The candidate stands at the whiteboard, working out a coding problem in front of the interviewer. But if she does so silently, she may be making a simple mistake that will cost her the job. According to former Google engineer Gayle Laakmann McDowell, communication is key. “Because interview questions are really about your approach, not getting the right answer, solving questions out loud is very important… This has an added benefit of enabling your interviewer to steer you in the right direction periodically, enabling you to arrive at an optimal answer more quickly,” she wrote in her book “The Google Resume: How to Prepare for a Career and Land a Job at Apple, Microsoft, Google, or any Top Tech Company.”
If getting a job is a priority in the new year, there’s plenty of good news for every candidate, starting with the simple fact that software developers are once again in-demand. According to an analysis by CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists (EMSI), application developers top the list of promising 2013 occupations in the U.S., based on 7% growth since 2010, or the addition of 70,872 jobs.
The study uses EMSI’s labor market database, which pulls from more than 90 national and state employment resources, and includes detailed information on employees and self-employed workers. Other IT jobs on EMSI’s list include computer systems analysts (26,937 jobs added since 2010, 5% growth); network and systems administrators (18,626 jobs added since 2010, 5% growth); information security analysts, Web developers and computer network architects (15,715 jobs added since 2010, 5% growth); computer programmers (11,540 jobs added since 2010, 3% growth); and database administrators (7,468 jobs added since 2010, 7% growth).
The statistics are comforting, but what do they mean for your specific job search? Here are the answers to those questions that have kept you up at night.
Q: How long will it take to get hired?
A: Two to six months or more, even for high-quality candidates.
“Getting into Google took me 30 months. I’ve met people who took even longer to get there,” said David Sharnoff, an Oakland, Calif.-based software engineer who has been at Google for less than two years. He spent those 30 months employed at two other companies, however. Not everyone is so lucky.
A 2011 survey by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that nearly half of all unemployed job seekers had been out of work for more than a year. Those who reported being out of work for more than two years included stay-at-home-moms and retirees returning to the workforce.
“In a healthy economy, a successful job search might take two to three months. In a tight job market, such as the one we are in now, it is not unusual to see even high-quality candidates take four to six months,” said John Challenger, CEO of the firm.
Q: Where are the jobs?
A: Silicon Valley; Seattle; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Boston; and Austin.
Of course, the behemoths are everywhere. Microsoft has campuses all over the world. Google even has wind farms (but presumably no developer jobs at them). But new studies show location is more important than you think.
Despite the truism that globalization and the Internet mean “the death of distance,” University of California, Berkeley economics professor Enrico Moretti claimed, “We are witnessing an inverse gravitational pull toward certain key urban centers.” In an interview on Amazon.com about his book, “The New Geography of Jobs,” he explained: “Globalization and localization seem to be two sides of the same coin. More than ever, local communities are the secret of economic success.”
It’s not news to software developers that most jobs in their field can be found in Silicon Valley, Seattle, Raleigh-Durham, Boston and Austin. But it is good news that, despite the outsourcing trend, companies and entrepreneurs are drawn to these cities because of the fertile ecosystem of expert workers found there. Further, it should give tech workers heart to know that their jobs have a force multiplier effect on local economies.
In his book, Moretti wrote, “For each new software designer hired at Twitter in San Francisco, there are five new job openings for baristas, personal trainers, doctors and taxi drivers in the community. While innovation will never be responsible for the majority of jobs in the United States, it has a disproportionate effect on the economy of American communities. Most sectors have a multiplier effect, but the innovation sector has the largest multiplier of all: about three times larger than that of manufacturing.”
“If I was looking for a job right now, I’d want to know if I should move somewhere else,” said Sharnoff. “I recently read that San Francisco now has as many or more software jobs as Mountain View and Palo Alto. That’s great for me because I live in Oakland.”
Silicon Valley is the epicenter of the software industry, but Moretti posited that there are three Americas: the tech centers; the former manufacturing centers like Detroit, Flint or Cleveland that are dying out; and cities that could go either way. If you’re outside one of those tech centers and not finding employment, relocating may make sense, even if the prevailing wisdom says you can telecommute from home.
