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. The Helsinki Times reported a significant skills mismatch between Finnish IT companies and the domestic workforce. Developers with the right skills for the job are scarce in Finland. Many know obsolete technologies from 10 or 15 years ago.
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 few takers.
There are a few reasons why this is happening. Let’s dig in.
Lack of software developers graduating
Currently, roughly 1,100 students graduate from Finnish universities with graduate degrees in the ICT field every year. Out of these, only about 300 specialize in software development. Subtract 1,000 developers who retire every year, and the numbers get 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 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, know 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 and highly abstract.
It’s no accident that when you think about software developers you likely imagine a young person writing code on a sleek modern device. The software industry has pushed this image attempting to be trendy.
Software developers have to keep learning new things constantly as new platforms launch 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. So, they’re eager for new software development talent to join 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 number of people studying in the ICT field and focus on software development. But that’s a generational goal. 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. Since the political shift to a free market, Polish universities took a hard look at revising curriculums with the new possibilities of an open market in mind. The fruits of that labor 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 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 — team leasing.
Using in-house talent to coordinate a project combined with outsourced team members is not a hassle. Remote working tools and highly communicative developers makes this work easy. 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 — reducing costs overall.