Science & Tech

Industry professionals talk about what to expect when starting a software development job. Image: Pexels
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Software engineers and developers create software applications, systems of records, and telecommunications software among other systems — and they are needed in almost every industry including government, security, healthcare, and research. 

The Government of Canada projects that from 2019 to 2028, there will be approximately 27,500 job openings for software engineers and development in Canada. However, the government also projects that there will only be 24,000 job seekers within that time — who are either recent university graduates or migrants. 

The government labels this trend a “labour shortage”, which means that there are more jobs in this sector than there are workers. 

According to this report, job openings in these fields, which have a median pay of $45.67 per hour, are expected to increase faster than most other fields in Canada.

This is good news for Canadian computer science graduates because there is great possibility for job security. 

In fact, 99.6 per cent of all University of Ottawa software engineering students received a placement in the 2020/2021 school year, according to Chantal Yelle, a team lead with the U of O’s co-op program. 

“We are able to have these fabulous results, even during the pandemic … we are in a tech market, so there’s a lot of local demand,” said Yelle.  

The demand for these workers is so high that the job market is more competitive for employers than it is for job seekers. For this reason, Yelle said, “many [software engineering and computer science] students receive offers after their placement from their co-op employers.” 

According to the U of O, 89.6 per cent of university software engineering grads and 100 per cent of computer science graduates find jobs in their fields two years after graduation. 

But, just because software engineers and developers are in high demand, it doesn’t mean this career path is easy.

Attracting prospective employers 

Often, employers have high expectations for their employees. More specifically, employers want to hire well-rounded employees who have passion for their work. 

“The trend in the last five years has been that employers are seeking employees with soft skills. They also want to make sure [new hires] can communicate, write, [are] emotionally intelligent, and are able to participate in a group,” said Yelle.  

For this reason, software engineering program coordinators added a mandatory class entitled, “Professional Communication and Responsibility” to the course sequence. In this class, students learn how to write reports, communicate effectively, and engage in collaborative projects. 

Yelle also said, “employers are interested in students who are involved in [extracurricular] work.” 

This is why employers are likely to notice applicants who “teach themselves programming languages, who participate in hackathons, and who work with their student association.” 

Dominic Gagné a University of Guelph alumnus with a master’s in computer science. In conjunction with his academic achievements, Gagné pushed himself to learn as much as he could before and throughout his career. Now, he is a software developer for one of the largest multinational technology companies in the world.

“One aspect of my job is to manage resources for other companies, which means that if there’s code that is not working as expected in a data centre I am expected to help fix that problem,” said Gagné. 

“I also do software development for clients who request a feature, which means that I work with the project manager to determine how best to create it,” he continued. 

“Then we come-out with some sort of diagram to see how it’s going to look, and then we write the code for it.” 

“It’s really interesting work … I enjoy it.” 

What to expect entering the job market

While Gagné enjoys his work, he believes there are some tradeoffs. 

“I think the work-life balance for this kind of career is way worse than the average job. You have to dedicate the majority of your time and mental energy to the job,” he said. 

According to a 2017 study in Finland, employers generally expect a lot from software developers, which leads to stress, anxiety, and burnout.

Gagné said that it is normal to feel a lot of stress at the beginning of one’s career. For him specifically, the learning curve was intense when he first entered the job market. 

“At my first job, the first six months were really rough. I couldn’t believe how much there was to learn,” he said. “[My work was] so much different from what we learned in school. I was completely overwhelmed.” 

According to the aforementioned study, apart from the learning curve, software developers are likely to experience heightened stress when their tasks are too large and if the deadline for these tasks is too short.

Another common stressor is if the worker is not equipped with the right training and tools to complete their work.

The good news for future developers is that not all software jobs are high-pressure environments. 

For example, Cameron Thompson, another Guelph alumnus with a computer science degree, and a junior software developer at Magnet Forensics (a company that develops investigative software for police), promotes employee work-life balance. 

“I am not expected to work late into the night or anything like that, which helps a lot. My company does a good job of prioritizing employee health more than deadlines and profit,” said Thompson. 

While their work experiences are different, Thompson and Gagné have similar advice for students who want to become software developers. 

“Get an internship or even, try to code a solution to a problem on your own. You’ll learn so much from that and you’ll show a potential employer that you’re interested in this stuff and that you know the basics of it,” said Gagné. 

Also, “find time to practice and work on projects that you enjoy to hone your skills.” 

Further, Thompson reflects on the abundance of opportunities for software engineers and developers in Ottawa — a tech hub where approximately 11.3 per cent of Ottawa residents in the workforce are employed for tech companies. 

“There are a lot of good opportunities out there for people who are new to the workforce,” said Thompson.

“Facebook and Google are not the only good tech companies to work for, there are tons of local tech companies that look for new talent, especially in Ottawa.”