June 26, 2022

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Software developer hiring outlook for 2021

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As one of the few employment areas to enjoy near constant growth over the past decade, software development faced new challenges during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, both for those working in the field and for those hiring them.

But during the pandemic, developers became even more important, as we all came to rely even more on software in our daily lives. As a result, many developers have been working more hours than normal and have had to quickly adapt to working from home and contending with their home broadband connection.

But software developers have not seen the broad elimination of jobs or cuts to pay that some other industries have seen. In fact, the number of software developer jobs has increased. The 2020 Worldwide Developer Population and Demographic Study by Evans Data showed the worldwide developer population continued to grow by 500,000 in 2020, reaching a total of 24.5 million. COVID-19 did slow that growth, to 2.4 per cent versus the predicted four per cent, the developer-focused research firm said.

Developer jobs are bouncing back

After a drop in the early days of the lockdowns, technology hiring did bounce back toward the end of 2020. In the US alone, tech occupations grew by 391,000 positions in December, according to industry association CompTIA, with software developer and application developer roles accounting for the largest share of new postings, at 62,900.

“As companies all over the world adapt to changes associated with different work environments, developer population growth is expected to increase in the coming years, with population growth recovering its pre-pandemic dynamism by as early as 2021,” the Evans Data researchers predicted.

One trend to keep an eye on in 2021 is the rise of remote hiring from companies willing to open up their candidate pool to those outside of established tech hubs. “We have seen a clear focus on remote employee hiring as a result of the pandemic and also those opening up to full time remote hiring,” said Josh Brenner, CEO of Vettery, which acquired the tech recruitment specialist Hired in November 2020.

2021 software developer salary expectations

[All dollar amounts in USD, except where stated otherwise]

Up to this point, software engineering salaries have seen near constant growth since 2016, according to data from Hired. Now, most technology industry estimates point to salaries staying flat, with software development perhaps bucking broader industry trends to grow a small amount as the year goes on.

Data from recruiter Robert Half’s 2021 Salary Guide forecasts broad salary stagnation across US tech roles this year, with general developer roles forecast to pay $118,250 to $138,000 on average in 2021, which is down slightly on the 2020 range of $120,750 to $143,000. Engineering manager pay is set to be $139,000 to $162,000 in 2021, which is slightly up from the 2020 range of $135,750 to $162,250.

Conversely, in the UK, salaries of general software developer roles are due to rise slightly, from £39,500 to £55,000 on average in 2020, to £42,000 to £57,000 this year. Salaries for developer lead and manager roles are due to stay the same moving into 2021, however.

In-demand developer roles for 2021

That continued demand for software engineers is being driven by strong industry tailwinds, especially as organisations accelerate their cloud strategies as a result of the pandemic.

In the US, demand for software developer roles such as web developers, full-stack developers, and cloud engineers grew nearly 25 per cent from April-October 2019 to April-October 2020, according to analysis by LinkedIn. Demand for machine learning engineers and artificial intelligence specialists remained strong in 2020 also, rising 32 per cent over the same period. Similarly, in the UK these engineering roles saw about 45 per cent spikes in year-on-year demand over the same period.

“Technology roles have proven to be pandemic-proof as companies accelerate digital transformation and evolve their business models to respond to COVID-19. We’ve seen growing demand for software engineering specialists, machine learning engineers, and back-end developers across a range of industries,” said Janine Chamberlin, a senior director at LinkedIn.