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Career Deep Dives: Senior Developers

9 April 2021 , by Alexandra Hanson

At our recent online webinar, Career Moves for Senior Developers, Stephen van der Heidjen (VP of Growth at OfferZen) deep-dived into data insights from our recent Netherlands State of the Software Developer Nation Report, and how it relates to Senior Developers wanting to make career shifts.

Read the full presentation below, or watch the presentation from 21:43. Deep dive into the presentation slides here.

[21:43] Our mission at OfferZen is to help developers grow in their careers. One of the ways we do that is by getting people jobs, but we also do a bunch of other stuff. We also have a mentoring program, where senior devs mentor juniors. We do a lot of data stuff, just like LinkedIn, and that's what we're talking about today.

We also have content by developers for developers, so we try to help people that have this amazing knowledge around things that they've learned. They may not be great writers, so they work with our content team to help make that knowledge available to the world.

Another thing we do are these events called Make Events. Our current course is on learning to build a self-watering plant with an Arduino. Everything gets delivered to your door, and you get to hang out with some other developers virtually. It's not like this, where you're watching a presentation. It's a zoom call where you can actually interact with everyone, and you're all on the same page.

You can actually talk to other humans, which, if you remember, is actually quite fun. Okay. So, what are we talking about tonight? We did a survey of developers in both South Africa, where our home base is, and the Netherlands.

[23:12] This is the Netherlands version. We had 500 qualifying respondents. I think 900 actual respondents, but we qualify people based on purely Software Developers, full-time Software Developers who get paid to write code.

So generally, it's a little bit of a smaller subset, a little bit more focused than the previous data that you would have seen from Ray’s side. This is an online report, so you can go to it and interact with it. You'll also see that this data is completely free to download as a CSV, so you can poke around and do stuff with it.

[23:52] So we did some stuff with it, and that's what I'm going to run you through in three sections - because I like Ray's rule of three. Firstly, background and education. Secondly, we're going to look at a little bit of skills and learning and then jump into careers.

Background and Education

[24:07] The senior dev, you'll have heard the term before, but there is no definition for a senior dev. We've got some things that I found at least super interesting that help us understand what this means. In our survey, we asked people to report their seniority. Generally, people who have a title would be defined by the title, and for those that don't, it would be self-reported, so this is self-reported seniority by years of experience.

[24:35] The way you read this; these colours will stay the same throughout the graphs. Light blue is junior, yellow is intermediate, blue is senior, and the purple is tech lead or management. What's interesting about this is that you can see the distribution of the self-reported brackets over years' experience.

For a junior, you can see around 50% of them are between one and two years’ experience in two and four. For an intermediate, if you look at the area under the yellow, generally between two and four years' experience through to between four and six and six to 10. What we're looking at here is a senior dev, with six years plus, all the way up into 15 years plus. So anything above six, is considered a senior. And Tech Lead or Management, is generally 10 to 15 years’ experience.

You can see that it slopes a lot more aggressively than the senior side. What I found very useful when looking at this for the first time is when someone says to me, “I'm an Intermediate Developer”, I've got some kind of a correlation of how I can map that on what the general kind of populace of Software Developers looks like.

[25:51] As I said, we also did this in South Africa. And I found this quite interesting, so I thought I'd share. The blue line, which is this line in the Netherlands and the green line, South Africa, shows how South African developers report themselves as senior. I've bucketed Senior and Tech Leads for the purposes of this graph.

I did look at the individuals. It's pretty much on-trend. They report themselves as senior earlier in the years of experience. You will see that this area of the graph above and to the left means that there are more people calling themselves seniors or Tech Leads at 4-6 in South Africa relative to the audience size than in the Netherlands.

What is interesting is that the Netherlands overall respondents base is slightly more experienced. So, it could be that there are just more experienced Software Developers in the Netherlands. But what is interesting, I think, if you are a senior dev and you're getting a colleague from another country, or you're looking at hiring someone from another country, or you're applying for a job in a new country, remember that there are differences between regions in just the word Senior Software Developer.

[27:03] This was pretty interesting of the people that have degrees - senior Software Developers, over 50% of them have a Computer Science degree and then STEM (which is science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and a big portion with Nest, and a couple of people with business degrees, humanities, and other degrees.

[27:25] Again, the colours are the same for these graphs. What I find interesting about these graphs is that they are ordered in decreasing seniority - so tech lead, senior, intermediate, and junior. This graph is where developers first learned to code. The question is not the only place you learn to code but where first, and the first one is I am self-taught.

And that is the primary selected option. Most developers taught themselves their initial entry point. And what is cool about this is when you see a shaped graph, with a slope from left to right, like this, that means that in general, the more senior, it's favoured by the more senior brackets. When it's shaped the other way like this at University, it's generally more the juniors or the intermediate at my workplace, and the boot camp as well.

What's quite cool here is that you can see that seniors generally teach themselves, and a lot more juniors relative to seniors learned at universities. I think that's obvious and also makes sense, since coding has only become more prevalent and available at universities of late.

Remember, this is not only learnt at university. If you are at university and self-taught a bit, it's just where you started. This is also quite an interesting distribution graph. This was when they started coding. It is amazing how many people started coding when they were less than 12 years old. You'll see that it decreases with the order of seniority.

[29:08] A tech lead has more chances of starting coding super young, then senior, then intermediate, and it reverses out at the higher levels. So essentially, the highest seniority started coding even earlier than the intermediate or the more junior, and that's at an age level, not how many years ago just control for people just being older.

It's unsurprising that these developers are self-taught, and they started coding earlier, because they actually think that software development is fun or they code for a passion.

