge.
However, being confident a qualified job applicant will turn out to be a high-output, valued team member is a whole other ball game.
“While there is a high volume of candidates, there’s a big gap between having a skill listed on a resume and being able to apply those skills at a professional level. That gap can be pretty significant,” said Mr Eldridge.
“Years of experience with a particular skill, doesn’t necessarily correlate to the quality of production or output that people produce.”
“Also, companies often underestimate the importance of cultural fit.”
“In our assessment process, we look beyond technical skills to those interpersonal skills that enable a developer to make an outsized contribution.”
Personal attributes beyond technical skills include attitude and the ability to challenge and question things that don’t make sense.
“Then there is that underrated quality, which is the humility and drive to improve,” said Mr Eldridge. “These often differentiate high-performance individuals from those who only have the technical capability.”
Best practice people-management has become even more difficult with remote working brought on by the pandemic.
“Meetings and weekly check-ins translate online quite nicely. We still need to make further improvement on growing relationships outside of direct teams and departments to make sure that people don’t feel isolated. Culture is important to us and we’re working pretty hard to maintain it while working remotely.”
Mr Eldridge listed culture-promoting, remote-working practices such as setting up random “coffee buddy” catch up online meetings to replace those water cooler conversations where relationships used to be built and valuable insights often shared.
While the pandemic has disrupted the conventional ways for work in software development, the job still needs to get done and many of the same challenges to successful software development management remain, such as finding the right staff with the right skills.
A recent University of Sydney Business School and Australian Institute of Company Directors study found the leading barrier to innovation among surveyed companies was not having the human talent for the job.
Mr Eldridge believes there are several reasons companies have problems landing the right talent.
“The recruitment process is too slow. There’s not a lot of the best talent and it gets hired quickly. Or there’s not enough learning opportunities or the culture isn’t exciting, or they’re just not very good at marketing themselves to technical talent.”
An alternative to using conventional hiring for placing the right people onto a software development project is team augmentation where verified and proven talent is hired for a specific project or team. This takes much of the risk out of contractor employment and speeds up the hiring process.
Team augmentation is like using contractors, but better, says Mr Eldridge.
“You get faster access to talent because we’ve got a talent bench that’s immediately available. Those people are our full-time employees, so you are not rolling the dice on someone untested. These are people that we have been willing to hire full-time, because we want to keep them long term.”
“There’s also guaranteed pricing. We manage pay rates, pay increases and resignations. If someone departs, we replace them at no cost.”
“You can add headcount, scale up or down based on your business needs and get your focus back on delivery and innovation instead of searching for elusive talent.”
4mation has developed a range of free resources to help businesses adapt to the changes in the industry. They have developed guides on not only team augmentation but also digital transformation, user testing, and FinTech.