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Some of South Africa’s best developers don’t have degrees — what it takes to land a job

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MyBroadband asked South African software development and technology companies what qualifications people need to get a job as a developer.

While many South African software houses prefer degrees, not all employers are looking for a tertiary qualification in the field.

“Some of the best developers don’t have degrees,” DVT’s technology consulting principal Paul Gray told MyBroadband.

“We believe jobs should be awarded to those most likely to create impactful and intelligent solutions, despite their circumstances which may or may not have allowed them to embark on tertiary education,” Synthesis head of talent Deborah Miller said.

Sybrin’s head of operations, Henry Button, explained that they had seen many individuals without degrees who performed just as well or even exceeded their peers in the workplace.

Dieter Botha, TymeBank Chief Technology and Operations Officer

TymeBank chief technology and operations officer Dieter Botha said that although many of the company’s developers do not have tertiary degrees, they still had to convince senior engineers during interviews that they possessed an in-depth understanding of the domain.

“As a growing digital bank, TymeBank is not yet at the stage of maturity where we can hire inexperienced people. We need developers that can ramp up quickly,” he said.

However, specific qualifications will benefit some job applicants more than others.

Synthesis’s Miller said that current software development positions still require applicants to have a firm grip on the fundamentals, including traditional languages like Java, Javascript, C#, and C++.

Skills in cloud, data streaming, containerisation, cryptography, blockchain, and Terraform are also increasingly sought-after.

“Python, Scala, and R are popular choices within the disciplines of data analytics, data science, machine learning, and data engineering,” Miller added.

Deborah Miller, Synthesis Head of Talent

According to Rain software engineering HOD Christopher Leigh, other languages that new developers should consider are Typescript, Kotlin, and Swift.

Leigh listed telecommunications, e-commerce, banking, and healthcare as some of the industries most in need of competent developers.

Sybrin’s Button noted that some languages that are becoming obsolete include Ruby, VB.net, ColdFusion, Perl, and Delphi.

“Looking at the silver lining, some of these languages are running in production environments with no plan to change, potentially posing a limited opportunity,” he added.

However, DVT’s Gray explained that the focus of modern software development spaces has shifted from languages to technology stacks.

“An example of this would be … the Microsoft Tech stack. [Developers] would be required to know the Microsoft toolsets incredibly well, including the application of cloud technology in the form of Azure.”

Gray said this shift has narrowed down software developers’ roles to be much more specialised when compared to the historical focus on full-stack development.

He said that front-end work like the user interface and design elements are very different from the endless integrations, databases, and API gateways characteristic of back-end development.

Paul Gray, DVT technology consulting principal

Prospective programmers should also note that development acuity isn’t the only skill they will need to flourish in the industry.

Gray explained that most development environments work in an agile fashion, meaning that soft skills like communication and adaptability are becoming increasingly critical for developers.

Synthesis’s Miller said that effective communication skills’ value could not be overstated for consultation-based development companies.

“The possession of these skills tends to set a few individuals apart from hundreds of hopeful applicants,” she said.

It would appear that many of these applicants are trying their best to get into the financial technology industry.

“In South Africa, fintech has a massive backlog of developers, and the statistics are staggering,” Gray said.

On the other hand, most of South Africa’s other sectors are experiencing a general shortage of good developers.

Although potentially good news for job-seekers willing to work outside fintech, Gray said this imbalance is bad news for the industry.

“It is an important attribute for mature developers to have worked in multiple industries. Learning the best traits of many industries and projects is an important way for developers to become well rounded.”


Now read: Software developer salaries in South Africa — programming languages that earn the most

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