A Brief History of British Rails, the recruiters perspective:
Pre 2008: Both Ruby & Rails were very niche and it wasn’t until DHH started marketing Rails around 2004/5 that the interest in Ruby (in general) started to show. Even then, it was mostly used for minor projects being headed up by enthusiastic developers who were attracted by it’s expressiveness. The culture of constant emergence of cutting edge new languages & frameworks was a lot slower than it is now. While there were meetup groups and conferences, they were not as plentiful the present, thus one of the main forces behind proliferation of new technologies was weaker. Ruby/Rails was mostly a sub skill possessed by enthusiastic PHP, Java and .net developers.
2008: Ruby & Rails start to take off. There were two start ups at that time who established and built their businesses around Rails.. One in London and the other in Manchester. The result is that the two biggest Rails ‘hubs’ are in those places. By this it’s use had spread to Brighton, Bristol, Sheffield, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dublin, however I would estimate at least 75% of Ruby work is still in London.
2010: Huge amounts of funding started to flood into London for startups. Ruby was the sexy new language to drive your startup much like node was in 2014 and React is now. The contract market hadn’t taken off at this point and while there were contractors, the market was very much permanent driven.
2011–2013: Ruby had become the #1 language of choice for start-up’s and the demand for Ruby-on-Rails developers started to noticeably rise above the available developers in the London talent pool. Since this point salaries & day-rates have risen dramatically. In London, Shoreditch became increacingly known as the main area these start-ups congregated as at the time office space was cheap and the area was trendy.
The flood of funding continued to rise fuelling the Rails phenomenon. For some reason companies got stuck in the paradigm that a senior developer should cost £60k. This was fine initially as once the UK’s supply of developers who were willing to work for £60k was exhausted there was a mass influx of developers from the EU, most notably from Poland, Czech Republic & Spain where the salaries for similar jobs were significantly lower, but also from Scandinavia, France and Italy where the discrepancy was less prominent but where developers were attracted to London due to the bustling tech scene & investment culture that was not as large as in their home countries.
2012–2014: In this time Contracting got huge. As the supply of UK developers was exhausted & the supply of foreign developers moving to the UK reached the point where everyone who wanted to move over had already done so, companies started to get desperate for senior developers. Historically, contract developers had been employed to get early stage startups off the ground or as temporary muscle for digital agencies & consultancies to build medium-term projects, however when Ruby teams physically could not hire and it got to the point where the lack of developers was seriously affecting business, many companies began to hire Contract developers as a fix for their lack of permanent developers. At this time business seemed particularly fruitful for digital agencies as many large corporate entities began to build applications in Ruby along with the British government and would bring them on board for this purpose. Coupled with the constant flow of money from investors and venture capitalists to startups meant that the demand for contractors was huge.
Companies still hadn’t broken out of the senior-developers-are-worth-£60k paradigm and contractors were making from £350–500 (depending on their seniority) while paying up-to 45% less tax due to limited company dividends & other tax minimisation tactics. This meant a senior contractor at this time was often making +£25k–30k more then their permanent counterpart. This lead many permanent developers to quit their permie jobs to go contracting, further exacerbating the permanent developer shortage.
Mid-2014-Present: Everything was going swimmingly in 2014, until one point where the contract market crashed and never fully recovered. It used to go through hiccups during late summer ever year while many people would go on holiday, but it would always ramp up at the end of summer when people got back from vacation and panicked that they were behind on development, hiring a bunch of contractors to get things back on track. However, 2014 was the year that summer never properly ended.
Its not that the contract market was completely destroyed but very quickly, all the less than stellar contract Rubyists who were reliant on lack of competition for contracts got flunked as they couldn’t compete with better senior developers when they finally had to compete against them in interviews. Seniors started to drop their day-rate by £50–100 which meant they could maintain contracting, but mid-level contractors have practically become unheard of in the market currently.
Prior to Mid-2014 we usually had a ratio of 2:1 or at worst 1:1 ratio of roles to contract developers. Post 2014 we’ve had at best 1:2 and at worst 1:4–5 roles to developers.
A more plausible theory is that the deluge of investment which was driving early stage startups & large projects undertaken by digital agencies and consultancies has waned, probably due to the number of failed startups in London and SF. The Contract market is not dead, and the very best contractors are able to mostly get back to back contracts without waiting too long, but many contractors are starting to go permanent if waiting for too long for contracts to emerge. Sometimes big builds do occur and anyone lucky enough to be on the market when they happen can still secure long term contracts at good day-rates, but it’s often based on luck, whereas these were previously consistently available.
A silver lining in all this is that permanent salaries have risen significantly and it is pretty normal for a senior developer to get £70k, or even £80k including benefits etc.
It’s been a wild ride but my prediction for the future is that things will stabilise to the point that people with a professional freelancery disposition towards contracting will be contracting, but while people who are more comfortable and happy being part of permanent teams will reside there rather than discrepancy in earnings forcing permanent orientated people to take contracts because the money is too good.
Most Rubyists I know are experimenting with various emerging languages, but there isn’t anything stable enough to bet your career on yet. Ruby as a language might be approaching its peak but probably has at least another 5 years in it. Growth has slowed to probably around 5–10% as older companies are switching to it as its deemed stable and younger companies who have been using it for a while have launched apps they need to maintain.
About the author: Louis Goff-Beardsley is a scumbag recruiter who produces dank OC to trick developers into working with him. If you feel your career would benefit from speaking to an autist fixated on the Ruby jobs market, feel free to drop Louis a line on email@example.com,+44 (0)7449324851, or 24/7 on Skype: LouisGB1. You can also add him on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter