The UK Ruby Contract Drought is Real (27 Feb 2015)

Since early 2013 we’ve pretty much had back-to-back Ruby contracts available. Occasionally there would be blips in the market but nothing that has exceeded a 3 week wait for decent contractors (who can consistently pass interviews). However, so far 2015 has not been great.

We’ve had contracts trickle in but have around a 4:1 ratio of contractors to contracts. This is not just for London, its the same in the North West and Scotland.

Historically the market gets saturated with contractors when:

  • A big project somewhere ends and a number of contractors flood the market at the same time
  • In the run up to Xmas when no one wants to start anything new
  • In the Summer when everyone is on holiday

Then usually there is a shortage of contractors and a range of contracts available:

  • The second week after Xmas/New years (1 week to plan, second week companies start reaching out for contractors)
  • April (new financial year)
  • End of late Summer/early Autumn (everyone returns from holiday and decides to ramp up development)

Is it just Ruby?

As well as a shortage of Ruby contracts, we've noticed a shortage in DevOps/Linux Administrator & Scrum Master contracts (we do a fair bit of recruitment in these markets as it synergies well with the Ruby teams we work with), with a range of contractors available on the market and struggling to to find work.

DevOps (I know not everyone likes that term) has been similar to Ruby in that in the huge demand in 2013 & 2014 has caused a high proportion engineers in the discipline to quit their permanent jobs and go contracting. Recently recruiting for Permanent DevOps engineers is actually harder than finding permanent quality Rubyists, at multiple times throughout the year last year there were periods where there were not even DevOps contractors available. Right now though, I started posting about a contract position for a client and got a huge response, when speaking with people common stories of looking for weeks to find a contact arose.

Scrum Masters are having a tough time too. We had an upper-mid level/lower senior that had struggled to get a contract for a while so he took a pretty decent permanent job with us which he probably wouldn’t have taken were the market better. The main issues in the Scrum Master market are that lots of Project Managers and people from somewhat similar disciplines doing the two day certification and are repackaging their careers on their CVs and jumping on the current Scrum Master bandwagon. The permanent demand for strong legit Scrum Masters is still there but the contract demand does not seem strong.

However, Frontend/Javascript contractors don’t seem to be having an issue at the moment. I think that right now the hardest skillset from our perspective to recruit for, far beyond Ruby/DevOps is strong Javascript. This shortage has kept the contract Javascript market going while other start-up technology contract markets have faltered.

Whats possibly causing this?

Timing: Its before the new financial year

Slight slowdown in the tech market: While the Tech Bubble has definitely not burst, the machine is not running at the speed it was this time last year. Also: there is a general election coming up which may impact investment until its over and the Greenparty/UKIP/SNP coalition government is confirmed.

More contractors than there were before: Right now there are more Ruby contractors then there have been ever in the entire history of mankind (unless Ruby was being used in Atlantis). This is great in that when the market is good, there are enough contractors to service the market, but now but when the market sucks its far more noticeable as it impacts a great deal more people then it did before.

More technologies are being used for startups now: Python/Django, Node/Misc Javascript frameworks have gained ground and Scala/Go are emerging. Have non Ruby lanauges grown a lot in the last year? Yes. Have they grown the point where you need to swtich away from Ruby? No, but you should be experimenting with emerging languages at weekends so you’re ready for the future.

Should I quit contracting and go perm?

No, not yet. Wait til April and hopefully the market should recover. Also, contracts are still coming in, it hasn't ground to a complete halt, its just slower then before.

Who is this impacting the most?

Upper-mid level developers, borderline Lower seniors & people who think they are better then they are and can’t compete with developers who are better then them and looking for the same money. Also: I’ve had a number of super high end Rubyists consider straight forward plug-into-an-existing Ruby team-senior-Development style roles when in a better climate they would usually they take more holistic consultant style contracts at more money. The knock on from this is that the people who would normally take on the straightforward senior development role now have more competition.

As a contractor, what can I do to mitigate against this in the future?

Always have contingency plans for dips in the market and financially plan ahead so you have a bankroll to last you 3 months without work in case another contract apocalypse happens. Bury food and build a survival shelter in the woods for you and your family.

Should I go on holiday until April?

Yes.

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