If you are a maker, you will know that making stuff is what you do. It is existential, and you'll do it, whether it's your job or not.

[30:05] And you can see that's very much so for the tech leads and the seniors of the world. They very much agree with the statement. The heart panda eyes, which means agree, the crying panda disagree. And in between it's the scale.

The strongly agreed bracket is very heavily skewed towards the seniors, so seniors are people that like to code for fun. It's a pretty cool insight.

[30:30] The salary, average salary by seniority, so the light orange background that you'll be seeing represents the upper quartile and the lower quartile. If we look at Tech lead, or Management, that band represents 50% of respondents, and the dot in the middle is the median. The top here for tech lead is €88,000, the bottom is €63,000 and the middle is €73,000. So the median is €73,000. And at the senior, it's €55 - 60,000 in the median, and €73,000 at the upper quartile, which is the 75th percentile.

That gives you some idea of the averages and the range in which Software Developers earn what they're earning at an annual level.

[31:19] Then we asked the question, what is your favourite OfferZen T-shirt. We've been going for quite some time in South Africa, and we're pretty new in the Netherlands. But we have a big storeroom full of T-shirts here in the office, of which there are many designs.

And the one, which I find quite ironic, is the very simple typographic design. I thought it was just fun to add that, and you can go to that link if you want to see all of the designs.

Skills and Learning

[32:03] So, skills and learning. Let's jump into that. We asked the question, “What languages do you use the most?”, and it was multi-select. Yes, SQL is officially a language and you can see JavaScript coming out on top by quite a long way and it’s skewed a bit to the junior side. We go JavaScript, SQL, TypeScript, Python, C#, Java, Bash, and then PHP at the end. You can see that PHP has got a pretty heavy junior sway and the same thing with JavaScript, which we thought was quite interesting.

[32:42] Now the most used frameworks, now this is filtered only to senior devs. Again, when I use the word senior devs, I mean senior devs and Tech Leads. Coming out tops is Node.js, at number two is .NET Core. And then number three, kind of altogether - ASP.NET React and Angular. You can see that kind of corresponding with the kind of heavy JavaScript and then C# with the language that are on the previous slide.

[33:17] Looking to learn languages less frequently than counterparts, but still, at least every year. So what Ray was talking about with lifelong learning and growth mindsets, this is very much the case, and it stays the case. So even as a senior software developer, at least 50% of senior software developers are looking to move jobs within the year.

So that includes once every few months and once a year, which is a material amount. You can see that the people looking to move within a few months, it's skewed towards the juniors, and once every few years is skewed the other way.

[34:52] What are they looking to learn? The outstanding, interesting change from last year's South African report is that Python is really coming out and is something everybody is really interested in learning. There is quite an interesting gap here where tech leads are not that interested in learning Python. We found that quite interesting, but Python really pushed ahead, with seniors also rating it quite far ahead as something they're looking to learn.

Java being the lowest, I think that's quite interesting. TypeScript and Rust being the senior sway, and I thought that's quite some interesting observations.

[35:36] And, not really data but more anecdotal stuff. We see an amazing amount of giving back from senior developers. Whether that's coaching at a Make Event or teaching their kids to code, I think a lot of senior developers taught these young children, and we see during Make Events devs bringing their kids, which is amazing to see.

We have a lot of people mentoring devs and people writing and speaking, you'll recognise that guy. He's also given up a bunch of his time to come and speak tonight. He's also written on our blog, and we have hundreds of developers that have done all of these different things.

We live and breathe this giving back mentality that comes as part of growing. I thought I would also just mention that and thank all the devs that have given back and helped our community.


[36:31] Cool, jumping into careers. We asked developers to free text and list companies that they would be keen to work at and all the usual suspects. What is interesting to see is the Dutch bank, ABN-AMRO there, as the only one that made a list from the Dutch side, and then the ESA, from the Europe side, which is cool.

[37:04] Then what do devs value when thinking about their careers. The number one thing that developers are thinking about is challenging projects. And I think this comes down to lifelong learning, having that growth mindset and really pushing forward on always growing and being better.

New languages and frameworks are coming through second, with company growth projections coming in third. You can see here the mentors and coaching one is swayed quite heavily by juniors, which is understandable. As we understand, juniors really value coaching and training availability.

The option to switch career path, next training availability, and then the last one being a very well-defined career path. These are the things that they value when thinking about careers.

[38:02] This is another graph that I was going to mention when you are looking for your next job. This starts on the left with people looking now, people looking within three to 12 months, within a year, over two years and over five years. You can see a lot of developers looking for jobs in the next three to 12 months.

People who are interested in staying at a company for a longer term sways more towards seniors. Tech Leads are flattening out between two to five years, and I think ( I would guess), as you get to Tech lead, it is starting to look more as if it almost moves into a career change where you are starting to move into management, where it requires you to start thinking about moving again.

But that's still way higher than intermediates who aren't all that interested in staying somewhere for more than five years.

[39:10] And if they are thinking about leaving, why? The number one reason is poor management. Second is work-life balance, number three is better salary, and it moves down to lack of growth.

[39:35] Then non-monetary things you'd consider when assessing a new opportunity. Again, we see languages, frameworks and other technologies right at the top of what people are thinking about when moving. One might say that people are moving to learn new languages, which fits in with the “stay sharp” and “keep growing” conversations that Ray was talking about.

[40:01] For those that aren't looking at moving, what are they staying for? Good work-life balance. I think in the previous one, you'll see the office environment and company culture is there. We've got poor work-life balance as a thing that people would leave for, but a good work-life balance is a thing that affects where people stay. I think that's really interesting, especially in the light of COVID, and our new remote reality.


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