Stop Blaming the Talent Shortage and Start Reaching Skilled Developers


According to the November 2021 State of the Developer Nation report by SlashDataTM, the second half of 2021 featured a challenging market for recruiting developers. A “scarcity of talent” is often used to describe why organizations have trouble securing people with in-demand skills, although the reality is more nuanced than a simple talent shortage.

The supply of people with programming skills continues to grow quickly, and the report estimates that there are nearly 28 million developers around the world. Beneath that large number, though, there are several reasons the supply of workers feels like a shortage today.

With a better understanding of the dynamics of talent supply, organizations can better set their expectations for finding, paying, and retaining the developers they need. With that in mind, the following are three obvious but overlooked facts that make the supply feels like a talent shortage, along with ideas to keep in mind as you navigate the changing landscape for developers today.

Obvious but Overlooked Fact #1: The Talent Supply Varies Across Developer Languages

According to the report, JavaScript continues to grow, with 2.5 developers joining in the first half of 2021. It leads the pack with over 16 million users globally, followed by Python at 11.3 million. Behind those leaders are several groups at 7-10 million each (Java, C/C++, PHP, C#). Finally, there are several skills with smaller bases, including visual development tools, Ruby, Rust, and several other languages at roughly one through four million users each and growing.

For those seeking talent in specific programming languages, it’s obvious that there is no such thing as simply recruiting for a “developer.” For example, bringing in someone expert in Rust is an entirely different recruiting project than securing a Javascript expert. In many cases, however, the people who approve budgets and timelines may not always understand that.

The organization that approaches a technical recruiting project with an eye for detail will have a much more predictable experience, and that’s the goal. Before committing to a strategy, get into the nuts and bolts of the real supply of available candidates in a given area.

Fact #2: Demand for Languages Follows Emerging Technologies

The report also points out another question in the supply and demand equation. Namely, where are developers learning or applying their skills? In North America, 11% of talent is involved with 5G technologies.

Notably, the growing 5G talent group brings skills to all technology sectors, with some weighing more heavily than others. For example, Industrial IOT (IIOT) has seen 5G workers grow from 14% to 18% of developers in the sector over the last year, while the portion in data science has grown by only slightly, from 8% – 9%.

If your organization is hiring for one of the faster-growing sectors in this area, you may find more potential candidates with experience. Still, you’re likely to see more competitors for their services (the reason they are in this industry to begin with).  This combination of increased supply and more competition points to the idea that it will be very difficult to accidentally attract the workers you need. Instead, you will likely have to target them with a clear knowledge of the role you need to fill and the results you need to achieve.

Fact #3: People Have Evolving Expectations

Finally, much has been written recently about workers’ changing values and expectations for their employers. Facebook has even become part of the story, as many top engineers feel that the brand is more associated with selling ad revenue than impacting society.

But while some may question the idea of work focused on creating revenue, the SlashData report does show that money still matters. Half of developers would move out of their current jobs for higher compensation. One-third would switch for better benefits, and two-thirds would change for either reason.

For companies looking to fill developer roles, non-monetary factors do matter. Culture and purpose, or simply a challenging and rewarding assignment, will go a long way in drawing in talent choosing between relatively similar opens on the pay and benefits front. Roughly one-fifth could switch for a better company culture.

Overall, don’t count on great culture and purpose to counteract poor pay or great pay to keep people on board when the work experience is poor. This rule applies to nearly all skilled workers today, particularly developers who can easily entertain options from many industries or remote locations.

Putting it Together: a Quick Take on Your Next Developer Search

As we look ahead, the trends will vary, but the overall message for employers will likely stay the same. Talent is everywhere, but the talent you seek will nearly always seem scarce. Therefore, it pays to strive for reliability and predictability to overcome the hurdles of hiring great developers within set timeframes. Don’t hope for home runs; instead, train seriously for consistent production.

A solid technology resource and recruiting partner can provide the knowledge and guidance to dig into the details behind the major trends. With that level of intel, you can balance pay with the other attraction factors. You can determine what your potential supply of talent looks like in detail, and you can bring them to your company or your project with the right promise of value.

Yes, there will always be a shortage out there. But it doesn’t have to be your shortage. With the right planning, partnership and action, you have the means to stay ahead of the trends.