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Journal of nicholas (3034)

Thursday April 26, 2007
10:39 AM

The big sucking noise in London

[ #33110 ]

There are at least 8 companies that I'm aware of recruiting for "Perl developers" in London. I think that are all expanding, rather than replacing existing staff, most want "senior" people, and in a couple of cases I believe that they're wanting 12 or so people over the course of the next months. So even if some of these posts are filled, it just starts the merry-go-round by transferring the vacancies elsewhere.

Herein lies a problem.

There aren't that many "senior perl" people looking for new jobs in London. In particular, a lot of these companies seem to want someone with 3-5 years experience in template system of choice, who likes making websites, knows the current web standards, and is keen on the salary ranges offered.

Trouble is that everyone else is looking for exactly the same sort of people. And that they seem surprised that they can't find anyone. Or that people start asking

  1. What is going to prevent this job becoming repetitive in 3 months?
  2. Two years down the line, where is my next career move within your company?

It's probably a side effect of Perl. It's not taught at universities, so there isn't a ready made supply of cookie cutter graduates to slip into dull jobs. It's not used by major IT contractors (think Capita or EDS), so they aren't busy generating people moving on with 3-5 years' experience of Perl. Perl is something people tend to find by themselves, so is likely to bias itself to the more self-motivated (and potentially therefore, on average, above average) IT person. Also Perl is seen by some as a fun language - this has lead to a class of people who preferred to stick with Perl and let the money go down during the quiet times, rather than change to other skills and follow the money elsewhere. But when "Perl" jobs dried up after the last bubble burst, what do people do? If you want the money, you shift your CV to emphasise the well paid skills, i.e. not Perl.

The upshot is that there aren't enough "Perl" people for these new jobs. There aren't the less experienced developers who would see these "senior" jobs as a move up, because there weren't the more junior jobs for them over the past few years. There are people with more experience than the range the employer suggests, but strangely they've been working elsewhere, so earn more than the employer wants to offer for just the skills they seek. And there are people who used to do Perl, who aren't now, who are likely to be earning more than the employer wants to offer.

So what can the employers do to recruit and retain staff? Logically:

  1. Raise the offered salaries by £5-10K. After all, it's a free market, and demand outstrips supply.
  2. Accept that instead of taking someone with n years experience of Perl, they will also have to take people who are good programmers, smart, don't have n of Perl, but do have n years of transferable experience.

After all, we pride Perl on its shallow learning curve, so its similarity to many other languages (sed, awk, C, C++, Java, PHP) means that smart people don't take long to become effective in it. Sure, you can't fill your entire team this way, but you don't need everyone to be the same cookie-cutter Perl expert.

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  • The place I'm working for is looking for up to 4 Perl programmers at the moment (well, I think they'll start the proper search in a few days..). And there are some other companies looking for people, too.

    Ony of my co-workers (how technically is in another team (front end, while I'm doing back end stuff)) in fact didn't know Perl when he started, but had several years of experience with PHP (gasp!). Now that we've converted him to the good side, he seems to be quite happy with Perl.

    So the point is, if yo

  • I'm trying to convince my company to start hiring more people outside the EU. The available pool of top-notch Perl people is very small and you have to have something "special" to recruit them in London. I think that if a company can be patient, they can easily fill their staff with work permit holders who won't demand top of the line salaries. The problem, of course, is that once they're over here, they'll see what they could be making and then they'll start to chafe.

  • You also have the problem that not everyone sees moving to London as a step in the right direction. There have been plenty of jobs I've been offered in the last 20+ years, that would have required me to move to or nearer the capital and I've turned them all down. I know I'm not the only one, so while companies might complain there are no Perl people, there are other factors that might not be so appealing, that are influencing some to not apply. Now if the jobs were in Birmingham .... ;)
    • ... then I'd not be interested, even if it seemed perfect and was well paid, because when it's time to move on (because they hate me, or I hate them, or they go tits up) there'll be nothing else in the area, and moving sucks :-) The impression I get is that IT in the UK outside London is predominantly either academic or, umm, lower skilled. In both of those cases, the employees don't expect to be as mobile as the good people in London do.
      • IT outside London is predominantly either academic or lower skilled.

        Where are you getting that impression from? There are plenty of VERY skilled opportunities all over the UK, and I see an acedemic job once in a blue moon.

        In both of those cases, the employees don't expect to be as mobile as the good people in London do.

        You're looking at it from the wrong angle. Both employee and employer in London don't need to think long term because they find another job / can (usually) fill the position. Contracts are often short as they work on short term projects. Outside of the capital most employees and employers are thinking more about career progression, or developing their

  • Although I haven't seen these particular ads in London, it sounds very familiar to openings I've seen elsewhere. And it's not limited to Perl -- it's common throughout the industry, regardless of language choice.

    The root cause is that most businesses aren't in the IT business. IT is a cost center, a necessary evil of getting the real job done in the modern age. Because it is a cost center, it's an area where costs should be contained and ideally minimized. Thus the downward pressure on salaries -- on th
  • Over here in SG it's just as difficult (if not more) to get someone who even knows what Perl is. This perception is not a good picture of Perl, because in this part of the world it's just as difficult to get a Delphi developer. To make themselves marketable, people like to choose tools which allows them to move around (or get hired) easily. We see less of the code enthusiasts who spend time evaluating the various styles of development tool, and decide for themselves which they will WANT to code in. But tha
  • I have written an essay titled "The End of Info-Tech Slavery" [shlomifish.org] about exactly that. I should note I started writing it last month, sometimes after I got fired from my last job, so it's been brewing for a while.

  • You know there are a number of things about this "problem" with finding Perl programmers in London that surprise me.

    First of all, I'm still amazed that employers don't see that London is as close to most senior and seasoned Perl developers as their cable modem. What's with the still-lingering demand that people be geographically located? It's insane. Wake up; the world's a different place.

    Second of all, in line with numero uno above, there are a lot of senior, seasoned Perl developers in the US.