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Posts from 10 February 2015

  • A shortage of talented engineers

    A summary of the majority of the postings I see:

    • We want a full-stack engineer
    • With skills in our exact tech stack (modulo one or two things)
    • With five years experience

    I'm not so stupid that I believe everything they say—with work that's important enough and with enough money coming in, they would find a way to make a non-ideal candidate work—but there is no way that there are enough engineers out there able to fit these criteria.

    In any industry (or endeavor) there's going to be some "limiting factor". In chemistry, for instance, you generally try to use excess of your cheap reagent to try to get the highest yield possible of your most expensive reagent. However, one has to wonder, where are all the jobs posting asking for engineers with 10+ years experience? (Note: I'm not looking at the "senior" positions, but even if those are looking for people with 10+ years experience, where are the 15 year positions?)

    This is the factor that makes me think, especially, that "5 years" is just a shorthand for "we don't want dummies". I doubt there's any industry where dead weight is as dangerous as it is in software; if you can get your foot in the door elsewhere, you can have a career as a mediocre … whatever… but there's not a lot of room for mediocre in software. If you can't understand the standard processes of abstraction, problem solving (etc), there's not much room for you in software.

    However, the career progression for engineers is a bit shady. Salaries go from (slave wages of) about $45k to a healthy median of $80-90, up to about $130… and then what? I know one guy who was a project manager and made a very large salary, but I don't hear a lot about a lot of others.

    That's an interesting thought, though: is the next level of abstraction above software engineer project manager? The thing that is more abstract than writing large projects is coordinating teams that write large projects, perhaps?

    Back to the point, though: no one wants to bear the responsibility for training, and no one wants to bear the risk of getting that one guy who just will never add value to the organization. So I assume, at this point, that the entry point for engineers is a convoluted process of signalling and trials: internships, pedigree, networking, taking chances on people who seem otherwise intelligent.

    So far there's nothing novel here. I'm curious, though:

    • Is there an overall model that would be able to take advantage of the (presumable) under-tapped pool of future engineers with aptitude?
    • Or, is there a model that would pull more people into the industry and train them to produce more?
    • Is there a language (paradigm?) that would make programming accessible to more people, or are we already close to peak utilization of programming-capable people in the population at large?
    • If so, is there a language (paradigm?) that would take the finite quantity of engineers and make them more powerful?

    What's the skill cap on an engineer?

  • Searching in earnest

    After a weekend-long breather, I'm searching for work in earnest as of (let's be honest) 11 this morning. Twelve hours later, I left the office, feeling not significantly better than on arrival.

    I did a little work on my final project, but nothing of significance. I honestly thought of implementing authentication using Devise—it seems a lot more robust than my home-rolled solution—but I quickly recognized it for what it was, a way to put off taking the next step. Maybe I'll prioritize that down the line, once my app is more feature-rich and I have applied to a few more places. There are a lot of things I can see I could do better; using jQuery's modals in place of Backbone.Modal, for instance… but really, I just want this app to feel like a complete app. In time.

    The job search is… well, it feels like the last couple times I've gone looking for work. There are a lot of companies whose missions are practically opaque, and a couple dead-ends—companies that were bought out or maybe even went out of business since they were added to whatever list I'm looking at. But overall, the feeling I get is that there are a lot of companies that are funded to the level they are simply because it's easier for someone to throw a couple mil at a lot of long shots than to get in early on a few sure things. I do wonder about the status of venture capital: are there really that few interesting problems left, that all there is to fund are yet another X?

    And yes, if any future hiring manager bothers to read this blog, I understand that I'm pissing on the hand that might want to feed me, and I'm sure there are all sorts of interesting problems that I could find at any employer, but it at seems kind of … pointless? Everyone's doing the same things, at least on the surface, and their marketing copy doesn't do a good job of differentiating them from the competition. Hell, at least half the sites I've seen are using templates or libraries I've seen elsewhere, and it's just like… do you even believe in yourselves? I'm not sure anyone cares how many redbulls you drink per week at your office, and the fact that all your testimonials come from the same thirty day window, eight months ago, says a lot about how dynamic your business is.

    Sure, writing copy about yourself is hard—this is something that I'll have to face, on a personal level, in a couple hours or days—but isn't there something meaningful you can say? Or are you all, like the company that specializes in popups on outbound links, just plain evil? I wonder what their conversion rate is?

    The strangest things is that I actually believe in marketing, I just don't see a lot of firms that are targeting what seems to be meaningful, reasonable, or sustainable avenues in that area. It's much easier now, with cloud hosting and quick launch templates and tools, to generate a respectable (looking) online presence, and as such it's not as clear now when a company is two bros and a scam compared to the late 90s. And I'm sure that a lot of it has to do with a (relative) lack of creativity and a (somewhat) saturated marketplace; the next real game-changer will probably come out of left field, where no one else thought to look.

    Great, now I'm thinking of how to make a better marketing platform. I have some weird ideas, but nothing of any substance; they're all fleeting, like ghosts. Does it merit thinking about? At this point, with basically thirty days of expenses left, probably not. But the money is not going out of advertising any time soon, and I don't have the knee-jerk revulsion for it, conceptually, that others seem to.

    I don't mind finance or marketing or mobile app development, per se, but there's just so much crap.

    Back to sifting tomorrow.

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