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If you work in the tech industry, you've probably heard somebody lament just how difficult it is to find "good" engineers these days.

Thanks to the booming internet economy and the fat wallets of companies like Google and Facebook, it's a good time to be a software engineer. There are more jobs than viable candidates, salaries and benefits are high as a result and the best engineers have no shortage of opportunities to work on interesting things.

The story is different for SMEs, however. Recruiting top engineers can be painful, if not seemingly impossible. There aren't enough of them, and fierce competition often puts smaller and less prominent companies, including young startups, at a disadvantage.

99 problems but an engineer might not be one

Why is demand for engineers and developers, job titles that are frequently used interchangeably, so high? The answer is obvious: from finance to advertising and everything in between, software basically runs the world and is, for a growing number of companies, the foundation on which a successful business is built.

Thanks to increasingly powerful, and increasingly cheap, computing resources, as well as an abundance of open source technologies, a small team of engineers can develop sophisticated applications in a relatively short period of time. Cloud providers like Amazon and Rackspace have commoditized infrastructure and made it possible for engineers to design and implement complex systems and architectures that previously would have required an army of sysadmins to build and manage.

All this has empowered software engineers, increased their capabilities and, not surprisingly, made them far more important to the businesses that employ them. So it's no surprise that companies are easily convinced that finding and recruiting the best engineers is a top priority.

But do companies really need engineers who can write code in multiple languages like Jimi Hendrix could play the guitar, manage an Amazon AWS architecture as adeptly as Mick Jagger can move on stage and pick up cutting-edge technologies as fast as Eminem can rap to a beat? The answer in most cases: probably not.


While software's role in the world has grown in importance, a trend will almost certainly continue, the reality is that most companies need CRUD applications -- software that creates, reads, updates and deletes data from a data store, typically a relational database. The vast majority of interactive websites and web applications fall into this category.

To be sure, hese types of applications are relied upon to perform important functions, but unless you're running a social network that has tens of millions of concurrent users, handling billions of transactions a day or analyzing of massive petabye-size sets of data, chances are you don't need the kind of rockstar engineers so many companies have been convinced they need to find to build a CRUD application that functions and functions well enough to be market-viable.

Instead, you need a competent web developer, or team of competent web developers. Individuals who can build applications that work, probably not at Facebook or Twitter-scale, but at the scale of the business you actually have today and will realistically have tomorrow. Individuals who may not be capable of solving Google-inspired interview puzzles, writing elegant code in five different languages, mastering MongoDB and Hadoop faster than you can figure out what they are, or filling up a GitHub account with brilliant late-night creations, but who have a decent enough development skill set and toolkit to solve the real problems that your business needs to address.

Some, particularly those in the startup world, will scoff at this. It's all about talent, they say, and you want as much of it as you can acquire. If your engineering team is a Volkswagen and not a Ferrari, you simply won't be able to stay ahead of the curve and compete.

But for the vast majority of businesses, that's just not true, and the inane focus on looking for the rockstar engineers that your company doesn't need, won't challenge and can't afford long-term has proven very detrimental to many businesses.

Need proof?

Look no further than the next frustrated hiring manager you run into who tells you she's having problems filling key development positions because it's "impossible" to find good engineers these days.

Patricio Robles

Published 6 February, 2013 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2419 more posts from this author

Comments (3)


Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk


be careful you are not misunderstanding the importance of developers here.

There is a principle that one good coder produces the output of 10 mediocore ones.

Same as saying that one good author produces better books than a committee of 10 mediocore ones!

But you are right in a sense with your CRUD picture.

The fast pace in software development especially in the world of open source languages and tools mean that one good guy today can produce as much business output as 3 good guys 10 years ago.

And so merely using some of the existing and already powerful web CMS and frameworks; to do simple tasks: is not hard.

But (big but): make sure you do know where your needs are complex, so you do hire good guys for that - and this is normally the challenge for the non-tech business teams, they can't easily tell, from the outside, what will be straightforward and what will be darned tricky.

10 guys with the 'decent enough development skill set' you mention: will make a sow's ear compared to the silk purse made by one good guy :>)

over 3 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy


Thanks for your comment. Just to be clear: I'm not suggesting that companies seek out mediocre developers. I am suggesting that many companies misjudge what the term "good developer" really means to them.

over 3 years ago

Richard Bundock

Richard Bundock, Managing Director at Cohaesus


'Rockstar' is just an aspirational buzzword. I think you are describing a problem that doesn't exist.

Hire a good technical director and let them deal with the hiring. I've seen our clients struggle to hire because HR don't know what they are looking for. Hiring on keywords doesn't work. The majority of recruiters are hopeless at knowing a good dev from a bad one. Good devs/engineers hire good devs/engineers.

And just like cooking, anyone can write CRUD software. It's not hard. There are a bunch of frameworks that make things easy. My 7 year old son can put jQuery functions together. So train some graduates, cheaper than hiring and helps the economy.

But you are missing the point. Building a CRUD app is easy. What is hard and needs experience plus smarts is: architecting it correctly, maintaining it with updates, extending it in a way that doesn't break the original architecture, making sure you haven't exposed the data to hackers, understanding how to scale it as the business grows, making sure the complexity of the code base is kept down. I could go on and on.

Hopefully your definition of ’competent developer’ covers the above and more.


over 3 years ago

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