If you’ve worked anywhere near the tech industry during the last few years, you must have heard about the software developer shortage by now. According to Business Insider, Finland currently lacks over 7000 software developers. And if the trend continues, the need will grow to 15,000 unfilled positions in 2020.
The issue isn’t limited to just Finland. Other Nordic countries have the same problem: there’s just an abundance of software development jobs with little to no takers.
There are a few reasons to why this is happening. Let’s dig in.
Lack of software developers graduating
Currently roughly 1100 students graduate from Finnish universities in the ICT field every year. Out of these, only about 300 specialize in software development. Add 1000 developers retiring yearly, and the numbers become pretty grim.
It does not help that women are grossly underrepresented in the ICT field. According to Statistics Finland, only about a fifth of ICT students were female in 2016, which is the lowest female-to-male ratio in all the fields studied in Finnish universities.
Writing code is not for everyone
It’s no secret that software development is not for everyone. Almost anyone can “learn to code”, but that usually means taking a basic course of a single programming language.
To actually work in the field is a different matter altogether. A software developer usually has to be proficient in several programming languages, have knowledge of how databases work and what it takes to integrate different technologies with each other. It’s a process that takes time, dedication, and a willingness to constantly grow and learn. Not everyone is cut out to be a programmer. Sometimes it’s hard, frustrating, methodical, boring and highly abstract.
It’s no accident that when you think about software developers you are likely to imagine a young person writing code on a macbook. That image has been hammered in partially by the software industry wanting to be a cool and trendy field to work in (and most of the time it is!), and the reality of most software developers being below 40.
Software developers are forced to keep learning new things constantly as new platforms are made available or new programming languages become the industry standard. To quote a former developer: “relearning the skills you need to perform well at your job gets a bit tiresome after you’ve done it a dozen times.” This trend often leads to the more senior developers moving to managerial roles or doing consulting work. In effect, “retiring” from writing code.
In the case of Finland, there are plenty of experienced former developers who have moved to managerial positions or entrepreneurship. They know the ins and outs of what it takes to develop world class digital products or services. So, they’re chomping at the bits for new software development talent to be added to their teams. Here lies the greatest risk of the current developer shortage. What if the next Nokia or Supercell ends up spending their resources fighting to find the right talent, instead of focusing on their core business?
How do you solve a problem of this magnitude?
Obviously, it would be great to increase the amount of people studying in the ICT field and focusing on software development. But that kind of work has to be done in advance. Training developers takes time, and time is what the developer recruitment market in Finland just does not have. What we can do, however, is learn from the countries that have noticed the needs in fields like software development before we even knew about them.
Poland stands out as a great example. After the fall of communism, Polish universities took a hard look at revising curriculums with the new possibilities of an open market in mind. The fruits of that labour are visible today, with as many as 15,000 ICT professionals graduating every year. This volume of graduating software development professionals can help offset the needs of the Nordic countries, with nearshoring being the most common approach.
Yes, the situation is pretty bad. We are playing a game of musical chairs with way more chairs than players. And that’s no fun for anyone. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Universities and governments are waking up to the fact that new talent needs to be nurtured in the education system. And while we wait for the surge of fresh talent to our local markets, there is always the option which takes most recruitment worries away – outsourcing.
Using in-house talent to coordinate a project combined with outsourced team-members is no longer a hassle as it may have been in the early years of outsourced software development. Planning a software development project in the age of agile development may actually be easier now. With a partially outsourced team, companies can focus on the actual work instead of struggling to recruit. Scaling projects up or down becomes faster too. And therefore, costs go down.