Dev-dearth:where have all the coders gone?




In the pandemic, some were worried about toilet paper shortages. That feels quaint, now the list of things we’re running out of seems to be growing at such an alarming rate. In 2022 there aren’t enough silicon chips, new cars, or electrical appliances. And thanks to a myriad of other scenarios, we’re running out of oil and gas too. Perhaps the least resolvable of all our shortages, however, is the scarcity of labour. The hospitality sector, notably, is struggling to attract workers.

But here’s one you might have missed: computer programmers. Coders, back-end developers and information architects are all mysteriously absent from the UK, US and EU labour markets. In fact, the British Computer Society (BCS) reckons that there were over 64,000 vacancies for tech jobs in the UK in the third quarter of last year. Researchers put that number at a 191% increase compared with the same period in 2020. In the US, the shortage is expected to get worse in the coming years. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that companies there would face a shortfall in 1.2m developers by 2026.

Digitise now

The shortfall in developers – rather like scarcity in most things – is owing to an array of interconnected factors. Firstly, the pandemic created a renewed sense of urgency on companies that were lagging in their efforts to digitise. People stuck at home had to use tech to order groceries, shop, communicate and work. Brands that didn’t have the infrastructure to do this suffered. In fact, a study by Ayming, a management consultancy found that 31% of companies failed to innovate during the crisis. Industrial, automotive, biotech and energy were the verticals most affected according to the research.

Sourcing code

As economies came roaring (ok, staggering) back to life, businesses are trying to put more effort towards their tech transformation. While it’s a good time to be a developer, it’s a bad time for anyone trying to work with them. Governments are starting to grasp the problems associated with a dearth of programmers. In the UK, the Treasury has put £100m into training 8,000 teachers in computer science. Encouraging kids to code might alleviate the problem, but it won’t fix it. Meanwhile, new tools are emerging that make coding so simple anyone can do it.

Low and no code

These are called lo code/no code (LC/NC) programmes. These allow the uninitiated to drag and drop their way to website building, a bit like rudimentary sites like Wix or Squarespace. This drag and drop element is the ‘no code’ bit. Then there is a little bit of basic code needed to customise the template further. This is the ‘low code’ bit. Market intelligence company IDC estimates that there were 2.6m LC/NC coders globally in 2021. Analysts expect the number of amateur coders to increase by 40 per cent each year until 2025. Crucially, their numbers will swell three times as fast as the population of professional developers. Rather than putting digital transformation plans on hold, The Economist reports that corporations are putting their confidence in apps that allow anyone to create digital. A study by consultancy Aite-Novarica Group, a consultancy, found more than half of insurers in the US are using, or plan to use, LC/NC.

While solutions like these offer a respite for companies struggling to find developers, they do not offer a wholesale solution to the shortage. As with all forms of scarcity, the answer lies in new policy – in this case, educational programmes and incentives for people to switch jobs. As well as better initiatives for foreign workers to travel to the UK to work in tech. Unlike the toilet paper shortage of 2020, this isn’t something that’s going to blow over. Although both involve some involvement with the back-end.

Digital Product Agencies

Like other digital product agencies or digital product consultancies we are noticing a shortage of candidates in the market place which is always difficult to manage when you are in dynamic growth.

To help mitigate this digital product studios are creating extremely flexible benefits such as being able to work abroad for a month a year and sabbaticals for long service.

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