Did the pandemic hiring frenzy create a talent chasm for developers in the digital customer experience space?
Earlier this week, when Kelly Rusk’s DXP development company announced that he and his colleagues were being let go, it was a shock, needless to say.
As a 2022 Sitecore MVP, an honor bestowed upon members who have “demonstrated mastery of the Sitecore platform and a commitment to sharing knowledge and technical expertise with community partners, customers, and prospects,” Rusk took to Twitter to share the news with others in the Sitecore Community — a group composed of developers who help manage and implement Sitecore’s digital customer experience technology.
Thank you to the #sitecore community as today I and the rest of my colleagues lost their jobs. The immediate response and support has been amazing. I look forward to continuing my work in the Sitecore space and working even closer with many of you.
— Kelly Rusk (@kellyjjrusk) November 15, 2022
The tweet gleaned dozens of responses — and the next day Rusk announced he’d already found a new job in the Sitecore space.
The DXP Developer Hiring Landscape
Is Rusk’s tale a sign of the economic times? Or is development in the web and digital experience space in better shape in a gloomy economy? With employment projected to grow 23% from 2021 to 2031 — the field of web development is flourishing much faster than average according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Ryan Bennett, technical architect and co-founder of Cylogy, currently focuses on the Sitecore Experience Platform, and said he hasn’t noticed any major changes in the level of work.
“Though clients do seem to be more judicious about which projects they pursue with a longer than average timeline for project start,” Bennett said. “For us, there’s been a big move to headless development projects, primarily with clients bundling a move to headless along with site refresh/redesign projects.”
While many industries suffered catastrophic economic consequences during the COVID lockdowns — many digital platforms thrived. The need for developers grew. However, talent was in short supply with Garner reporting that IT executives (75%) cited talent availability as the main adoption risk factor for the majority of IT automation technologies.
A Matter of ‘Neglect and Waste’ in Tech Industry
In the pandemic rush to gather enough workers to meet rising demands, as time went by, some Web CMS and digital customer experience tech enterprises came to realize they’d over-hired, overpaid and neglected to nurture in-house talent.
“We had this kind of market run up where a lot of individuals were asking far beyond maybe what their worth was, as developers and organizations were just handing out moneybags to everyone to compensate for inflation and COVID bounce, especially in the tech space,” Rusk said. “So now we’ve got this dynamic where some may have outrun their payrolls and that’s going to affect the margins for these organizations — especially smaller shops who are going to have to make some tough decisions.”
Steve Glass, chief marketing technologist at Oinkodomeo, said the bill for years of neglect and waste in the tech industry has simply come due.
“When a tech company says they don’t have time to train engineers, they really mean that they don’t want to spend the money. Effective training on advanced technologies is very expensive. So they hire people somebody else trained,” Glass said. “When a tech resource dries up, only companies paying top dollar can hire. Everybody else has to develop new products with the tech they have. This is one of the main drivers for the massive technical debt that has been accumulated.”
And, he added, “it’s been coming due for years because the tech industry as a whole has failed completely to nurture the available talent base. In fact, he says, “they have drained it like parasites.”
According to the Layoffs.fyi tracker, 828 tech companies announced layoffs in 2022, affecting 129,640 employees.
A Shift to Composable Architecture
According to Rusk, composable architecture — which allows for the development of digital customer experiences in less time when compared to a traditional stack — has created a real shift in the industry.
“That shift is kind of a false bottom in the sense that we’ve got some of these larger platforms stating how easy it is to use their platforms, but they still require qualified developers to assist, and a lot of organizations want a low- to no-code solution,” Rusk said. “Some of the challenges that we have in the industry aren’t the same as what we see in other areas, and we’re seeing a lot of push toward composable architectures which are going to require a deeper skillset.”
In the past, someone working as a full stack developer could cover multiple parts of an application space, But with composable architecture, that’s all changed. Instead of buying a giant monolith platform, many organizations turn to composable architecture offering a base platform with some core functionality that clients can add or remove components. But those components often require specific expertise.
“You require someone who’s a back-end developer, potentially a dedicated front-end developer and someone who understands the configuration and how to make this all work together — so we’ve got a very competitive market,” Rusk said. “But the question remains, is the quality there or are we just going too wide versus deep?”
Related Article: What Is a Composable DXP?
The Quality vs. Quantity Developer Debate
Cylogy’s Bennett believes that in today’s developer market, area-specific expertise is critical.
“If anything, we’ve seen the hiring of developers speed up during the past year, but the skillset being sought for developers has changed,” Bennett said. “With the rise of headless development alongside the popularity of API-first, composable DXPs, the need for front-end developers experienced in those areas has risen significantly.”
In the rush to hire, Rusk feels some organizations went for quantity over quality in an area that requires deep subject matter expertise.
“Now thinking about the Twitter’s and the Amazons of the world, in some respects, they may have kind of outgrown their mission. Instead of going deeper in their employee base as far as developing deeper and deeper expertise, they went wide,” Rusk said. “And that’s the risk that any organization has right now. Do you get a wider team to cover all these kinds of fragmented components when you have a composable architecture? Or do you really develop deep experts?”