With web developer roles currently extremely sought after, we delve into what’s influencing demand, how companies can stand out to candidates and the cutting-edge tools developers are working with.

The pandemic has caused a seismic shift in how many companies do business. Those slow to embrace the digital age have been forced to upgrade their technology to provide secure and robust websites, as they struggled to change their supply chain. The age of the brochure website is officially over, with companies now developing a total user experience as they fight for consumers’ screen time in a highly competitive market.

The demand for developers is not disappearing any time soon – the market size of the software development industry is expected to increase by 7.1% in 2022; much faster than the average annual growth rate of 5% in the previous five years, according to a report from IBISWorld. The SME market is driving demand because the customer base tends to be almost completely digital. These companies are also snapping at the heels of larger rivals by offering candidates good pay rates and flexible work environments.

What’s driving demand?

“The ecommerce side is where we have seen demand from retail customers and any company that sells online,” says Stuart Stanton, Business Manager at Computer Futures. “They’ve had to evolve their ecommerce websites in recent years to cater for more traffic and make them more secure. A lot more data is being kept online, so companies have had to really up their security, while being able to handle different payment types and integrate with third parties.”

“We’ve also seen massive wins from digital agencies, who are producing content for end customers for bigger clients,” he adds. “There has been a huge demand for content in the last two years, as companies move online for advertising campaigns and are also trying to connect with customers through social media. They are becoming more sophisticated in how they do this, which means the demand for niche applications is growing.”

Time to market has also been driving demand for freelance developers. “Clients need to bring in specialist staff or contractors specifically to meet increased demand and get projects launched quickly,” says Stanton. "Permanent hiring is still very positive, but on a contract basis it has been very project-led.”

Full stack developers

The huge call for developers in not just driven by one-off projects, but also by customers having to go back to basics and redesign their whole website, as they try to improve their capabilities. Many are grappling with communicating with third party applications for the first time and, as a result, have had to change their platforms, their technology and the software language they use.

Computer Futures has found companies are eager to hire developers with very niche skills in newer technologies within the mobile market, such as Flutter – Google’s portable user interface (UI) toolkit.

There is also a shortage of people with commercial experience in UI frameworks React and Vue. The shift to a total experience for the end user means a lot of customers are now looking for a full stack developer to work in the back end.

“Companies need people who are going to understand how the front end integrates with back end – they have to understand it from a visual perspective and they need to factor this into their design,” says Taz Khan, Head of the Software Development and DevOps teams for Computer Futures. “I think this is a more typical demand from smaller to medium size enterprises, who work in a more fluid way.”

With such a skills shortage, what can companies do to attract the best people? “Developers are keen to work with new and innovative tech, especially new versions of languages they’re already specialists in,” adds Khan. “It allows them to remain at the top of their field and gives them proven experience.”

The moral compass

A good day rate is no longer enough for contractors. Companies looking to attract the best developers also need to look at how they do business and again, the SME market is more switched on in this regard than its bigger competitors, according to Khan. “I find SMEs tend to show bigger commitment to ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) values throughout the hiring process,” he explains. "It feels less like a box-tick for them and more like part of their DNA. In turn, we find contractors largely buy into these values and it plays a huge part in attracting talent.”

Having good ethics is not just something that is nice to have for developers – there were 167 sustainable and ESG funds available in the UK by 2021, according to Fidelity Advisor Solutions. This represents a rise of over 100% since the start of 2016. "Investors are keen to put their money into ethical companies,” says Khan. “And if the number of funds aimed at ESG companies continues to grow, they could become a sector all of their own.” Within the tech sector, there is now a huge emphasis on ‘tech for social good’. A report by Tech Nation found that there are currently 490 socially responsible tech firms based in the UK, with 45% at seed stage, raising a total of £1.09billion in venture capital funding.

Compromise to win

The pandemic has also seen a shift in how developers want to work and companies may need to compromise, especially if they are looking for candidates with niche skills.

“Clients have always wanted freelance developers to come into the office once or twice a week so they can contribute face to face,” says Khan. “But developers have rarely been keen to do this and had been saying, long before the pandemic, that they can work from home and be just as productive. The pandemic has proved them right and there is now a big push-back from developers against hybrid working.”

As people look to change their work-life balance, business can afford to be less London-centric, which means regional tech hubs have started to outpace the capital when it comes to vacancy growth.

Being a web developer is never going to fall out of fashion, but it’s clear that front end developers are firmly in the driving seat. Employers are going to have to be more flexible – and the more specialist a candidate is – the more competition for their time.


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