Despite the layoffs at big tech companies, John Sutcliffe, vice president, product, at Addigy, a SaaS-based Apple device management provider, says it’s a competitive market for software engineering jobs, and the competition is on the employers’ side. “[Addigy] is in a growth stage. We continue to grow gangbusters—and while the overall economic slowdown will have an impact—the need for engineers will continue to outpace the number of good engineers out there,” said Sutcliffe. “If you're looking for an experienced engineer, it's going to be much harder to find them because they're already working if they're good.
“Industry to industry, software engineering is software engineering. So, if I'm going to go from, say, a large financial institution working on back office systems into manufacturing back office systems, it’s not a big deal,” continued Sutcliffe. “But if you're going from building internal systems to a company like an Addigy, where we're building a product that we sell, then some mindset shifting is needed.”
Regarding technical skills, Sutcliffe said they hire many experienced engineers unfamiliar with Addigy’s technology stack. But the expectation is that being a lifelong learner is one of a new employee’s key attributes so they can quickly pick up that new skill.
He says that engineers shouldn’t be afraid to let prospective employers see what side projects they might be working on. So instead of just listing skills and tools on your resume, show a prospective employer your work. Just be sure to frame the expectation by saying, "I’m new to this tool, and here is what I’m trying to do, and I’m learning as I play with it."
“Employers will look past the non-perfect code and focus on your intentions and how you learn.”
How to Stand Out in Software Engineering
What gives someone the edge over another applicant? For Sutcliffe, it is the ability to take the role beyond producing lines of code and understand the business and customer impact of the product they are working on.
“Learning to dig deeper builds the fundamentals of being a great engineer. Do you have a deep understanding of technology and how it works? Do you understand the processes around it? Do you have a deeper understanding of what you are building so you can be better at building it? Don't just build what you’re told. Ask questions, try to understand, try to learn.”
As to what a software engineering role looks like day-to-day, Sutcliffe said, it depends on whom you are supporting. For example, suppose you’re working in the back office as an internal systems engineer. In that case, your day-to-day will look very different than if you are working for a company like Addigy on customer products.
“We’re shipping five or six times a day. That means a typical day for engineers begins with writing code; then, everyone gets together to talk about the project's status. We have a tight conversation with the product manager about how should we do this or that, or we're testing, and when it’s done, we ship it. So, yes, we have processes, but we're not going to let them get in the way of getting the job done. Some people aren't cut out for that environment.”
Those are the differences Sutcliffe recommends engineers consider when looking for a job. That and the company culture.
Sutcliffe said that when you're looking for a job, focus not only on the company but the kind of people you want to work with. Consider past experiences and the people you’ve enjoyed working with, what stood out, and what you enjoyed. On the flip side, think about what kind of behaviors felt emotionally taxing.
“Figure out how you would identify those things in an interview. Then turn that interview around and interview them,” said Sutcliffe. Get involved in communities on the internet, talk to people, and ask questions like, 'I've only ever worked at companies with 10,000 people. What's it like working at a company with 65 employees?' ”
As for employers, Sutcliffe recommends that businesses continuously invest in filling their pipeline to ensure there are candidates with the experience they need well into the future.
Consider the Value of Mentoring in Software Engineering
A long-term solution is to build a relationship with the local university through internships and mentoring. “We ensure our interns are doing real work and getting the needed experience. It also lets us know if they will fit the company well.”
Sure, only some interns get an offer, but when Addigy needs a senior engineer in five or ten years, there may be a former student looking for a new opportunity.
That’s the long-term fix, but what about openings right now?
“We all have this perfect person we'd love to hire. Don't just recruit when you have a need. Build those relationships now so that in 12 months, you have engineers who already know about you and want to talk to you.”