Developers’ reality check, according to Gergely Orosz: More work, ‘boring’ tech, and less promotions

Antonija Bilic Arar

Everyday work and career oppurtunities of software developers have changed drastically in the last two years.

Photo: Craft Conf

Where there was high demand, high salaries, and ample benefits – now are layoffs, hiring freezes, and promotions so scarce that they have become exceptions.

Where recently there were opportunities to work with exciting new technology, there are now TypeScript and PHP.

Where there was a team of a backend developer, a frontend developer, an iOS developer, an Android developer, a QA Engineer, and a web developer, there is now a team of two or three full-stack developers.

Gergely Orosz, the author of the number one tech newsletter, The Pragmatic Engineer, says the professional lives and career opportunities of software developers globally have changed drastically in the last two years.

Orosz talked about the drastic change at the Craft Conf conference in Budapest in his talk titled What’s Old is New Again.

Less Rust, more full-stack

The current changes in the labor market and decreasing developer demand remind him of the aftermath of the dotcom crash.  What prompted the change now?

How did developers go from being highly demanded and almost spoiled by benefits to the point where even they are not sure if they will be out of work in a few months?

To the point that not only small startups (or larger ones, but with questionable profitability and sustainability of the business model) but also big tech companies with annual profits in the billions of dollars routinely do massive layoff rounds?

The reason lies in the rise in interest rates by which the American central bank reacted to the increase in inflation. This, in turn, led to less startup funding, fewer tech IPOs, and massively cut tech budgets at companies of all sizes.

Massive rounds of layoffs and stalled hiring have led to a surplus of developers in the job market, which, according to Orosz, has meant that developers have to adapt to changed circumstances —not just about what their career prospects are, but also what their day-to-day work looks like:

While developers were in high demand, companies were forced to attract them with shiny and new tech stacks and opportunities to experiment.

Now that they don’t have to do that anymore, companies will turn to tried-and-tested tech stacks. Therefore, it will be much easier to find a job as a TypeScript engineer than as a Rust engineer.

Orosz also predicts a decrease in specialization as engineering teams get smaller.

The team that once had frontend and backend developers, iOS and Android developers, DevOps, and QA engineers would probably be reduced to 3 or 4 full-stack engineers, which also makes full-stack engineers more desirable to employers.

Shift left = more work

Software engineers will also notice an acceleration of the “shift left” trend that has been happening in IT for a couple of years now—developers are now expected to be involved in testing, QA, and performance evaluation even before the first line of code is written. Furthermore, developers are increasingly expected to deploy their code, deal with security, monitoring, and architecture, get involved in project planning…

They will have to accept that they will receive fewer raises and promotions for these new job descriptions. Orosz mentioned Spotify’s recently introduced Mastery program, which encourages employees to become masters of what they do. The company sells it as a break from climbing the company ladder. Still, he sees it for what it is—a way to keep engineers satisfied with occasional raises or changes in job status without real promotions.

Tough times for the engineering managers

He adds that the new professional environment is particularly challenging for engineering managers.

Fewer employed people means fewer people needed to lead people. For many engineering managers, the labor market situation is really difficult, and that’s why I advise everyone to accept the fact that they will have to code actively or be involved operationally in some other way part of the time.

Let’s not forget that until recently, engineering managers had spent at least half of their working time recruiting new people. Now that there are no job openings or they are scarce, they must convince employers that they have filled that time with something useful for the company.

Engineering managers will have to shift to being more technical in their roles.

AI, the elephant in the room

Last but not least, the job descriptions and opportunities for software engineers are also rapidly changing due to artificial intelligence and tools that program more and more often and better.

Orosz says software engineers are in for a lot of learning:

AI will not replace you but will make you more productive. You must constantly learn to be a desirable employee in these new circumstances. Learn how large language models work or how to use developer AI tools so that they are not your enemies but your allies.

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