In Tough Labor Market, Software Developers Wanted

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Every app requires software developers to build it. (Incase./Flickr)
Every app requires software developers to build it. (Incase./Flickr)

Labor Day is a tough holiday to celebrate if you happen to be part of that 7.6 percent* Massachusetts unemployment number.

But some parts of the state’s labor market are hot as can be. In fact, in certain tech fields, there’s a worker shortage. Some software developers have more job offers than they know what to do with.

A Hot Job Market

At their home in Watertown, Mike Champion and Samantha Morton fed their 9-month-old, Molly. She has golden curls and, thanks to her techie dad, an Internet presence.

"She has her own website, she had a Twitter account before she was born," Champion said.

Back when the couple found out they were going to have another mouth to feed, Champion had just started working as a software developer at a small startup company called oneforty — the very sort of early-stage, risky venture that often fails and goes out of business. But Champion wasn’t worried about getting a pink slip.

"The market, especially right now, is really hot," he said. There are "a lot of folks looking for people, and so I felt very comfortable that if I needed to do a job search on short notice that I’d have a lot of options."

The number of job options for software engineers surprised Ben Johnson, who graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine this spring with a computer science degree. He remembers going to a job fair in Boston this past December.

"Everyone in the room wanted to talk to me, 'We want you to work for us!' " Johnson said. "It wasn’t like, 'What interviews will I get?' It was, 'What interviews do I want to have and take?' "

Johnson chose a job at Raizlabs, a small Brookline company that writes apps for iPhones and other smartphones. He’s not making quite as much as his friends, who are getting $70,000 to $80,000 salaries straight out of school, but he’s not complaining.

"I have a job, and I’m paid to do it all day, and it’s awesome," Johnson said.

It’s not so awesome if you’re paying those salaries.

"It’d be awesome to be able to get developers at 50 percent of the price," said Dharmesh Shah, founder of HubSpot, an online marketing firm in Cambridge. "The reality is, that’s not the market."

A Dearth Of Talent

Shah says he’s doing everything he can to attract software engineers — paying top salary, making the workplace as fun as possible.

Hubspot, Shah says, has "the requisite startup beer fridge, ping pong table and foosball table."

But it hasn’t been enough. Hubspot still has almost a dozen software jobs posted right now, so Shah is offering a bounty for new hires.

"If you’re out there and you know someone that would make a really good Hubspot employee, we’re willing to pay you really good money –- $10,000 -– in order to refer that person to Hubspot," Shah said.

Those referrals, high salaries and amenities are all costs that consumers end up paying. Shah says the other downside to this tight labor market is not being able to staff projects.

"We’ve got 50 times more ideas, really good ideas that our customers would love, that people are asking for, that just never make the cut simply because we’re resource constrained," Shah said.

The main reason for the tight labor market is growing demand. If there’s an app for that, well, that’s software. Andrew Bartels of Cambridge-based Forrester Research says the hot market for developers is bound to cool off. But, he says the field will continue to grow, as software plays a bigger role in our lives.

"Software, for example, in refrigerators that’s tracking and monitoring what goes out so you can prepare a shopping list," Bartels said. "Or software that’s showing up in medicine cabinets. Those are not places you’d normally expect to see software."

And writing that software is going to be somebody’s job.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misreported the Massachusetts unemployment rate.

This article was originally published on September 05, 2011.

This program aired on September 5, 2011.

Curt Nickisch Business & Technology Reporter
Curt Nickisch was formerly WBUR's business and technology reporter.



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