Q5: The state of coding in SA, with Stephen van der Heijden [interview]
by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) Stephen van der Heijden, the vice president of growth at South African tech talent marketplace, OfferZen, shares insights into the local software development scene — and what it means for adland.
Q5: What is the no. 1 thing adland ought to know about software developers in South Africa?
Stephen van der Heijden: Demand for software developers is high, which makes finding a developer, especially a great one, extremely hard. We also know that it’s hard to recognise quality skills because developers don’t need accreditation to be excellent at what they do, as we’ve seen in OfferZen’s latest survey with one in four developers being self-taught with similar earning potential. South African developers have the skills to help your business thrive and should be treated as more than a “resource” or code-monkey if you want to keep them in your team. So, making your company stand out as a great place to work is especially important when competing against so many local, and global, opportunities.
Q5: Could you give us any insights into the number of developers currently working in the local advertising and marketing industry, and how those figures might change in the next few years?
SVDH: Those numbers aren’t really out there but, according to our State of SA’s Developer Nation survey, around 3% of SA developers work in the media and advertising industry, and 4% in digital agency or services. As people continue to spend more and more time in front of screens, however, it becomes difficult to imagine a world in which each industry is not almost completely overhauled into the digital space, and the need for development and digital design skills only increases.
Q5: What lessons could adland learn from the developer community?
SVDH: The biggest thing others can learn from the developer community is the constant hunger to learn new things in order to stay relevant. In fact, according to our survey, the no. 1 reason that developers turn down a job offer is because of a lack of growth opportunities. Tech moves so quickly that the best developers have to continuously spend a huge portion of their time learning new things or risk becoming irrelevant. Good developers know this and have built a culture around moving jobs often, working on side projects, and taking online courses. The reality is that industries are evolving faster and faster and, if we don’t all become a little more focused on keeping up, we’re going to be left behind.
The second thing we can all learn from developers is how they focus on fostering a community. Because they need to learn a lot, and fast, they need to band together to learn from each other, share experiences, and collaborate to develop impactful solutions. We’ve seen this happen in the real world, at events and meet-ups like MERGE, as well as in online communities like ZATech on Slack.
Q5: For agencies looking to ‘onboard’ developers, what would you suggest they keep in mind during the hiring process?
SVDH: Remember that you’re competing with other companies offering awesome opportunities for developers, both locally and internationally, so you need to invest in your hiring process. Ensure that you have a slick and fast way of finding and interviewing candidates, so that you can move quickly and hire the right person to help your tech team thrive.
Q5: For anyone considering dabbling in coding, either as a full-time career or side-hustle, where would you recommend they start?
SVDH: There are various ways to get involved in various real-world and online communities — either full or part-time. The biggest suggestions would be to look into:
- Local coding bootcamps
- Joining the ZATech Slack workspace
- Attending local meetups, hackathons, and conferences
- How other developers upskill themselves
- Finding a expert tech mentor
Carey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with over decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to MarkLives.com, her regular column “Q5” hones in on strategic insights, analysis and data through punchy interviews with inspiring professionals in diversive fields.