Engineer 2020: Solving the tech talent shortage

North American engineers weigh in on the state of the tech industry, remote work, and the appeal of Silicon Valley.

Introduction

The tech talent shortage has far-reaching effects: rocketing recruiting costs and putting strain on employees both remote and at HQ. For companies, this means overworked teams and focus on filling the gap instead of making the best possible product, which can have a dramatic impact on your ability to remain competitive in a crowded technology marketplace.

In our Engineer 2020 Report, we surveyed the top engineering talent bordering the U.S. to get an outside-in perspective on the shortage, as well as their priorities, motivations, and overall market outlook. It offers a unique glimpse into why relocating engineers may not be the solve companies are looking for – to successfully scale their technical teams and overcome the talent gap, companies need to think globally and mature their approach to remote work as we enter a new decade of innovation.

Key results

These findings compile insights from software engineers across North America, with a focus on developers from Terminal’s operating hubs in Canada and Mexico.
1
It's official: The U.S. is losing its appeal for global tech talent. Nearly 40% of engineers say they wouldn't consider relocation – preferring their own communities and seeking to avoid the high cost of living in major tech hubs.

Of the engineers who say they're against moving to the United States, more than half would require a salary boost of $100K or more to even consider it – with another 13% saying no amount could make them consider moving.

2
Companies are embracing the Future of Work and going remote but it comes with another set of challenges including feelings of loneliness, isolation and a lack of visibility for remote workers.
3
Engineers cite time zone alignment across their teams as the most important factor in creating a productive work environment.
4
The inability to hire enough software developers due to the tech talent shortage puts the ones currently on staff at risk.
5
It’s practically unanimous: the job interview process is broken.
6
Engineers felt companies need to look beyond degrees when considering candidates.
7
Late-stage startups (pre-IPO) are the most preferred for engineers as they balance the need for job stability versus excitement.

Skills and Education

Most engineers are multilingual, but skills aren’t acquired from university educations

About 87% of engineers are multilingual when it comes to coding, with on average, about three languages under their belts. But these skills didn’t necessarily come from prestigious engineering schools. While Silicon Valley has shown a strong preference towards hiring from legacy schools, only a few respondents noted that they learned on-the-job skills in undergrad. Three in four engineers said they were self-taught while only 29% cited a degree.

Where skills were learned

Current coding skillsets

While the report shows emphasis on Javascript, Java and Python, several respondents noted that the language itself doesn’t matter, logic or style is the most important thing.

Those working for large firms with 2,500+ employees are significantly more likely to be skilled in C/C++ (53%) relative to smaller firms (usually around 20-30%)

Relocation

U.S. tech hubs no longer a magnet for engineering talent

Companies have the deck stacked against them when it comes to talent re-location. Canadian and Mexican engineers alike expressed disinterest in re-locating across the border – nearly 40% of them reported they’d rather not move while some took it a step further to say they ‘absolutely don’t want to work in the U.S.’ Quality of life considerations were reported as the major blocker to re-location for international tech talent.

Why engineers don't want to move

39%

of Canadian and Mexican engineers surveyed reported they’d rather not move to the US

For 57% of engineers against moving to the United States, it would take a salary boost of $100K or more – with another 13% saying no amount could make them consider moving.

Recruitment

The interview process is broken

From too many rounds of interviews to long delays and disorganization, engineers widely reported frustration with their recruiting experience. Even more concerning, they say these issues can put a damper on their interest in joining the company. Nearly 35% of engineers reported that too many rounds of interviewing would turn them off from a job.

Engineers also saw differences in interviewing with big tech versus startups, with 66% reporting too many rounds of interviews at large firms while 52% experienced this at smaller companies.

Frustrations with the interview process

Big tech vs. Startup: 66% of those at large firms (2,500+) have experienced too many rounds of interviews compared to 52% of those at startups with only 1-25 employees.

Pain points stronger in Mexico

Turn off from job

Career and money matters

Salary and stability top list of job 'wants'

Engineers appreciate the opportunity for personal growth and company potential at start-ups. But at the end of the day, they report greater preference for a less risky work environment. Late-stage startups, followed by public companies, were the most interesting to candidates.

There's also regional variation when it comes to company choice. Mexican engineers showed greater interest in working for a rising startup compared to their Canadian counterparts, who believe more opportunities for mentorship lie within bigger companies. Lastly, though stock and equity may be seen as an important factor by US-based engineers, a majority of respondents listed that as the least important benefit when selecting jobs.

Job benefits vs. company stage

Top 7 most important things

Pay fairness

Job tenure

Workplace happiness

Aligned working hours + quiet space increase job satisfaction

Engineers report they value time zone alignment within 1-2 hours to get work done when working remotely while also favoring a quiet environment. Cultural differences also come into play here: Most Mexicans prefer coworking spaces with an open layout, in contrast to their Canadian counterparts, who prefer more enclosed space. When looking at collaboration between remote locations, working in a similar time zone proves to be the most critical factor correlated to productive coordination across distances.

Preference for remote proximity

88%

of engineers prefer working in similar time zones to teammates

Preference for work environment

74%

of women favor a quiet environment compared to 59% of men

66%

of Canadians prefer a quiet environment compared to 53% of Mexicans

Most valued collaboration tools

Engineers prefer tech-enabled collaboration, citing tools like Slack, Github and Jira among their top three preferences for better productivity.

Industry landscape + future outlook

Talent shortage has real effects on innovation

Two out of three engineers think there is a talent shortage, with repercussions impacting all aspects of their experience, from career growth to company success to broader innovation. Those concerned about the tech talent shortage say it may stifle technical development, stunt innovation, overwork existing software engineers and limit their ability to grow.

Is there a talent shortage?

29%

of engineers say they think there’s definitely a shortage of software engineers in their current company

35%

say there’s probably a shortage

21%

say no not really

3%

say no not at all

13%

indicate they don’t know

Perceived effects of the shortage

Future of tech

Future languages

Profile of respondents

Methodology

This report is based on a survey of software engineers across North America, primarily based where Terminal operates in Canada and Mexico.

The survey was conducted in November and December 2019.

Age

Gender

Country

Employment status

Job title

Company HQ

Company size