March 17, 2021
min read

System change: restart as developer?

Thomas Limbüchler

IT specialists are desperately wanted. Alternative further and training opportunities are intended to remedy this. The paths into the IT industry have never been more diverse.

Those who are familiar with software development are no longer in demand only from software companies such as Microsoft, SAP, and Salesforce. Whether insurance, banks, transport, industry, or trading companies: almost all companies digitize their business processes, sales, production, and also their business models. To do this, they absolutely need the appropriate know-how and consequently the right employees. Software developers, software architects, testers, DevOps specialists, cloud experts, IT administrators, data scientists, IT project managers, IT security experts, IT service consultants, as well as experts in artificial intelligence, Industry 4.0, and many other areas are particularly in demand, Sead Ahmetovic, CEO of the job platform WeAreDevelopers, analyzes the current situation of the vacancies.

According to an annual survey by the IT industry association Bitkom, the shortage of IT specialists in Germany has temporarily decreased due to the Corona crisis but is still at the second-highest value since the survey began. In the year before last, an all-time high of 124,000 vacancies was recorded. At the end of 2020, 86,000 positions were vacant for IT specialists across all industries – mind you, dampened by the Corona crisis. Even during the Corona crisis, companies suffer from an acute shortage of IT specialists. In many places, however, the crisis not only revealed deficits in digitization but also triggered a "digitization postponement" last year, which will soon increase the demand for IT specialists again and possibly further intensify it.

In order to counter the shortage of skilled workers, in addition to more efficient training and further education, the empowerment of women in IT and the promotion of qualified immigration are required. Qualified immigration, in particular, is a controversial matter, because almost nine out of ten companies (87 percent) in Germany still see the knowledge of German as a must, which is an additional boost for many companies. Even if the IT skills shortage is not just a German phenomenon, it could be counteracted by being more open when looking for IT staff. "Finding the right people is tough. However, many companies stand in their own way because they have unrealistic expectations that the job market cannot meet and so many IT positions remain unfilled for a long time. Those organizations that act more flexibly in IT recruiting and loosen their own employment criteria for new employees will be able to gain a competitive advantage from this in the medium and long term," confirms Ahmetovic.

Practice beats degrees

It is in the employers' interest to be able to deploy new employees productively quickly. Therefore, due to the labor market situation, it is often more sensible to consider applicants who do not meet all the formal criteria, but who can learn them in the company, especially if they already have relevant practical experience. It's still better than leaving a position vacant for months or years.

The ongoing bottleneck on the job market is not only making existing IT experts sought-after candidates. It also opens doors for applicants who have so far not gone through a traditional IT career. For most of them, this began for a long time with specialist training – for example, to become an IT specialist – or with a degree. According to the Federal Employment Agency of Germany, this currently applies to 85 percent of the IT specialists who are subject to social security contributions in Germany.

But the need for skilled workers has grown so rapidly that this "compulsory diploma" is no longer applicable and some of the IT specialists are already doing their job without any specific specialist training. In the future there are likely to be even more – also because new and currently unknown occupational fields are emerging, the content of which has not yet found its way onto the curricula of traditional training centers. "Since the entire IT area is constantly evolving and offering more and more opportunities, there are often no formal recruitment criteria that must be met for many newly created roles," says Ahmetovic. Due to this rapid development, practical experience is becoming more and more important.

For a long time now, students have not only relied on their training but also work alongside them, completed internships, and implement their own projects. This is generally recommended for young professionals – regardless of whether you have chosen the classic training path or lateral entry.

Software developers all over the world experience similar things in their own everyday lives. A lot of new things are constantly developing in IT. The study knowledge certainly provides a solid basis for understanding basic concepts, but often large parts of the practice-related training content become obsolete after just a few years. The skills of IT specialists must therefore be constantly renewed and, in many cases, learned independently.

Job applicants should keep an eye on which specific specialist knowledge is currently in demand by the company so that they are ready to work immediately after graduation. The professional competencies that young professionals need to bring with them depend heavily on the subsequent area of ​​work.

Alternative educational paths

In any case, it is undisputed that the traditional training centers – universities and technical colleges – have long been unable to meet the needs of the economy for IT specialists. "The need is enormous and it will not end in the years to come," says Ahmetovic. "The academic system alone can no longer meet this demand because a degree takes at least three to five years."

This requires both a rethinking of the HR managers in the company and an adjustment of existing requirement criteria. For example, if a candidate has a high level of autodidactic skills without being able to demonstrate a dedicated degree, this not only proves a good portion of motivation but also represents a valuable asset for new challenges. Such soft skills will in the future be more in demand than formally confirmed hard Skills.

The experts are controversial about the importance of these alternative educational paths. Coding boot camps, for example, work primarily for career changers who are looking to change their careers, but who have already had contact with IT and who are also sufficiently interested. The results of a US graduate study by Course Report confirm this: The typical boot camper is 31 years old, has six years of professional experience, and usually has a bachelor's degree. The usual way to a coding boot camp is therefore often a technical or university degree and a few years in working life. The change is not that easy.

Thomas Pamminger, VP Product & Co-founder at WeAreDevelopers, observes such careers again and again. "Because the need is so great, the actual skills and cultural fit of applicants are more important to many companies than their formal qualifications". It is important that career changers can show real projects and motivation – be it that they have already programmed their own app in their free time or have proven their skills in open source projects.

WeAreDevelopers also has such a success story in their own ranks. Sabina Dego managed to get started in IT without any specific training. The fact that she did not have a computer science degree did not bother her future employer at all. First, previous knowledge helped to have no fear of contact. After an initial interview and then getting to know the team, there was a job offer as a QA engineer. "The areas of quality assurance and software testing in particular offer good opportunities to take your first steps in IT teams in order to get to know and understand their ways of thinking and working," said Pamminger.

Companies attract career jumpers

Some companies even target career changers with their own initiatives and formats – such as Volkswagen. There, too, the need for IT specialists is growing. Not only because there is a computer in every car today. In addition, big data experts help analyze market demand and machine learning specialists help optimize certain logistics processes. Game developers create virtual development environments for building new models, while cloud experts network production. In order to position itself as a technology group, Volkswagen launched "Faculty 73" – a two-year program in which career changers are trained to become developers. The participants first learn the basics of programming languages ​​such as Python and Java; later they will get to know various IT tasks in the group.

In addition to such initiatives at large companies, startups also offer good opportunities for lateral entry. Young companies often cannot keep up with the financial compensation options offered by established corporations and therefore have to score points in other areas. The recruitment procedures are usually shorter and each individual's area of ​​responsibility is broader, thus more varied and ideally suited for career changers with several skills and a corresponding willingness to experiment. 

System change: restart as developer?

March 17, 2021
min read

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