Not that long ago, a software developer’s career path was pretty straightforward, at least in terms of where you would look for work. Software engineers worked for software companies. Simple.
At the very least, the idea that, as a software developer, you would be more likely to find a job outside the traditional tech sector would have seemed absurd. Why would a non-tech company need developers?
How things have changed. Demand for in-house software programming has been on the rise for a number of years now. In fact, it has snowballed to such an extent that there is now clear evidence that the market for tech jobs at non-tech companies has eclipsed that of the traditional tech sector.
Last year, research from the labour market analytics specialists Burning Glass and the Oracle Academy found that an overwhelming 89% of new IT job openings were in non-tech industries. In the five years to 2018, IT jobs in non-tech companies grew by 65%, roughly 50% more than the jobs growth seen in tech companies.
And while the top two firms hiring the most software developers in the US in 2019 were Amazon and IBM (with Amazon out in the lead by some distance), the rest of the top 10 was made up of non-tech firms. In fact, while Amazon and IBM accounted for almost 15,000 new programming jobs between them, the rest of the top 10 hired close to double that number of developers.
With figures like that, it is hard not to conclude that, as a software developer, your career prospects look a lot healthier if you look at roles in non-tech companies.
But what’s behind this hunger for programming talent outside the tech sector?
Software at the centre
For a majority of businesses across the full swathe of economic sectors, tech’s role has changed quite drastically in the last decade or so. IT is no longer just a tool that helps operations run more smoothly – for many businesses, IT is now one of, if not the main means by which they operate at all.
We see obvious examples all around us in traditionally non-tech sectors like retail and banking. With the rise of eCommerce and digital banking, IT in the form of websites, online portals, and mobile apps has created an alternative to in-person, face-to-face commerce.
Take the internet and cloud computing in particular away, and the way most businesses function these days would not be possible. We call this shift digital transformation, and it has put software at the very centre of business operations and strategy.
That has inevitably changed the relationship businesses have with software. In the past, they were happy with generic off-the-shelf products developed by software houses for general consumption. But now, when everything from sales channels to marketing to business intelligence to internal operational structure depends on the apps and platforms and systems architecture you run, off-the-shelf is no longer enough.
It is by no means a stretch to say that the modern digitised business realises its vision and achieves its goals through software. And that is what fuels demand for in-house development – the need for organisations to be in complete control over their own IT assets, to be able to shape them according to their own strategies.
There is early evidence to suggest that demand for software skills outside the traditional tech sector will grow even more in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. While recruitment across most positions has taken a hammer blow due to lockdown and its aftermath, demand for tech skills has if anything gone in the other direction.
One set of figures suggested that tech roles accounted for a third of all advertised vacancies in London during the lockdown, compared to a usual proportion of around 15%. Software developers and engineers were the most in-demand roles.
This can be understood in the context of companies having to pivot quickly to online sales and digital operations in order to keep trading at all during lockdown. These are unlikely to be short-term changes with companies reverting back to the old way of doing things once the crisis is over.
If anything, the pandemic has pushed businesses to take the leap with digital transformation strategies that they have perhaps been dragging their heels on for a couple of years. New business models have been written, and to a large extent, they have been written in code. Remote working, video conferencing, digital commerce and so on all look set to be part of the ‘new normal’ in business long term, and firms will want in-house teams that can deliver their expanded digital operations.
For that reason, we shouldn’t be surprised if software developer becomes as familiar a title at your average company as marketing executive, sales assistant, or HR manager.