Dotcom Junior Devs 2.0
In case you don’t remember the crazy gold rush days of the first dotcom boom, let’s just say that this was a defining image of the times:
At the time you could land a well paying job at pretty much any dotcom with no more than some basic HTML skills and a willingness to learn. A wave of people swept in and made up a large part of the dotcom workforce. Having a background actually programming was really nice to have, but became almost an afterthought as VCs helped push the rush to bring in warm bodies. If you were in another field at the time and wanted to try out life as a developer, project manager, tester, system admin it was a great time to jump in. There was low risk and plenty of reward.
I worked for a director who had been a bartender until 1999. On a project in 2000 one team had a former translator, an office administrator, and a lawyer. All of them had bootstrapped up on books and built a few static HTML sites before they found their first jobs as developers.
I noticed early on that the talent pool had completely dried up when I opened up an office for a dotcom in 2000 in Las Vegas. Our main office was in SF and I was amazed at the number of hires they’d made that really didn’t have any coding skills. Vegas at the time had a pool of solid developers, but we’re not Silicon Valley and the hometown university is UNLV. Still on average we were able to get better developers typically with real experience. I remember my first time visiting SF in 2000 and noting that 90% of all the billboards in the city were advertising doctors, many focused on recruiting. I’d never seen anything like it.
The bar was almost absurdly low for developer in the dotcom boom. This time the bar has moved up a bit. Now the default entry into the field is a Code Academy or Dev Bootcamp experience. Having survived the dotcom boom and bust I think it’s a good thing that the really junior dev coming from non-science or engineering backgrounds actually has done some real coding before starting their first job.
We’ve dipped our toes into these waters in the past year hiring two junior devs who had gone through dev bootcamps. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by several things that we didn’t get from junior developers in the dotcom days:
- They have pair programming experience
- They actually write unit tests without prodding or coaxing
- They understand that they’re on a steep learning curve and embrace it
- They don’t have a lot of bad ingrained habits
- They understand the basics of putting together a web site
- They are used to source control, commit early and often, and open source
So the new Dotcom 2.0 junior developers have a leg up from the early 2000s. I think more of them will stay in the field. They put some real time and effort into switching or starting a new career an possibly a decent sum of money and they’re more likely to stick it out. And their baseline is a lot better. They’re all feeling really underprepared even in their first paying dev jobs, but they are far better off then the wave that came in the late 90s.