Q: What skills are in demand?
A: Mobile, Big Data, user experience, Ruby, QA, and agile project management.
Engineering best practices and knowledge of .NET, C++, Java or any platform-specific technologies such as Force.com will serve you well, but there are definitely some emerging trends:
Data: With all the talk about Big Data, database administrator is a key position. Security skills, scalability and cloud computing experience are pluses for data experts.
Gaming: The gaming industry continues to mushroom, and the “gamification” of other applications is also warming up. “We have so many job openings, it’s crazy. We have over 100 job reqs for Ruby on Rails,” said Queenie Kwan, a recruiter for the VonChurch job-placement agency’s social and mobile games divisions, when I met her in 2011 at a Bay Area Girl Geek networking event. In fact, said Kwan, demand for Ruby has made it a developer’s market.
User experience: Type a few search terms into Stack Overflow Careers, arguably the premiere job listing for developers from cutting-edge software houses, and you’ll get a sampling (albeit unscientific) of relative skill popularity. User experience, for instance, pulls up a whopping 1,053 jobs, compared to 210 for Ruby, 384 for mobile, 329 for database, 238 for C++, and 710 for project management. Bear in mind that these keywords overlap, so user experience tags both UX engineers and more generic software developers alike.
Agile project management: As for management, according to North Carolina-based agile consultant Gary Evans, there’s a new way to add luster to your project-management résumé without too much effort: “A lot of project-management jobs require PMI [Project Management Institute] certification, which is traditional waterfall life cycle. Now PMI has introduced ACP, or agile certified professional. It’s kind of a joke, but not too hard to pass. As more and more organizations are moving to iterative and agile, at the very least, I recommend people become more knowledgeable about Scrum, Extreme Programming and automated testing techniques.”
Q: What’s the best way to find jobs?
A: By making sure jobs find you.
“Most people go about their job search all wrong,” said Evans, author of “Hired! A Guide to Reemployment for the Rest of Us.” “They go to the job boards and send out the résumés. If you go through the normal mechanisms, you are competing against thousands of people.”
He’s right: It’s been reported that Google fields 6,000 or more résumés a week, and we can only assume humans aren’t screening them, machines are. The solution?
“Avoid HR at all costs,” he said. “HR has one job: to eliminate you. That’s their role. They get so many applicants. What I explain is how to find the VP of engineering, how to network from the top down, and do your elevator pitch so that the hiring manager talks to HR.”
After 17 years of consulting, Evans recently accepted a job with a major financial institution. But those years taught him how to excel at finding work on a daily basis.
In the book “Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 3.0,” marketing guru Jay Conrad Levinson and recruiter David Perry explain that 95% of jobs are not posted, and those that are are often already filled, but posted merely for legal reasons. That’s why they recommend techniques such as “networking with the recently departed,” or finding out who the decision-makers are at a company you’re interested in from those who have just left the company, what skills are in demand, and where there may be holes to fill. Further, these recently departed individuals can serve as references if they’re so inclined.
Another idea is to use Twitter or TwitJobSearch.com to find and follow top recruiters, and discover job openings as they happen, not months after they’ve already been filled. But the most important new tool is to be findable online via an optimized LinkedIn profile, blogs, community boards and other social media.
“I do have a friend struggling to get a software development job—actually, I know two people—and they’re both struggling for the same reason: They’re both libertarians who don’t want to be surveilled,” said Sharnoff. “Because of privacy concerns, they don’t do LinkedIn, and they were both recently mentioning that neither one of them is findable.”
Ironically, though Sharnoff is a Perl expert, he had no luck using Stack Overflow to up his profile by answering questions about the scripting language. “Every time I saw a question I could answer, someone had already beat me to it. I figured I had better things to do with my day,” he laughed, than to sit waiting to pounce on the next question he could answer.
