Will the job market be more competitive for Canadian software engineers post-COVID?
In the pre-pandemic world, we picked coworkers like we picked roommates. We put a lot of emphasis on whether we liked the people we worked with, probably because we spent so much time-sharing physical space with them.
What 2020 taught me most about building a team remotely is that hiring people based on how conveniently they fit in with your organization is one way to guarantee employee churn.
But as organizations begin the process of workplace re-entry, I’m looking forward to having more conversations where we question our old office-centric ways of working.
More than that, I’m looking forward to reimagining what the future of work might look like when workplace policies are centred around employees’ needs. What interests me even more is thinking of all the ways that remote-first work policies will increase opportunities for Canadian software developers in particular.
Software developers are already known to thrive at working remotely. But I think that—in as little time as the next two years—remote software developers will be considered ten times more valuable to a business than their collocated colleagues.
But for that to happen, we have to be willing to shift or modify our recruitment, hiring, and even offboarding processes so that we’re able to value and reward employees for their skills; not just their sociability or proximity to a physical headquarters.
There’s still a valid fear among Canadian startup founders that they’ll lose out on skilled developer talent to a more competitive hiring market in Silicon Valley. They worry that they can’t compete with U.S. salaries and against big brand names like Netflix and Amazon who are establishing headquarters in Canada. But what happens when you take geography out of the mix?
During the pandemic, execs caught up to what software developers have known all along: You don’t have to work side by side with your coworkers to be your most productive or deliver your best work. At least not full time. In 2020, GitHub put out a report that showed that developer productivity was maintained, and had even slightly increased, compared to pre-COVID days.
As more leaders and managers shift their attitudes away from the old “butts in seats” (or office-centric) model—and towards actually trusting their employees to work productively while working remotely—the good news is that Canadian software developers who may have felt constrained by a lack of opportunities outside of Silicon Valley should now be able to benefit big time.
Remote-first and hybrid workplace policies are already a huge step forward to making software development careers in tech more competitive. But I want us to move beyond a competitive hiring marketplace and towards a sustainable one. If that’s going to happen, there’s some work that needs to be done.
For software developers to future-proof their careers, they need to master the skills that make you a stellar remote worker, such as:
- Communication: Managing documentation and collaborating with teams across digital platforms like Slack, email, and other project tracking software means that your written and verbal skills need to be on point and all your communication needs to be highly intentional. The good news is that not all communication needs to be written, you may want to explore other platforms, like Vidyard or Loom, so you can still communicate asynchronously in an effective way.
- Peer-to-peer support: Networking is still important and there’s still a ton of it you can do online. Find engineers on a similar career track as you, maybe in different cities and countries, and compare notes around new opportunities.
- Look for remote-first startups and orgs: Remote collaboration is both a skill and a set of values and operating principles. If you don’t already have experience working remotely, get some. If a job description doesn’t mention remote or hybrid work policies, press for more details.
For startup founders, recruiters, and hiring managers future-proofing software developer roles at your organization means you need to consider, or re-consider, your perspectives on:
- Salary and compensation: We need to eliminate local salary bands, immediately. It’s never been easier to be a Canadian founder raising global capital, so that’s not a reason that we can lean on anymore. We need to wake up to the fact that in a primarily remote-first world, we’re not competing on local salary levels; we’re competing with global salary and compensation expectations. Making salaries and compensation agreements more equitable across global markets goes a long way to creating a more competitive hiring market. A lot more valuable and sustainable than foosball tables and pizza parties.
- On the job training and growth investments: L&D budgets need to be supersized in order for jobs to be attractive to high quality engineers and developers. Give developers dedicated time on the job to learn. I’ve found that it’s better to go the extra mile to connect devs with an external community of their peers, rather than relying solely on learning from internal team members. Learning from peers in an external developer community removes the pressure of performance from learning from your internal teammates while helping an employee maintain a strong bond with the company for footing the bill (and time) for employees to have a useful learning experience.
- Seamless career transitions: We talk a lot about hiring, but we don’t talk enough about what happens when an employee leaves a role. The fact is that people are going to leave your company, your job isn’t to prevent that from happening; it’s your job to make sure that an employee can leave as an advocate for your company or product after they leave. Remember that developers in the community talk, so you should be running an employment process that treats employees and potential candidates like they’re customers of your company.
Every day we see more and more successful examples of businesses that are embracing remote-first work policies that center employee needs and experiences. Places like GitLab (who have a great remote employee handbook), Zapier, and Automattic are some of the many leading the way. And every day, we see more and more people—digital natives, even—who are entering the field of software development and engineering, filled with talent, promise and potential.
This growing movement towards remote work is what inspired us to create Commit; a sustainable job market and community of practice for talented software developers.
Our mission is simple: to get as many developers to the starting line as possible—then make sure they continue to succeed in the long run.