Category Archives: Recruitment

Good news for the start of 2013

I’ve got a feeling that despite all my gloomy predictions at the end of last year, 2013 is going to be a good year for the City of London. I started to think that things might not be as bad as I had thought they would be when within a few days of being back in the office we started to get some interesting roles being released. Now, 17 days into the year we have about as many live roles now as I did at my busiest period at any point last year.

A healthy number of roles is always a good sign, but IT recruitment tends to be a “bellweather” for how the financial markets are doing, as opposed to an accurate indicator. For instance lots of roles in January could just be a sign that it’s the New Year and companies wanting to test the market to see what the quality is like, rather than actually having a need to hire.

Good news from the States means good news for us

But there has actually been some low level good noise floating about since the summer, I refer mainly the Oil and Gas boom in the USA. Their enthusiastic adoption of “fracking” has revolutionised their national energy landscape, which is going to help their economy recover, leading to surprising stories that the US is now a net exporter of oil and that they expect to export more oil than Saudi by 2020 flying around.

The US economy is flying

Then last week I read this article in the BBC news Bank of America to pay Fannie Mae billions to settle mortgage claims. Now that Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan and Wells Fargo have settled their dispute with the US Government (Fannie Mae), the toxic debts they acquired in the lead up to 2007 / 08 will have been cleared off their liability books, which will improve their balance sheets at a stroke, meaning that they can now lend more, pay more dividends and be in a stronger position for the banking standards currently being implemented (i.e. Volcker and the rest of Dodd-Frank). Now they don’t have set aside so much capital to meet these liabilities many of the banks can start chalking up bigger profits.

And today the front page of City AM sees JP Morgan announce, alongside Goldman Sachs, that profits are up 12%. And even better news was that Goldman Sachs recorded a 19% rise in total revenues in 2012. As these two top investment bank do well, we should start to see the other banks also starting to do well. And with all the cost cutting the banks have been doing since 2011, they should be in a place where profits can come quite quickly.

Which can only mean good news for Java developers in the City of London and Finance Technology recruiters like myself. Hopefully this recent spate of jobs will be the beginning of a more successful period than recent years!

On an aside I just can’t help but think what a shame it is that whilst the US banks have been able to sort themselves out, the UK still seems to lag behind. How long do we have to wait for our own banks to move on from the quagmire of 2008?

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My predictions for the Java development market in 2013

It appears that in 2013 the economy will continue to remain largely flat, with hiring continuing at the same slow rate that we saw in 2012. This year we saw hiring driven largely by regulatory changes, replacement of contractors by off shore and permanent resources, a rise in specific-tendered-for consultancy work and a limited amount of strategic projects driven by long-term, global business decisions.

In 2013 a number of high profile banks will be recovering from regulatory fines levied in 2012 and it looks as if we are yet to see the full fall-out from the Libor scandal. July 2013 will see the new Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney take control of Threadneedle street, I don’t know much about his approach but I have heard that he doesn’t like QE and that he is also likely to increase the base interest rate during his tenure.

So not great news to bear in mind during the festive season, but probably no surprise to anyone as no one has really been predicted a massive improvement in the economy in 2013. It is interesting to reflect that when the economy crashed in 2007, there were some hard-to-believe predictions that the economy would take 10 years to recover, 5 years later and it doesn’t look so hard to believe. Saying that I have started to hear that things will look very different in 2014, and that despite any national economic predictions, the City might well do very well indeed…

It is worth bearing in mind that every market has its winners and losers, and some people will be making lots of money this year, so my overall advice to Java developers for 2013 is to get your CV ready, so that you can capitalise on good opportunities when they come along.

My tips for 2013:

THE GENERAL RECRUITMENT SCENE

• Offers have been largely flat this year, so make career choices that will pay off in the long run rather than the short term. Opportunities that will increase your technical portfolio, your business skills or project management experience will all help your career to continue to develop during these difficult financial years

• If you have a want to achieve a big pay rise – say you believe you are being paid about 10 – 20k less than your market worth – you are unlikely to achieve it with one career move. HR and procurement are looking closer than ever at percentage increases on basic salary / daily rate, and large increases are becoming much rarer. So making a strategic move in 2013, with a view to moving on again the year after, will be more likely to get you where you want to be, rather than simply waiting for the economy to pick up in 2014

• Many budgets will continue to remain flat and BAU work will reign. This will make opportunities to work on greenfield projects will hot property

• The contractor share of the developer market will continue to suffer as employers continue to look to make savings by hiring permies and outsourcing.

