In a tech labor market like the 'wild west,' here's what CTOs are hiring for right now - Technical.ly Philly

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In a tech labor market like the ‘wild west,’ here’s what CTOs are hiring for right now

JavaScript, product management and remote communication are some skills Philly-area tech leads are looking for amid The Great Resignation. In turn, they know they need to be competitive in their own offers, with flexibility at the forefront.

Wawa's mobile app.

(Courtesy photo)

Do the needs of tech workers and CTOs match up?

We are living in a time of The Great Resignation, a labor market driven by the peaks and valleys of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and where more than a third of workers are thinking of leaving their jobs and 4 million workers quit in April alone. While the labor market looks quite different for service workers than it does for tech jobs, they share in the fact that high turnover is likely coming, or already here.

This is nothing new for the tech industry, but the job openings for June of this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, showed that tech jobs were in the highest demand alongside education and health services, trade jobs and food service. And the latest CompTIA report shows a two-year low for tech unemployment, and a big increase in related job postings across the economy.

Technical.ly heard this spring from technologists about what they’d need to stay in their jobs: interesting projects, a strong company brand, and a commitment and investment in people.

“If you don’t have interesting tech or interesting problems to solve to keep your engineers engaged, it doesn’t really matter how much free food or free coffee you get. If someone’s bored, they’re bored,” Emmanuel Apau, CTO at Mechanicode.io in the DMV area said then.

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This month, we asked the leaders of tech teams around the region what they’re looking for as they inevitably do some hiring this year, and how they’re competing for top talent.

The search for candidates with experience has gotten a bit more difficult, said Ernesto Tagwerker, founder and CTO of OmbuLabs. His dozen-employee company was one of a few agencies that were fully remote before the pandemic began, but now the industry has embraced it — “even companies that never wanted to go remote in the first place.”

Ernesto Tagwerker. (Photo via Github)

It’s made the company focus on better communicating its other benefits, like paid open source time during work hours, parental leave and three weeks of paid vacation.

“Remote culture is now more commonplace and therefore we have much more competition in terms of attracting senior engineers,” Tagwerker said.

Although the hunt is a little harder, what his team is looking for in engineers hasn’t changed, the CTO said: They need a “thirst” for knowledge, communication skills and initiative. The candidates OmbuLabs looking for right now should also have experience with Ruby on Rails, JavaScript (a consistent high ranker on programming language lists), React.js, and Phoenix or Elixir.

“Our best employees show initiative, communicate well in GitHub, Slack and Zoom, and have a can-do attitude,” he added.

Young Hong, head of the digital, engineering and mobile team at Media-headquartered Wawa, agreed that the search for top talent was a hard one. The skills the national-facing corporation is searching for these days hasn’t changed, per se — experienced Java engineers, folks with cloud experience — but the competition for those pros is fierce.

Young Hong. (Photo via LinkedIn)

Wawa is an amazing brand, Hong said; his kids were overjoyed when he told them he’d started with the convenience store chain last year. But it’s not exactly known as a destination of choice for technologists. It’s something his team is working on, he said.

“We’re working on some amazing digital transformations in the digital space as we speak,” said Hong, who previously led the technical team at Chalfont-based AWeber. “And we’re working with leading-edge technologies. I came from a software dev shop, where it was pure engineering, I was the CTO there, and some of the concepts we’re doing at Wawa are more advanced than what we did there.”

The full-time team of technologists is between 150 and 200, with “quite a few” contractors as well, Hong said. The company also has an Innovation Center in Media, and its tech team touches everything from its mobile app, ordering platform, online presence and digital offerings. They’re currently working on a digital integration platform with a “secret sauce” of security baked in, Hong said.

Wawa’s Innovation Center in Media, PA. (Courtesy photo)

With the talent war going on, Hong said they’ve had to be more cognizant of what people are looking for, namely flexibility and a culture that supports workers during the uncertainty of a pandemic. The company across the board is highly collaborative and people centric, he said.

“Engineers will enjoy the supportive environment here. We don’t shoot from the hip, we’re not a startup. We do things in a mature fashion, with a mature processes for security and standard compliance,” Hong said. “We have multiple measures in place to make sure security is baked into software development. You have the support and tech that technologists would love, and mature software development practices.”

Shahrukh Tarapore. (Photo via LinkedIn)

That maturity is something Shahrukh Tarapore, CTO at Archetype Solutions Group, said is a part of his company’s practice when it comes to product management — the skillset he’s most seeking. He called the labor market the “wild west” right now in searching for these folks.

While there’s a different definition of product management from company to company, Tarapore seeks out people who have a deep technical experience that they can pair with good user experience application in taking a product to market.

“As we’ve matured with society, there’s a demand that new products come into the marketplace with a certain level of maturity,” he said. “The days of hacking together something in your basement, that is on its decline. People are demanding a delightful experience from day one.”

According to The Great Resignation, so are the technologists developing those experiences.

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Are you looking for technical work right now, or hiring tech pros? What are you looking for? Tell us at philly@technical.ly.

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