It's the start of a new year, which means the web is being flooded with end-of-year reports, market retrospectives, and business predictions for the coming months. That can mean sifting through a lot of fluff and filter to find the genuinely useful information… but never fear! Market data is our bread 'n' butter, which means we keep a close eye on the big, private datasets that come out for any additional insights, effectively doing all that legwork for you.
As with almost everything in the 21st Century, the job market has its own giants in terms of data gathering: companies like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, GitHub, and Stack Overflow*. Their annual reports are incredibly detailed (with 100+ pages of data combined from just those four!), so we've distilled them down into the following key takeaways for you.
What can we say? We're just nice like that.
It's worth noting that a lot of these datasets are US/UK/EU focused. That makes them highly accurate for the UK market, but not so useful elsewhere. All sources can be found at the bottom of the article for further reading.
Tech is Still Top Dog.
Even the quickest of scan-reads through LinkedIn's Emerging Jobs Report shows that the tech sector retains its championship belt in terms of innovation and job growth. Out of the top 15 fastest growing job titles, more than two-thirds are explicitly tech-focused, including the still relatively new AI Specialist (#1), Software Release Engineer (#4), Data Scientist (#7), and Cloud Engineer (#9). Alongside these are well-established roles that continue to see high levels of growth, such as Full-Stack Engineer (#12) and DevOps Engineer (#14, and one of the most profitable jobs in the sector right now), as well as peripherally associated roles that the tech sector is openly embracing, including Customer Success Specialist (#5), User Researcher (#6), and Data Protection Officer (#2).
The last year also saw a significant jump in companies within the Finance, Education, Medical, and Retail sectors embracing digital innovations, focusing on how their industries can benefit from technology and choosing technology as the key driver for innovation and market growth. Tech firms may still be the largest employers of new talent, but that is changing, with examples like the pharmaceutical industry boasting 49% year-on-year job growth, driven largely by MedTech initiatives. All of which is to say, it really doesn't matter what sector you're interested in any more: boosting relevant tech skills will give you a solid edge in 2020.
Still, amidst all of this great news is one notable absence: blockchain. Go back to similar reports written at the start of last year and you'll have seen Blockchain Engineers and Crypto Specialists being touted as the up-and-coming job market to watch; yet, as we enter a new decade, the buzz has somewhat dampened. Relevant skills and job titles are missing from almost all major market analyses, whilst developer surveys find a much more wary workforce, with ~20% of those questioned by Hacker Rank claiming the technology was "overhyped" and feeling like widespread adoption was unrealistic. It's not just employees starting to be turned off either, with Stack Overflow reporting that 80% of organisations are neither using blockchain, nor considering it useful for the immediate future. Is blockchain dead? Well, China certainly doesn't think so, and plenty of developers are still optimistic about its use, but the hype has definitely died down for now.
The Market is Undergoing an Ethical Revolution.
Whilst the tech sector retains its dominance in job creation, other elements of the industry are having to change. 2019 saw a significant rise in workplace activism, alongside increased public scrutiny over the ethical and cultural implications of the industry in general. Tech giants like Google and Amazon have seen large unionisation efforts for the first time (and fought them), whilst Hacker Rank reports that over 40% of developers have actively approached senior management to voice concerns over company behaviour, product feature misuse, or business deals.
Even more impactful is that around 23% of engineers surveyed have actually quit a role in the past 12 months as a direct result of "unethical" company behaviour, particularly within the realms of censorship and user privacy – and no, this isn't a "youth" thing. Older devs are far more likely to take action, seek out unions, protest at the workplace, or leave roles based on ethical concerns – although those under 21 do take to social media more frequently to publicly name and shame companies for ethical violations (even the ones they work for).
It's clear that we're seeing a wide-ranging shift in employee/employer relations alongside, or possibly as a result of, these behavioural changes. For the first time in the influential group's history, the Business Roundtable amended its core mission statement in 2019, declaring that businesses should put employees before shareholders in order to be successful. Their reasoning is that embracing creative thinkers and encouraging a diversity of ideas is the most important factor for long-term success in the modern world; those businesses that embrace this notion early will undoubtedly strengthen their market position as a result.
Glassdoor have even gone so far as to predict that we're entering a "culture-first" economy, with jobseekers using entirely new, research-backed metrics to weigh up potential employers. Studies in the UK have shown that compensation and other classic perks are no longer top priorities for applicants, with company values being rated the number one factor in workplace satisfaction, followed by strong leadership, work-life balance, and career opportunities. Hacker Rank have also found that 49% of developers stated that a "lack of values alignment" was a major factor in turning down a job offer or exiting an interview process midway.
Another major factor in turning down job offers? Lack of diversity was seen as a deal-breaker by 14% of applicants – which is one of the many reasons that Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) programmes are becoming increasingly popular. Top talent are already prioritising companies that demonstrate robust D&I practices, whilst the hiring demand within large companies for relevant diversity roles has risen 106% since 2018. It seems likely that these complementary trends will strengthen over the coming years, forcing even medium-sized companies to focus on D&I in order for their employer brand to be competitive.
