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Sara Vošinek Gašpar explains why developers should switch jobs every 3 years

In Meaningful work interviews I talk to people about their area of work and expertise to better understand what they do and why it matters to them.

Sara Vošinek Gašpar is an IT recruiter. She explained to me why job ads in the IT industry are so strange, the specifics of the Slovenian IT market, and how developers can further level up. After talking with her I started to see the benefits of building a relationship with a recruiter and not just randomly applying to job ads.

How do others introduce you?

They would say that I’m an IT recruiter and a talent sourcer. I would add to that that I see myself more as a talent enabler. I’m always trying to figure out how to empower developers and find opportunities where they can grow.

What is it like to work with developers for you?

Sometimes I hear from people that it’s weird to work with developers. I think that’s a lazy excuse. My experience is that developers are super chill and very straightforward people. The nature of their job is creative and they want to protect their creativity. They want to be very quickly on the same page, very informal, and straight to the point. They’re very quick to notice red flags and potential issues with clients that try to recruit them.

This makes my job very easy as I don’t need to waste time and very hard as it makes it very hard for me to recruit people for certain companies that have a reputation. 

That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to find developers that would work in such an organization. It just takes more work to find someone that is driven by the idea that they can fix the culture, make such systems work more reliably, or just like the mission of the company.

Developer job ads often mention the perk of having access to fresh fruit and coffee machines in the office. Is that really a factor for developers when considering new employment?

Yes, it turns out that it’s a perk for some people. There is a non-trivial amount of companies that still don’t offer this and you need to buy or bring your own coffee.

What I see, at least in Slovenia, is that developers have much better working environments compared to other positions with a similar level of education. Job ads are traditionally written by the HR department and for them, these things are genuine perks that they probably don’t even have access to. There’s also the difference in the salary (developers usually earn a lot more compared to HR) and they’re constantly recruited by the competition. Bringing all of these differences together sometimes results in job ads that list benefits that are self-evident to developers.

What can we developers do to make job ads more realistic?

If developers compare their jobs to non-developers jobs they’ll always feel like they have a really great working environment, perks, and pay. The trick is that they need to compare their job to other developers’ jobs. This is the best way to see if you’re actually in a bad job and that you need to switch for something better.

There’s still a lot of opportunities for developers to push back on bad hiring and working practices. At the moment there’s still too much power in the hands of the companies . Developers are the only ones digitally literate and it will remain so  for the next 15-20 years so it is crucial  for developers to  take back creative control. We need  to support open-source and new R&D developments while protecting our data and empower developers to be the counterweight to other interests in the digital market.

How can we help improve the working environment for developers?

Mostly by educating them on what’s possible. Presenting them with alternative approaches to professional growth, team organization, or work practices.

I really like when companies allow developers to work on non-work projects during work time so that they can familiarise themselves with new technologies, for  example Internet of Things, drones, playing around with Raspberry Pi or Arduino,…. It could also be free time that they can use to fix whatever issue they find annoying in their existing codebase or learn something new.

I also wish more developers would talk about how they use SCRUM or Agile methodologies and actually have Scrum Masters in their team. To explain to other developers how to push back on bad implementations from management. That you shouldn’t remove retrospectives because someone arbitrarily decided that they’re not needed.

What are some specifics that are unique to the IT market in Slovenia?

In Slovenia, it’s possible to survive as an IT company just by virtue that your software has a Slovenian language interface. These kinds of companies can exist for 15+ years with about 30 clients that keep them afloat. They are very risk-averse and don’t really want to change or update any technologies or processes. It also means that the whole company is stagnating. Developers don’t learn anymore and salaries are low when compared to the market. It would be good for the market and the developers if some of these companies would go out of business. They’re holding the whole market back.

How often should a developer switch jobs?

If it’s your first job you need to absolutely switch if you’re there more than 3 or 4 years. It doesn’t matter if it’s a good team and you enjoy your work. You need to switch so that you’ll learn something new and see how different teams operate.

I see people that are technologically obsolete after their first two years at their job. They got assigned such a specific dead-end technological job that they don’t have any experience with modern IT practices. It’s much harder to help them with finding their next job as they don’t have any real modern development experience. This should not happen to a young person and they need to watch out for it.

Job hopping is the best way to achieve exponential growth of your potential. You get to see how other people think and do things. Having multiple experiences help you understand what you want and with that knowledge, it’s much easier to find a job where you’ll stay longer (5 – 10 years).

What’s the profile of a developer that you’re most looking for?

I’m looking for someone with 10 – 15 years of work experience with modern technologies. They already switched their job a few times and have a range of experience of working in different teams. They understand technology enough to know when the latest hyped technology is not a good fit for their project. This profile is in its prime at the moment.

How do you comment on general burnout feeling among developers and often stated wish to exit industry “before they are too old to code”?

I don’t understand developers that say that they can’t imagine still coding when they’re in their 60’s. I can’t imagine hearing this from a painter. That they can’t imagine painting anymore when they’re 60. I can understand that a painter doesn’t want to work on commissioned art anymore. But they still want to paint!

I’m wondering how and when they lose this appreciation for solving technological problems. Writing code is just a medium for how you solve these challenges and not the end goal.

What tends to happen is that they are put in a position where they’re unhappy. Fixing bugs, working with technology that they hate, deadlines, and an uninspiring team. After a few years of this, they mentally burn out and want to exit the industry. Developers need to notice this early enough and switch their job.

A developer’s job should be all about learning new mental models, how to solve new types of problems, and to keep growing.

How should (non-junior) developers market themselves so that they get access to better job opportunities?

You should have your basic profiles set up: LinkedIn, StackOverflow, and GitHub. That will help you get the first round of opportunities.

After that, you should look into niche communities around Reddit, Hacker News, Slack, and Discord. That’s where founders and senior technical staff hang out. If you can meaningfully participate in these communities you’ll be able to connect with thought leaders in the space. These will be the same people that can then hire you or connect you to opportunities that are not even advertised yet.

You need to think about how you would hire a skilled developer. Where would you go to meet them and how would you identify them? Then do that yourself so that other developers will notice you.

Are there any resources that you’d recommend for leveling up?

What I learned from talking with Sara

Switching jobs every few years is now expected. Not switching jobs often enough can be a potential liability.

There’s a quiet tension between the creative work of developers and managers that try to control processes around it. It’s probably worth exploring more.

There’s still a lot of opportunities to create support communities for developers and related profiles.