Oliver Roick

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Looking Back at a Year of Recruiter Emails

I’m lucky to work in an industry where people are in demand. Like most software developers, I receive a couple of emails from recruiters every week about some really, really exciting opportunities. Most roles aren’t particularly attractive. Once you have picked a niche for yourself, like GIS and maps, or if you have specific values, the overlap of jobs you want with the ones recruiters offer is remarkably small. Here in London, it’s mostly fintechs, closely followed by marketing tech and crypto, with the occasional oddball in-between. I once received a posting from a startup that offers customisable dog food.

Recruiters are not that useful for finding a new job that I would care about. But the job specifications can be helpful as an indicator of the current job market. Recorded over time, you can develop a personal and reasonably accurate picture of salary ranges, when to find a new role, your seniority level, and the technologies that are currently in demand.

To paint that picture of the job market, I collected data from recruiter emails throughout 2021. The resulting dataset is pretty simple; it includes:

  • The date I received the recruiter email.
  • If provided, the salary of the advertised role. Salaries are usually advertised as “up to” — the maximum price a company is willing to pay. If a salary range was given, I recorded the upper end. It’s safe to assume the salaries paid are actually a bit lower.
  • The type of role. I kept this simple and only distinguished between lead and individual-contributor roles. Role titles are hard to compare across organisations. In one company, you’re the lead developer; in another, you’re the Head of Engineering, and in some early-stage startups, you might be the CTO. Any role that includes some formal leadership responsibilities is classified as “lead”, resulting in a catch-all category for lead developers, tech leads, engineering managers, and roles advertised as “lead dev who can become the CTO next year.” All other roles are grouped as individual contributors.

The data only includes permanent roles. I did not consider emails mentioning “several roles at all levels with a compensation between £40,000 and £150,000.” Also not included are duplicates from recruiters who think you might change your mind when they send you the same email three times.

Overall, I received postings for individual 283 roles; we can draw a picture of the 2021 job market using this information.

Salaries

From the 283 postings I received, 129, or 45.58%, included a salary. That’s a much better ratio than a couple of years ago.

129 of 283 or 45.58% of job specs included salaries

Seeing that the vast majority of roles advertised isn’t that appealing, a hefty salary for an average job is the one thing most likely to lower an engineer’s guards when they don’t actively look for a new position. How else would Facebook attract talent? Recruiters, provide the salary range on first contact, otherwise you’ll miss out.

50K60K70K80K90K100K110K120K130K140K150K80K90K100K50K130K05101520Lead rolesIndividual contributor roles
Distribution of salaries for lead and individual-contributor roles.

Half of the salaries offered land were between £80,000 and £100,000, with a median of £90,000. This is the range I would use to negotiate a salary today. I consider the wages on either side of the two middle quartiles unrealistic. The salaries on the top end, especially those above £130,000, are exceptions; I’d have to sell my soul for this kind of money. The wages on the lower end likely result from the recruiter’s misjudgement. Either the company headquarters are located in rural Kent, or they were looking for a developer in earlier stages of their career.

Unsurprisingly, the more money is offered, the more likely you will lead a team. Then, on the other hand, I received lead roles for about £60,000, which is in the lower quartile of offered salaries.

When to look for a new job?

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec01020304050
Number of job postings received per month.

Most positions seem to be available earlier in the year; I received the most enquiries in February and March. Teams’ budgets are usually confirmed during that time, and it’s the time when people follow through with their new-year resolutions and change jobs. After the first quarter of the year, the number of posts declines towards the end of the year, with a dint in August, presumably because of the summer holidays.

So if you’re looking to make a change later this year, consider updating your CV over the holidays instead of fixing your parent’s printer.

Job levels

Job levels are difficult to compare across organisations. The advertised levels and corresponding position descriptions (if provided) don’t allow for an objective comparison. Hence, I only distinguished between lead roles, including any positions requiring team-lead experience, and individual contributors.

105 of 283 or 37.1% of job specs where for lead roles

105 roles, or 37.1%, were lead-level roles. This isn’t in any way surprising, given my background. I have led teams before, formally and informally, and have been swinging back and forth on the engineer/manager pendulum over the last couple of years.


A couple of aspects are missing from this admittedly brief and basic analysis. It would have been interesting to also look at the type of business. Whether it’s a fintech, health, or just a bunch of crypto bros. What tech is required for the roles or what parts of the stack I’m expected to cover; is it backend, frontend, full-stack, or something entirely different like data engineering or deep learning? And how do these aspects relate to pay? I didn’t collect this information and only realised this after a couple of months into the year.

My Problem With Twitter

I came back to Twitter earlier this year after a prolonged absence. I signed off a couple of years ago when I noticed that heated, undifferentiated, and shallow arguments disguised as political discourse had taken over. But, I came back last summer hoping to reconnect with a community I had left behind, a community of smart people working in the geospatial sector, sharing the things they had built, discovered, or written.

I lasted about four weeks.

Twitter doesn’t work for me; it makes me miserable. No matter what the topic is, every post is now a hot take condensed to 280 characters or less with limited context and optimised for maximum likability and retweetability. These tweets prompt more hot takes for response, spiralling into arguments no average human can follow and make sense of.

Fine, Agile practices are littered with bureaucracy and they don’t work for your team, but what aspects exactly don’t work, and how would you successfully run a project? Hiring in tech is a biased mess? I agree, but I’m more interested in hearing what you are doing to address the issue. Oh, and your twice-a-year tantrum about daylight savings — why isn’t your circadian rhythm affected in the same way you when you fly from San Francisco to New York over the weekend?

Every take is shortened, leaving no room for nuanced thinking and exploration. Everything is a bold statement, triggering black and white responses — hard agree or hard disagree. Twitter is for people who have opinions on everything paired with the constant need to share that opinion. The problem is even the people I usually value for their work, insight, wit, and curiosity do that too and way too often.

I’d love to see people who sit down and think, instead of barfing out every thought crossing their mind, and then write five hundred words exploring that thought, its context and consequences. And then share that piece. Try that. Maybe you find that the idea you just had in the shower wasn’t so deep after all.

Twitter seems like a great medium for discovering people and ideas. It’s just that those ideas come in the wrong format. I wish people wrote more and tweeted less.