WHY WE GAVE UP THE HUNT FOR UNICORNS AND DECIDED TO CREATE A NEW BREED OF HORSE

Where have all the good developers gone? The short answer is that most of them now work in The City — and few can compete when it comes to incentives.

The longer answer is that many businesses no longer have training budgets for developers. Some have no budget at all for their own devs and instead devote up to 25% of their spending on hiring freelancers.
Where are the training budgets going? Look no further than your CMO. Marketing has somehow sidestepped the spending cuts suffered by IT and now attracts the major share of the budget.

With marketing seen as the prime engine of growth, and the creatives now in receipt of the big bucks, where does that leave IT and the developers? And does it matter?

We all know that global IT spending is soaring exponentially — it is expected to exceed £2.5 trillion this year, an increase of 2.4% on 2014, despite currency changes due to the falling US dollar. The explosion of new technologies in the form of wearables, the IoT and near-field communications systems are transforming the digital world with a corresponding growth in through-the-line marketing. There is never a shortage of creative ideas waiting in the wings and digital marketing is more important than it has ever been. But doesn’t that mean an obvious disconnect here? Businesses are spending more on IT than ever, but less on producing the developers we need.

So, to hark back to an earlier question — yes, it does matter. True, creatives are the powerhouse that drives growth but is it reasonable to expect them to be cognizant of every technical and/or legal obstacle to the manifestation of their ideas in the real world? These are matters that can cost a business dearly. There are a multitude of issues surrounding data control (who does control data?), legal and ethical guidelines, compliance (accessibility and safety) and technical engineering parameters that all impact on the actualisation of a project. As we have said in earlier posts, but it always bears repeating, communication between devs and creatives is the key to bringing a project to fruition in time and on budget.

Businesses are spending more on IT than ever, but less on producing the developers they need.

Our response? If you can’t find the techs that you need, create your own. We have decided to give up the hunt for that rarest of species the Great Developer and taken to farming our own instead.

We know that there are lots of potentially talented coders out there who have no idea how good they are. In bedrooms up and down the land (and in every land across the globe) there are guys (of both sexes) who are passionate about IT, who are creating their own apps, developing websites for themselves and their friends, using social media and gaming sites to communicate and share ideas. They exist outside the recognised market place and just don’t fit into the accepted mould of what a good coder should look like. So how do we find them and let them know what great potential they have and what they can achieve given the right opportunities?

A moratorium on the unicorn hunting

We work in Hackney, traditionally an area that has suffered from lack of investment in infrastructure and one where education and employment opportunities were not the greatest. Back in 2013 we decided to set up apprenticeships for people of any age, with no background in tech but with a passion for learning. Since then we have been taking on men and women, the youngest 20 and the oldest 55, and giving them the opportunity to work with us and learn everything we know about bleeding edge technology. We don’t do free internships. We pay a living wage and reward all the hard work and effort that these guys have put in. It is an ongoing and hugely successful project.

The one thing we can’t give our trainees is commercial experience, out there in the cut and thrust world of the large digital agencies. No problem, we thought. We work with some of the biggest names in town. We made them a proposal: we will offer you our emerging developers at low rates, or no rates at all, for four weeks, working with real clients in the real world. The answer from almost every agency we approached, with a few exceptions, was a resounding “No!”

Why? Well, we scratched our heads about it for some time — it seems like a great offer, right? Fully-fledged devs, willing to work for nothing? But we forgot to factor in a natural cynicism that permeates our commercial world: they just didn’t believe it — the offer was too good to be true; there’s no such thing as a free lunch; no-one offers something for nothing; and a few more clichés that were bandied about freely….

We know how good our emerging devs are but the truth is that everyone wants a fully-formed Senior who knows Angular inside out, or Symfony, CMS or Drupal and if you could just throw in mobile and responsive… guys with commercial experience who are steeped in modern, contemporary engineering practices, available on a temporary basis and usually at short notice. Mmm — we suggest a moratorium on the unicorn hunting and taking a look at our new breed of devs.

We know how hard it is for creative agencies to find scarce technical resources for every project, as when they are needed. We believe that by creating opportunities where none previously existed, we are attracting some of the brightest and best talent and we are happy to share.

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