On recruiting web development talent in the UK


Yes, I’m Old

I’ve been recruiting tech people since 1999. Back then I mainly hired web designers – we were building HTML for Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. There was no such thing as CSS (it had been invented, but not gained widespread adoption). Javascript had just been adopted into Internet Explorer but we needed to support older browsers too – so didn’t use it. Our main talents revolved around the use of <table> and optimising JPEGs down below 100kb – plus hand building animated GIFs.

Finding talent back then meant looking for traditional (ie print) graphic designers who had started dabbling in web design. Converting from print to web was not easy – page design was restrictive. I worked for a company where the web designers were measured by how many complete websites we built in a day (4 was the average). Back-end programming was either Perl or ASP.

By 2002 I had a new role and was recruiting for PHP developers primarily. I remember putting a vacancy on the government JobCentre service (which, at the time, required candidates to view the vacancies on terminals in the JobCentre building). I received over 100 applications to one role. Most of the applicants had some PHP experience. Many were computer science graduates – having spent a lot of their undergraduate studies learning programming. The main knowledge I could impart on them was “commercial programming” – building what a business needs, not what a lecturer wants to see.

I’ve principally been involved in PHP development since early 2000 – I started learning PHP 3. I’ve mostly recruited for PHP developers but over the years have also hired C#.net, JavaScript, ActionScript, Java, C++ and these days, Python. Nearly always the projects have been web oriented – to make something cool for a web audience.

Hiring in 2017

This past 12 to 24 months has been challenging for recruitment. I was at a tech leaders’ lunch a few weeks ago in London, UK. Everybody at the table admitted to struggling to hire engineers. Developers are in short supply. As an employer we are happy to pay good money for good people, but where are they?

Candidates usually fall into one of two camps – either they want the “stability” of a big, well-known company or they want the excitement of a startup style company. In my experience there is no such thing as “stability” regardless of your route. In fact, a well funded startup usually has a lot more runway of cash than a big company (in regards to the engineering team).

Perhaps it comes down to confidence then? Some engineers are less afraid of working with the latest code, having to deal with a lot of technical uncertainty and making decisions – they can relish the excitement and collaborative spirit of a startup.

The general feeling at the lunch was that “big American companies” are coming to London and offering better pay, but it’s a cubicle style engineering team (in my mind, it sounds boring). Plus, many (often less experienced) engineers are attracted to the contractor route. Perhaps it’s just that all the talent is happy where it is and not ready to move.

I’m Hiring

I’m delighted to be co-founder of a new startup that’s already been seed funded for at least 2 years. I’m looking for PHP, JavaScript, Python and Elixir engineers as well as Data Scientists. We’re in London. If you want to build good code, learn and be rewarded with more than just a good salary then you should look me up.