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My Recent Job Hunting Experience

Posted by kschaefe on August 11, 2009 at 12:49 PM PDT

Now that I have officially given notice at work, I wanted to take a minute to share some details of my recent job hunting experience and raise some questions that have been bothering me. A small bit of background, I have been working in software development for 13 years, during that time, I've done Web-based, desktop, and database stuff. My recent work has been focused on thick desktop clients connecting to remote databases. When I decided that I wanted to start looking for a new job, I read hundreds of posts to determine what I felt the trends were. As with any good marketing campaign, I needed to taylor my strengths to what was in the marketplace. One of the most common types of posts were JEE-related (which is good for the state of the Java platform, I guess). They were, however, carbon copies of one another and they all came down to three things: Spring, Struts, and Hibernate. Only having, Hibernate on my resume, I received hardly any interest from these job posters. Why is that? Since when did we become tool-focused? That might matter more for newer hires, but when you're recruiting senior people shouldn't you expect them to pick up a new toolkit or API? Isn't Spring just another API? Isn't Struts? Is it the recruiters or the job posters that have forgotten that at one point, none of us new Java, let alone JEE? Since a few of my friends and colleagues have also said similar things to me recently, I can't imagine I'm alone in thinking this. So, how do we reverse this trend? Can we even reverse it? I always thought that we, software engineers, were problem solvers. Our goals is to build a system to solve a problem. Since when has every problem had the same answer (and how long has that answer been Sprint, Struts, and Hibernate)?

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You might be taking the wrong approach given your experience. I found that answering "what do you want to do?" got me out of the commodity skills rut you're describing. (I am in Boston, which opens up a lot of possibilities. A lot happens here.)

Hard to say really, being in the middle of the usual summer/vacation time slump in the middle of the worse recession in some 20 years isn't much fun. I'm unsure somebody with 13+ years of Java would be allowed to pose as a junior web dev. One of the things thats changed and I'm finding really hard to deal with is the lack of feedback you *dont* get from the agents. I dont have a clue why I'm not making the first cut on applications, its become the norm to expect this kind of silent treatment , which does nothing for your self-esteem.

One of the problems I have with polygotting is the recruitment industry likes to shoebox you as either a J2EE/EJB/JSP/StrutsJava developer of lower paid HTML/CSS/JS web developer. Agents work off final salary commission so they're only really interested in putting you forward for something where you'll make them the most money. ie. where the body of your experience lies. Even so companies would prefer a young junior to an older junior who they'll expect will come with lots of baggage and be harder to manage.. Certainly Ive felt Swing hanging from my neck like a huge albatross, even Sun has no love for it anymore and I've struggled with resume rewrites to make it appear less dominant. I hate I that agents who dont really understand how we work get to make the initial candidate choices on keyword matches. How many Swing+EJB+Struts+JSF+JBOSS+Webspeher developers can theyre be, typically the Swing guy will concentrate on the front end, while he might call beans (and I have - which is rare enough he wont necessarily have JBOSS or SOA say. Its frustrating, if you can I'd avoid agencies, especially if you're not in that 3 year experience sweet spot. What seems to happen if they get 60+ applications for a job and have to quickly whittle them down to 6 for interviews - so they give each resume the minimal consideration, too old, too young, not a uk resident, not enough keywords, no first class degree from oxford or cambridge etc..

I think ontop of the recession issue we're in a very confusing time skills wise - we've never had to many choices of languages frameworks and platforms to choose from.. Its very hard to know where to pitch your tent to catch the next big wave, traditional desktop, RIA, browser as a platform/OS?

@Richard: Sorry to hear that you're still looking. I recall the stats you posted to the SwingLabs forums about development jobs. I take it that things in England aren't getting any better. Do you think it's going to be necessary to "juniorize" yourself to get into the Web app/.Net/whatever area?

@Felipe: Thanks for the insight. Having been out of developing Web applications for over three years (the last one was in PHP anyway), I hadn't realized the typical make up of the team. That makes a lot of sense, I'm guessing most of the posts are for the junior positions.

Maybe the real question is how can senior developers make a shift from one technology to another in a market that seems disinterested in anything besides serving its immediate needs.