Sharnoff also disagreed that networking or knowing people is the only solution for finding a job. “I’ve done it both ways. For Google, it was someone who knew me. Google does everything the Google way. It has to be like that for them. But for other great jobs it was just because I came in through the front door like everyone else, through the job boards,” he said.
It may be that with software development being an in-demand field, using boards will net great results. But if they don’t, or if your dreams are lofty, consider using guerrilla techniques to get noticed.
Q: How do I get an interview?
A: Be irresistible.
While some have neglected to optimize or even add more than a cursory sentence to their LinkedIn profile, others go too far, some experts say. It can be nice to save the best details for a cover letter so that the LinkedIn page isn’t overwhelming.
Furthermore, be careful not to “outsource your job search,” Evans advised. “LinkedIn is a social network, just like Facebook. In my book, I talk about how to let people know that you’re looking for work,” he said. “If you start telling everyone you’re unemployed, people will be sympathetic at first, but three weeks later they’ll stop responding, out of guilt. It’s the same thing that happens with a death in a family. You’re deep in depression or grief, and they don’t want to be around it.”
To avoid repelling others or making them feel responsible for landing you an interview with their employer, use social media to document your job search in an upbeat way, talking about strange questions from HR, companies you’re considering, or interesting job titles. That lets others know you’re still looking, without sounding like a victim.
There’s plenty of advice out there for résumés. Perhaps the most valuable is to hone at least three versions of your CV for different types of jobs, said Evans, who has one résumé for training, one for agile process work and project management, and one for consulting work.
Also, for the best software-development jobs, make sure you’re aware of on-trend life-cycle best practices. Stack Overflow Careers makes this easy, adding a small green indicator to certain listings that show on a scale of 1-12 how they measure on Stack Overflow founder Joel Spolsky’s team quality test. These points are:
• Do you use source control?
• Can you make a build in one step?
• Do you make daily builds?
• Do you have a bug database?
• Do you fix bugs before writing new code?
• Do you have an up-to-date schedule?
• Do you have a spec?
• Do programmers have quiet working conditions?
• Do you use the best tools money can buy?
• Do you have testers?
• Do new candidates write code during their interview?
• Do you do hallway usability testing?
Though magazines such as this one debate these points all the time, it’s often surprising how little real-world teams, or developers who haven’t updated their reading materials, are prepared to discuss them. Familiarity with these points will establish you as the type of dedicated engineer who does take the time for continuing education or conference attendance.
Q: How do I ace the interview?
These days, with books like Laakmann McDowell’s “Cracking the Coding Interview, 5th Edition: 150 Programming Interview Questions and Answers,” there’s no excuse to not be ready for anything, and these days, interviewers sometimes throw everything at you.
There are of course coding questions and basic software engineering algorithms. There are softer skills, too. Laakmann McDowell explained that estimation questions test whether you can do math in your head, make reasonable assumptions, reason logically, generalize carefully, and use intuition.
Questions about designing an imaginary product help the interviewer find out if you’ll fit in with customer-focused teams. In “The Google Resume,” Laakmann McDowell quotes a Microsoft program manager: “Fifty percent of this question is being able to put yourself in the shoes of a customer—being able to understand who the target user is. Twenty-five percent is about creativity. Can you come up with a new fresh perspective about how it might work? The remaining 25% is communication.”
Further, Laakmann McDowell wrote, you should be aware of how the company you’re interviewing for views the software universe. “Google tends to emphasize questions on scalability… Amazon loves object-oriented design questions… Microsoft is all over the map… Apple wants to know that you’re as die-hard an Apple fan as the other people in the cult—I mean, company,” she wrote.
Q: What’s the takeaway?
A: Upgrade your job hunt in 2013!
Books such as those mentioned in this article will fire you up for finding a new position in the next few months. While techniques vary, the experts agree: Even if on the surface it seems as tedious as ever, effective job hunting isn’t at all like it used to be.
As Sharnoff put it, “If someone’s not on LinkedIn, I’d seriously question why.” Keeping busy with networking and maintaining or advancing your skills via consulting work is critical while you search. But the tools are there, all within reach. Use them!