As well as giving lucrative bonuses, software suppliers offer the chance for client-facing work on the leading-edge of technology
Recruitment by software suppliers increased by nearly 10% in the past quarter, according to the latest survey by Salary Services in association with jobs site CWjobs.com.
Danny James, a divisional manager in recruiter Volt Europe's IT and telecoms area, says this is fuelled by "a rise in new developments and implementations as people gain confidence in the market and want to invest again". He says this is particularly true for developments in the banking sector, which usually acts as a pathfinder for other sectors.
Whether this rosy picture will continue is in some doubt: financial services companies have been through a rocky patch this summer as a result of the problems with the US sub-prime mortgage market, which may dent that confidence. "It is still too early to tell if that will have an impact on IT spend and a knock-on effect on recruitment by software suppliers," James says.
In the short term, recruitment is still extremely buoyant. Grant Morris, managing director of PW Search and Selection, says he is seeing strong demand from software suppliers for business analysts and project managers, as well as developers at all levels.
However, many pure coding roles have been offshored to Eastern Europe and Asia, leading to a decline in roles for people who purely acted as a bridge between developers and clients, with developers increasingly expected to take on those client-facing tasks.
"For developer roles in the UK, software suppliers are looking for people with consultant skills as well as technical expertise: a client focus, good presentation skills and the ability to upsell and act as a representative on site," says Neil Price, managing consultant at recruitment consultancy Hudson.
Sid Barnes, a director at recruitment firm Computer People, confirms that software suppliers are changing their focus to employ "business-oriented individuals that both develop and consult and increasingly have MBAs". Barnes says hardcore coder roles are still available, but mostly in small software suppliers serving the SME market.
The buzzwords as far as technical skills are concerned are .net, C#, Java and Oracle. Skills in add-ons to C# such as Spring and Hibernate are popular, according to Morris, while J2EE and Weblogic seem to be the current hot Java technologies. In the enterprise software space, experience in packages such as SAP and Peoplesoft is in demand.
Price also sees a small but rapidly growing need for developers with experience of languages used on handheld devices, while Barnes says accreditations in service methodologies such as Prince2 and ITIL are highly sought after.
Proven track record
However, on the technical front, a proven track record is more important than paper qualifications. "Employers want to see training that is relevant to the stage you are at in your career," Price says. "They want you to have obtained commercial experience and then demonstrated the quality of that through accreditation, rather than having lots of training on paper."
However, experience in specific technologies is also important. Software suppliers have traditionally been less likely than in-house IT departments to hire and cross-train someone with sound generic skills, but no experience in a particular technology.
"They have looked for people who could hit the ground running, paying more to get people who could do the job from day one rather than grow with the role," James says. "They expected you to proactively train yourself on days when you were not working on client projects, so you needed the discipline to study on your own."
While this is still true for many positions, the situation is beginning to change as software suppliers struggle to fill permanent roles. "The only way companies can get developers to buy into permanent places is by offering better training and career development," says Morris. And even without much in the way of formal training, Barnes says that, "Unlike an in-house role, anyone working for a software supplier will always be working on leading-edge technologies and the latest releases."
Another difference is the way you are rewarded. While there is little to choose between the basic salaries provided by software suppliers and in-house roles, compensation packages in software suppliers tend to be more heavily geared towards bonuses based on factors such as the proportion of days spent on rechargeable work for clients.
"Those bonuses can make a big difference to your final salary - anything from 10 to 50%," says James. "But not everyone is comfortable with the added pressure that it is not just the quality, but also the quantity of their work that counts."
Price points out that other downsides of working for a software supplier are the long hours, extensive travelling and high proportion of time spent away from home working on client sites. However, Morris believes software suppliers have recognised this and are trying to offer a better work-life balance.
You may also find yourself feeling more isolated as the only representative of your company on a client site, and doubly isolated from meeting colleagues when in your own company's offices, as fellow developers are also out at client sites much of the time.
Finding out whether it is right for you is a relatively safe move, as it is reasonably easy to move back to an in-house role from a software supplier. Barnes says in-house IT directors like the fact that people who have worked for software houses "understand the strengths and weaknesses of the various offerings on the market and how to work with software suppliers to get the best out of them, as well as having experience across a broad range of projects".