IMO: it is simpler than head hunter issues: if you check a life-cycle of a common Java EE project you will find: - 1 senior architect - a few senior developers coding the backend and persistence layers - a lot (I mean a lot) of junior developers coding the frontend other: the frontend poduced with Java technologies consumes the majority of all project schedule (Java is really bad regarding the frontend technologies).. to produce a robust backend you need a very experienced professional that do the job with high in few weeks. This senior architect receives a nice salary and he is usually very stable in his job. From the other side, junior developer skilled only in web technologies receives poor salaries, are volatile and produce low quality code (in general).. novices learning on how to work.. and as soon they learn they will look for a better salary somewhere else... so, that's the market dynamic IMO: for each senior architect the market trade tons of junior developers.. and that is reflected in your job site.. the situation is even worse in poor or under development countries, where the companies are also starving for money than they pay the minimum as possible to the developers, making this mad wheel to turn even faster ... think about it.... if all roles in a project receives a similar salary (not equal but not that unequal), perhaps people could choose better what to do and where.. kind of socialism applied to software projects.. but unfortunately, the reality is pure cannibalism, ops .. I mean capitalism... :)

Glad you found another job without too much trouble it seems. As you know I've got a similar amount of experience in the same field (heavily front-end Java) but I'm well into my third month of looking for work.

Noticed much the same thing with the job sites and agents - I have been shocked at their identikit nature and that they read as did five or more years ago. J2EE, EJB2, Struts1 and JSF1 seem to be the most common, though Ive seen ads with 20 or requirements/ keywords. Some of the things Ive taken from these are olser tech is likely to be an odd support role opened up due to employee churn not new development. In general theres been a marked decrease in the number of Java roles, web skills, php and showing more strongly - esp in multiple ads, you know 3x.Net developers needed which suggests to the the newer projects seem to be more open to alternative technologies and frameworks. Also seen Java move from the primary language to a secondary 'also of interest' skill - which suggests more of a legacy role if not active migration from.

I've found very little demand from desktop apps, especially Java ones - thats not hugely surprising, but I was expecting to see senior/enterprise javascript roles filling the gap - but that role seems missing.. closest is a general 30k web dev HTML/CSS & Javascript. Also lacking are the Ruby jobs and newer frameworks EJB3/Spring/Seam/Tapestry/Grails etc.. Tried going to evening tech events to increase my networking - but theyre arent any Java ones around here, and I appear to be the only Java person at the events I go to. Its left me feeling I've had my head down too long, too focused on a single technology and surrounded myself with people and forums in the same field (microcosm) when I should have read the pragmatic programmer a long time ago.

I think its worth remembering is the ads on the job boards are all the things the companies couldnt fill via their own means networking etc.. and the agencies couldnt fill via their private retained/headhunting lists.. in other words all the rubbish and esoteric stuff. Ontop of this it is a buyers market and if you've only got four out of the six keywords listed they'll be plenty of candidates with all six and probably 3 years exp rather than 13, three seemingly being the most common requirement.. companies are cutting corners and age often isnt respected in our industry.

Well, I didn't have a problem finding a new job, but that had more to do with the fact that I have a network of friends and contacts. I found that "cold-calling" to post I had no idea about was essentially useless. There are too many resumes responding to posts and it's all keyword searching for the first round. I guess my point is, with a senior developer, I'm looking for a critical thinker. Toolkits and APIs (which senior developers should be able to grasp quickly) are much less important than critical thinking.

Hi karl, I read your post with alot of enthusiasm and one thing is that with an experience of 13 years in Java you should be pretty much good at Java and its Frameworks, APIs or technologies..So Struts or Hibernate or Spring or Swing. I guess you can just dig. Its all java and so just add up the technologies to your resume. I only have two years with Java but I have got a glimp of each of those and everything is pretty much closely related. Also, you have to realise that there is alot of rapid increase of development IDEs and version. J2EE or JEE now just go for it and learn it quick. I mean even mIcrosft is soon releasing Visio Studio 2010 and yet visio studio 2008 is still pretty good. So is Netbeans from 6.0 to 6.5 to now 6.7. All the best.