When freelancing becomes the gig economy, new developer needs emerge alongside opportunities

Not so long ago, a British newspaper published an article about middle-aged, largely professional people asking themselves the question, “What (expletive deleted) do I doing while working for this company, or actually working at all?”. A common complaint seemed to be that their employers rarely took them seriously, cared too little about them or their well-being, took them for granted and…well, many of you will be able to add your own observations on their actions. and attitudes.

And for a surprising number, serious reflection on their situation – family, financial, emotional and the rest – made them realize that things had to change. For some it was taking early retirement, for some it was changing jobs for a job that fulfilled them rather than just money, and for some it was going to join the gypsies on the road (in a decent motorhome, of course).

The latter sounds idyllic, and for a while it can be. But people are often bored with a romance, and may even feel like they still have something to contribute, but don’t want a job (or at least not one like they left it). These people, and many more, are often potential candidates for roles in the growing gig economy, which can (and certainly will) grow in most sectors of industry, business or organizations, but that is already happening in the app development world. .

Who says it? Well, Prashanth Chandrasekar, for starters. He is CEO of Stack Overflow, the go-to information resource for code cutters. The company receives over 100 million monthly visits from the software developer community, and since its inception in 2008, it has built a repository of over 50 million questions and answers to help code cutters in their work.

It’s the tools and services the company has developed that are key here, however, as they can be applied far beyond the specific needs of app developers and vendors. They can be used across the industrial and commercial board and can be applied as the basis on which emerging gig economies can be created, managed and developed.

Don’t want to work in the big metro? So don’t

Chandrasekar is aware of this as the evidence can be seen in the results of the company’s annual user survey, and has already put plans and developments in place to meet this need.

The proof is simple and clear. The annual Stack Overflow survey attracts approximately 100,000 responses from its user base and their responses, coupled with documented evidence of the locations they are responding from, show that a significant trend is already underway. He says:

Even at the beginning of 2020, as soon as the pandemic broke out, we noticed that many people, developers, were moving to other cities. And now what we’ve seen over the past two years is that the locations of developers in the United States are outside of all major metropolises. We’re seeing these pretty big declines in the number of developers in San Francisco, New York, and so on.

Surveys showed that in 2019 before the pandemic, about 9.5% of the survey sample identified themselves as independent software developers. This year, it reached 17%. Some of that Chandrasekar attributes to obvious factors, such as the pandemic forcing people to work from home. Coupled with the growth in the use of online communication tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, this has demonstrated that working from home remotely is not only possible, it is probably better and, for many, more productive. .

The other thing that plays a role, though, is that the company’s evidence shows that most developers are diligent learners, not just working with their current job, but picking up new skills alongside it. And it’s not just tips and tricks, the majority learn at least one new programming language per year, he explains:

Technology is changing so rapidly that they need to keep up and adopt the latest tech stack because that’s the most efficient way to do things, or it might be the best way to do things. The company, or the project they’re working on, decided to program in a particular language because that’s the technology stack they’re going to use. This is important because things are changing rapidly and new projects are emerging every day. Employers need to provide environments where people can grow and learn lots of new things. And that’s where we come in because Stack Overflow implicitly enables people to learn.

He cites Google as a good example, suggesting that it gives all of its developers an allotted learning time, but says most companies don’t offer it. There may be formal training on specific topics, but nothing that allows developers to get the most out of themselves and new technologies:

These people will leave because they will not be trained to keep pace with innovation. And the number of freelancers is increasing.

The gig economy

It is these freelancers who are likely to form the core of a new gig economy, a place where the burden of employing them is effectively lifted from business owners. As Chandrasekar observes, there is a global shortage of job-ready talent in all fields, app development being no exception. That means there’s pressure on companies to keep the talent they have, and sometimes it feels like they’re given extremely mundane and pointless developments to work on just to keep them busy. edge.

Under these conditions, would it be better for most companies to employ them on a project basis rather than on long-term employment contracts? In this way, individual developers can combine and leverage their notorious propensity for self-learning with an interest or skill in an application domain, such as financial services, industrial process management, automation and automotive control and all the rest of the almost unlimited fields of application that exist.

It also means that business leaders can access better, more appropriate and more widely available skills rather than investing heavily in trying to retain ownership, control and honing the talents and skills they have managed to accumulate, often ending up alienating them and creating their desire to move on. The gig economy also offers “gigsters” the opportunity to form loose (or, most likely, closer) relationships and alliances with people they have worked with before and may well work with in the future. , perhaps forming teams that build reputations. for skills and experience in a specific technology or application area.

Building a true gig economy

The only current weak point in all of this is some level of underlying organization. There’s obviously room for agencies and consultants to spring up here, but what they also need is a common base of solid, established technology information, as well as specific skill sets. and application specialties that individual developers and loosely-associated developer teams can offer. It’s a need that hasn’t gone beyond Chandrasekar – Stack Overflow has services available that could be easily leveraged to provide such insights.

The technology aspect is, of course, already more than adequately covered, and the model behind it can be implemented with a wider range of technologies than just code slicing, so the management of questions -application-related technology answers can be added as the need grows. .

But there are two other main services offered by the company that have a role to play here. One is called Teams for Business, a subscription SaaS aimed at companies with a large number of developers. This is a service where these developers can create their own repository of technologies and operational tips and tricks specific to their needs and the needs of their employers. It also becomes a good shortcut for onboarding new developers, as a repository of all important “how we do it” information.

It can also become the key repository for individual developers and the ad hoc (or more permanent) teams of which they have been members. Frequently asked questions, tips and tricks learned along the way can be easily stored and kept close at hand for the individual or a team, especially those that apply to the use of “X” technology in the “Y” scope.

The other service is Business Branding, which is part of its broader advertising business. The latter is sort of an obvious and lucrative “side hustle” for the business, but the Business Branding element is interesting and has real potential for the development of the gig economy, Chandrasekar believes:

The branding business was part of our advertising business and grew in popularity. So all these companies want to advertise on StackOverflow for tech talent because that’s where all the developers are weak.

But it does provide the ability to add the service upside down – qigster developers, and more likely, teams that like and have been successful in working together in a particular application area can market and promote themselves and their specialized skills.

Chandrasekar says the company already sees the opportunity made up of some 25 million software developers, obvious “knowledge workers” such as data scientists and product managers, and a much larger group. , maybe a billion people, who exploit knowledge of all kinds. . These include a wide range of specialist technologists beyond software development, such as finance, legal, business management and more:

What we do is for businesses of all kinds that need knowledge sharing and collaboration. We sell our product to less tech-focused companies. Every company has some element of technology and knowledge workers, no matter which company you’re talking about. So absolutely, in the long term, we plan to grow into this universe of a billion knowledge workers. But right now our goal is to talk to the developers.

my catch

There have always been “independents”, and there will always be. But the combination of the pandemic and communications technology has shifted it (and the people who do) to a different, more traditional plain. This combination has given the gig economy a real boost. Stack Overflow seems well placed.

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