What Recruiters Recommend: Most Marketable Skills for Coders
In the tech world, if your skills are five years out of date, you’re out of a job. The Austin Post talked to three local recruiters about what tech skills coders should be working on today if they still want to be relevant to employers after this year’s crop of freshmen graduate.
“I would say you need to take a good hard look at your skills every three years. If you wait until five years, you’re out of date,” said Renee Diaz, a recruiter with Vitamin T, a division of Aquent. She said employers looking for talented coders want to know which thought leaders you follow, how you’re staying on top of future trends, and what you consider your most interesting new skillset. Those aren’t answers you can fake if you’ve let yourself coast for the last five years.
Traci Hughes, Principal Founder at Third Coast Search, agreed. “There will always be new software, a new tool people are using, or new coding languages. Reading relevant blogs, going to conferences whenever you can, and proving you stay up-to-date is vital to employers.”
Diaz said today’s most in-demand skills haven’t changed since last year. Local employers are currently looking for people with HTML and CSS experience, thorough knowledge of PHP, plus some Java and Drupal.
HTML 5 is also an important technology, Diaz said. She recommended coders fresh out of school make a habit of following the trendsetters and thought leaders in the industry. Without teachers to guide them, it would be easy to settle into a comfortable niche instead of constantly challenging themselves.
She also encouraged people to get into the mobile sphere. “I get so many requests for tablet, mobile phone development, and Facebook apps. Anything that’s mobile. It’s an exploding market that will continue to grow for the next few years,” said Diaz.
In addition, she said the days of platform loyalty were over. “People need to know their way around both a Mac and a PC. In mobile, you need to know how to make apps for Android as well as iPhones.”
Johnny Chang, a recruiter with Lifesize Communications, had a more philosophical approach. “‘Updating your skills’ is kind of a red flag for me,” he said. “A developer should be constantly evolving. If you find yourself looking in a mirror one day and realizing your skillset is out of date, that tells me you’re not naturally passionate about technology.”
Many of Austin’s coders have normal, mainstream lives, but Chang says his clients are still looking for the old-school coders who live and breathe technology. “They want people who are coding outside of work or committing to open source projects. Saying you’re ‘updating your skills’ means you’re working towards the goal of making money. That may be your goal, but employers don’t want to hear that. They want to hear you’re coding all the time because you love what you do.”
He recommended a 40-year-old still working in COBOL might want to reevaluate why they’re a coder. If they lack the passion for it, employers will be able to tell, and that could cost them in an interview. If they’re still passionate but the combination of family responsibilities and work haven’t left them much time for hobby coding, he said they need to find a way to shift those responsibilities so they can do the kind of work that reminds them why they got into the field in the first place.
“If you’re going to be a successful coder, you have to do it for fun,” said Chang. “Work on projects outside work. Develop iPhone or Android applications or cool tools and widgets. That lets you demonstrate to employers that you enjoy what you do. When you hear about people working on a project outside of work or school, you know they’re passionate, and employers want those passionate people.”
As for practical skills, for the immediate future he recommended Java, .NET, and PHP as core developer skills. He said ambitious people or those who love learning new languages just to see what they can do with them should look into Ruby on Rails or Python.