• 2012 was not a good year for experienced developers in general, be they contractors or permies, with juniors being in especially high demand. I don’t think 2013 will see any change

• Offshoring and nearshoring will continue to increase, with countries like Poland and the Ukraine being the main beneficiaries, whilst Hungary, Romania, Israel, Vietnam, India, Singapore, China and Russia also benefiting. A knock on benefit of this will be continued demand for dev managers with offshore and Agile experience.

FINANCIAL REGULATORY REFORM

This year we have seen more a dramatic increase in stringent regulatory requirements coming from Dodd-Frank, Basel III and the FTT, I think a rule of thumb will be:

• The French Financial-Transactions Tax (FTT) or “Tobin Tax” is threatening to wreck the Euronext market, and therefore much of the UK high frequency trading market, taking a large chunk of UK revenues from FX and equities trading with it

• Basel III will wreak serious damage to the fixed income business, as new capitalisation rules mean many bank’s revenues from fixed income trading will be down

• Dodd-Frank will seriously limit the ability of the investment banks to make money out of derivatives products and exotic swaps (continuing to reduce the effectiveness of the OTC derivatives market)

HOT TECHNOLOGIES

• Java 8 will be released in the summer providing Java developers with the ability to write Lambda expressions into their code for the first time, a feature that has been widely enjoyed by C# developers since 2007. Java 8 will also include the final components of Oracle’s new Rich Internet Application package “JavaFX” which was otherwise released with Java 7

• 2012 now looks like it was the year of Big Data and NoSQL, and I expect both technology veins to continue to do well in 2013. Both were picked up to varying degrees by the financial markets and were largely used for their analytics features in response to regulatory reporting requirements

• Scala is still gaining in popularity with many developers in the City having learnt it in their spare time and 2012 saw an increase Scala projects led from top down. I suspect the trend will continue in Scala’s favour over 2013.

• Adobe’s CQ5 UI suite really took off in 2012 and I suspect it will continue to do so in 2013.

• HTML5 is now practically considered an industry standard and will continue to solidify its position in 2013

• Mobile and web applications will continue to grow in importance in 2013 – I don’t think this market has reached its potential by any stretch. As security measures improve for iOS we will continue to see increased utilisation of smart phones and tablets for business purposes by sales teams, portfolio managers and traders

That’s all from me for 2012. See you in the new year!

A rough guide to Polish Universities

I have been doing some digging around recently into which Polish Universities have a reputation for turning out good Java developers, and as a rule the top 5 seem to be:

  • University of Warsaw
  • Jagiellonian University in Krakow
  • Politechnika in Wrocław
  • Gdansk
  • Poznan

In general all Polish Universities seem to have a high bar and I think that is reflected by the generally good standard of Polish developers in the UK.

Most cities seem to have a University and a Politechnika, which are divided on the same lines as the UK – the former providing more theoretical focused courses and the later more technical ones. Saying that the Politechnikas have a much, much better reputation than the British Polytechnics, and often the two institutions vie for the top place in that city. So for instance the Politechnika in Wrocław has a better reputation than the University of Wrocław. Politechnika tend to run courses that are more “electrical engineering” based and will have resources like micro processor labs onsite.

The top university in Poland is the University of Warsaw. Its got a reputation for teaching its students core computer science concepts and quite a lot of its students go on to do a PhD in algorithms or the JVM or similar. During high school students take Olympiad exams and the highest scoring students get to choose which University they attend, and many will choose the University Warsaw, with those who don’t opting for another top uni because it is closer to home. Students at the University of Warsaw also tend to score consistently well in global competitions like TopCoder and IBM’s ACM-ICPC, often beating the USA’s prestigious MIT. This institution is not to be confused with the neighbouring “Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University”, which seems to be the “Oxford Brookes” of Warsaw – a good university in its own right, but not at the prestigious level of the city’s main institution.

For Gdansk and Poznan there is apparently not much difference between the Universities and the Politechnika – each have good reputations. I also don’t know much about the Jagiellonian in Krakow, other than it very prestigious and many Olympiad winners also choose to attend.

On an aside, it is interesting to note that there is no major Polish tech company. Most countries today where computer programming is a strong industry tends to have at least one global IT corporation but Poland doesn’t. I suppose that’s because for the last 20 years Polish programmers have tended to leave Poland to build their career in countries like the UK or USA in exchange for higher salaries, a higher standard of living and a more international working environment. Today Poland is catching up on all 3 of those factors, which I imagine will steadily work to stop the “brain drain” and we should see a major Polish tech company appear as that happens. Putting my money on the table, I am going to predict one appearing in the next 5 years.

Bad / funny excuses people make up to go to interviews

I seem to have spoken to a lot of hiring managers recently who are having a bit of a time with it with members of their teams taking time off work for spurious reasons… naturally as a recruiter I sympathise and appreciate that any excuse is better than no excuse, but some really seem to take the biscuit!