The Tech to Focus On (or Run From) in 2020.
Despite being over a decade old, Python is undergoing a significant resurgence, largely driven by new applications for the language within data science, natural language processing (NLP), and machine learning. In 2019, Python overtook Java to become the second most popular language on both GitHub and Stack Overflow, seeing a greater than 150% growth rate! It's also a generally well-liked language, earning it the #2 spot on Stack Overflow's Developer Survey, with a 73% approval rating and a 26% "interest" rating, which indicates how many people want to work with or learn the language in the next year – the highest score given by a wide margin.
On the flipside, technologies to avoid if you're wanting to attract ambitious applicants include WordPress (Stack Overflow's "most dreaded platform"), VBA, PHP, Chef, Puppet, Cordova, Ember, and Angular, which has fallen almost fully from grace, having been overtaken by React in most usage scenarios as well as coming in third for "least desirable framework" to Drupal and jQuery.
A Rocky Economy Means Embracing Remote Work May Pay Off.
The US market is signalling an oncoming recession, the UK is still uncertain about what impact Brexit will have on home economies, and tightening immigration laws worldwide are threatening a tech industry that has thrived on easy access to high-level international talent. Depending on who you ask, 2020 will either be business as usual or the year that really tests how viable the current technology job market truly is.
In the US, 4 in 10 developers have been negatively impacted by changes to immigration policy since 2018, with a fifth of work visas now being denied. In recent surveys, 25% of technologists have said that immigration policy has directly influenced their job search and resulted in them simply not applying for roles in certain countries. Back here in the UK, LinkedIn are already reporting that technologists, whether homegrown or not, are beginning to seek work in other EU countries, whilst Glassdoor have found that around 40% of employees are seeing companies cut jobs or move teams abroad to avoid Brexit complications. On the one hand, these issues could herald a genuine "brain drain" as skilled workers flock to less restrictive countries. On the other… who says you have to employ workers locally?
Remote working is a hot topic within the tech sector right now, as more companies find success (and high profit margins) using fully remote teams. Remote teams don't have to worry about costly or lengthy immigration processes to access the talent they want, and, when the right processes are in place, there's an increasing body of research which suggests that remote work is often more efficient, contrary to popular belief.
In their annual DevSecOps review, GitLab found that fully remote teams were 23% more likely to have good visibility and understanding of what teammates were working on, increasing team unity and ideation. They were also more than 50% more likely to have mature security practices and 1.6 times as likely to produce accurate documentation, which is doubly important when you consider that developers ranked "badly written documentation" as the #1 workplace irritation and loss of productivity in Hacker Ranks' Developer Skills summary.
It's worth mentioning that not all employees enjoy or seek remote work, with 59% of UK developers reporting to Stack Overflow that they actively prefer working in an office environment. Still, even amongst this group, many would be happy to work remotely for a company if they could do their day-to-day from an "office-like" environment such as a shared workspace – particularly if one or more colleagues were also present.
Still, with 40% of developers now working from home or remote locations at least once a week, and flexible working typically falling within the top three most attractive benefits a company can offer, the impact of offering some level of remote work cannot be underestimated.
It's Going to be an Interesting Decade.
No matter what happens in 2020 and the years ahead, one prediction that is guaranteed to be true is that we won't have guessed the half of it – after all, no one saw the last decade coming! From breakthroughs in AI and robotics leading to further automation of white-collar jobs, to the creation of entirely new sectors through emergent technologies like XR and blockchain, to the rapid expansion of technology skills across almost all sectors, the 2010s have been explosive.
Even as they came to a close, market trends were clearly beginning to evolve once again. As more Asian and African markets come into their own, the internationalisation of the tech sector will bring lots of new opportunities and innovation. Large code bases are already seeing these changes first hand, with the open source community on GitHub celebrating its most diverse year ever in 2019. Countries like Iran, Nigeria, Morocco, South Korea, and China will begin to have a much greater influence on the direction that technology takes, whilst the US will increasingly see its historic stranglehold weaken.
The makeup of tech workers is also likely to significantly change, as the "grey wave" begins to accelerate, resulting in a 60% increase of workers in the 65+ age group entering the market. Companies that have traditionally relied on "young blood" will need to adapt hiring practices to make the most of what will become the largest growing talent pool in the UK by 2022, looking outside of graduate circles and offering an increased level of cross-training benefits to fulfil hiring needs.
The next ten years will likely throw up some entirely new challenges as the impact of climate change becomes better known, new markets like the deep ocean begin to open up, and the dominance of big tech firms enters a likely new era of regulation. What tools, technologies, and job sectors end up thriving and which fail in light of those changes can only be understood in hindsight… but you can be certain it'll be a fascinating ride.
Further Reading & Sources.
A full list of all the articles and data analyses we used in researching this Research Byte; individual news articles will be linked directly in the text above.