Dental / GP / Hospital appointments
I’ve just had my front door kicked off its hinges
Working From Home
Amazon Delivery
Someone stole the water pipes.
Diarrhoea / last minute illness
A tragedy in the family that is so terrible its too painful to discuss any details
My train is stuck in a tunnel and I have no signal
I fell asleep / my alarm didn’t go off
I woke up feeling confused
My car broke down
My child is ill
My wife has a headache
I had a particularly bad curry last night
I normally use wash n go but today I had to use shampoo and conditioner separately so it took longer to shower this morning so I’m late.
I was abducted by the carebears.
I’m locked in my house
I was attacked last night with a machete.
UPDATE: My dog’s tail got caught in the shredder and I had to take him to the vet

How can you tell if you are working with a good recruiter?

I’m going to pretty heavily caveat this list because I think that different skills are required for recruiters to be successful in different markets. Its also quite common for recruiters to specialise in either permanent positions or contract positions, and most recruiters will tell you that there is a big difference between the types of personality that do well in one compared to the other. Furthermore I’d say it takes a different set of skills to be successful in a growing market (eg 2003 – 2007) versus a bad a market (2010 to now).

However I think as a general rule of thumb I would look for the following factors in a recruiter I was considering working with.

A good recruiter should:

  • be a specialist in something (development for financial markets for instance or high frequency trading for instance)
  • display a knowledge for what is going on in their market (who is currently hiring, what companies are good to work for, what sort of salaries are being offered at the moment)
  • be sincere. You’ve got to be able to trust this person
  • be able to give straight answers to direct questions. Try asking a few, see what happens.
  • be happy to tell you about what sort of clients they work with
  • have thought about why you might be interested in the job they are calling to tell you about and have a broad understanding of what the job is and why the company are looking for to fill it
  • sound like they enjoy their job, or at least like their job. Surprisingly recruiters who are unhappy with their jobs are not going to do a very good job at representing you
  • be reasonably attentive / a good communicator. How long does it take to get back to you answer phone message or email? Another way of putting this is what signs are they giving to show you that you are being treated like a priority
  • be accessible. Calling on a withheld number every time and never being there when you call (no-one is that busy) is bad sign, but then you knew that already
  • push back on you sometimes and tell you when you are being unrealistic about what you can expect to find. If a recruiter is a push over with you – just imagine what they will be like with their client when it comes to negotiating your financial package!
  • make sure you feel well prepared for an interview they secure for you and have done some investigation to make sure you are preparing for the right things
  • take an interest in meeting you in person.
  • be professional in the way they work with you. I mean like acting in the sort of way that means you might actually want to work with them again in the future
  • question you about the extent of your Java / technical skills and show some kind of understanding of what programming in a professional SDLC is all about.

To this I would add:

  • I don’t think choosing to work with a junior consultant is by any means a bad choice. If you have been contacted by a junior consultant I would suggest you think about whether you feel you can trust them and what clients their company works with. Junior consultants can be much better in some areas than more experienced consultants (enthusiasm, drive, accessibility and honesty about what is actually going on during the recruitment process for example). On the other hand there is likely to be another, more senior recruiter acting as a conduit between you and the client, so you might not get everything first hand. Its also worth bearing in mind that the more experienced a consultant is, the more they will know how to effectively handle unexpected situations.

Speak like a recruiter 103: “Bullet”

bullet (spoken)
a candidate who is such a good fit for a client that he/she is will open doors for your recruitment business, win you clients and progress to offer stage quickly and easily.
Gavin: How are you doing with that tough role you’ve got? Sandy: Don’t sweat it no more, I got a bullet
Etymology: Golden Bullet, one shot kill
See also: Golden Bullet, legend, walking invoice

What matters to a junior Java developer?

I have been doing a lot of work with junior Java developers recently and as such have spent a lot of time trying to work out what their priorities are when considering a new position. (Note: I would consider a developer “junior” with anywhere up to 4 years experience, probably someone making their first or second career decision. Anything experience beyond that and I think it’s fair to say you can no longer be considered “junior”)

1. Where the company sits compared to other organisations in the Financial Markets
2. What the company culture is like, and whether the colleagues are a team of “nice people”
3. The technical standard of developers at the company
4. What opportunities there are to learn and for career progression
5. What they will be doing on a daily basis
6. What business skills they will learn

Perhaps surprisingly I have found that point 4 (“What opportunities there are to learn and for career progression”) is actually the least mentioned point of importance when initially thinking about making a decision. Normally I find I am bringing this point up and then explaining what each opportunity might lead to in the long run. However once you bring it up it tends to be something they take it on board, but still few junior developers have brought it up on their own. Points 2 and 3 are probably the most commonly cited as being important.