2022 Forecast: What’s Next for Tech Workers?
These past two years will stand as the weirdest and wildest any software developer, engineer, architect, or their managers have ever lived through. What will 2022 bring for the tech workforce — for salaries, for hiring, even for where we work?
At this writing, the pandemic is still disrupting our personal and professional lives. As the Omicron variant emerged, large organizations like Apple, Google, and Uber have postponed their return-to-office plans.
Amid the uncertainty, we do know a few things already, which will carry into 2022 and have an impact on the demand for developers and engineers:
- The work done by Devs and Ops is more crucial than ever (*cough* e-commerce *cough*) (*cough* Log4j *cough*).
- Consumers have gotten used to unprecedented levels of convenience, and that demand likely won’t recede when the virus does. Business models are evolving.
- The technology that enables remote work — distributed networks, video streaming — will continue to require support and innovation.
The tech job landscape remains a seller’s market, with the impact of The Great Resignation still being felt. Workers in all fields are flexing their negotiating power, and tech workers, already in high demand, are demanding more money and better conditions. That trend is likely to keep gaining momentum.
The tsunami of investment money pouring into tech companies — coupled with the demand that those businesses scale up fast and go public — is likely also fueling outsized demand for developers and engineers, said Prashanth Chandrasekar, CEO of Stack Overflow, in a December interview with Protocol.
Here’s what to watch for in the tech workforce in 2022:
Salaries and Perks: Creativity Needed
This past year saw record numbers of people across industries quitting their jobs — in the U.S. alone, more than 4 million per month in August, September and October, the majority of job leavers heading to new positions. To recruit and retain a finite pool of talented developers and engineers, hiring managers had to offer truly competitive compensation.
Here’s how some employers did it:
Even in the pandemic’s uncertain first year, salaries began to climb. For instance: In Charlotte, N.C., the average pay for a technologist rose nearly 14% from 2019 to 2020, according to the 2021 Tech Salary Report from Dice, an IT jobs-listing site. In Orlando, Fla., average salaries rose just over 13%; even the already pricey New York market saw average pay increase by just over 11%.
And that report was released in February. The next Dice survey will truly reflect 2021’s epic game of musical chairs.
The recruiting company Hired released a study in October that collected data through June 2021. Among the findings:
- Average tech worker salaries rose just over 9% in San Diego, 5% in Seattle and Austin, Texas.
- Remote workers also saw average pay rise by nearly 5% — and around the globe, the average tech salary jumped by just over 6%.
- Of all tech workers surveyed by Hired, 35% expected their salary in their current role to increase up to 10% over the following six months; 22% expected their pay to jump as much as 20%.
The competition for tech workers is likely to remain fierce in 2022:
- Job postings were up 39% in the third quarter of 2021, compared with the previous year, just shy of pre-pandemic levels, according to Dice’s Q3 jobs report.
- The pool of talent available remains small, compared to the demand. In November, tech unemployment was 2.6%, according to a CompTIA analysis of U.S. Labor Department data.
In such a red-hot market, organizations will need to get creative in 2022 instead of just throwing money at job candidates, said Taylor Desseyn, senior recruiter advocate at Vaco. That means offers of remote work, equity, bonuses, and one more card Desseyn expects to see employers play in the coming year.
“I think we’re going to start seeing a shift in the next year or two to a four-day workweek,” he said. “Because companies can’t overpay or even get to where people are at. So what are they going to do? They’re gonna start offering four-day workweeks.”
Remote Work: Keep Your Sweatpants
Like working in soft pants and seeing your family during daylight hours? Good news: You can probably keep doing that in 2022.
“Here’s what’s happening: the companies that are wanting people to go back into the office are going back into the office,” said Desseyn to The New Stack, shortly before December’s Omicron wave began. “Those are the companies people are going to stay away from now.”
He estimates that companies could save $20,000 to $30,000 per employee on compensation and expenses if they offered full-time remote work.
Data show remote work’s continued popularity:
- While 69% of respondents to a Stack Overflow survey released in December said salary is an important factor in choosing a future employer, 61% named flexibility (including hours, remote work) as important to their next role.
- In that same survey, 65% named flexibility as an important factor in keeping them at their current employer — more than the 59% who said salary was important to them.
- In Hired’s October report, nearly 90% of the job seekers surveyed want some kind of remote-work option (though only about 30% wanted a full-time remote schedule).
- Ninety-one percent of people who work remotely, full or part of the time, remote workers interviewed by Gallup in May and June indicated they desire at least some continuation of remote work. Just over half — 54% — preferred a hybrid arrangement, while 37% wanted to work remotely all the time.
Beyond that, however, companies whose business models have evolved during the pandemic are taking a look at who’s working where.
“There’s been a push to diversify and relocate people to different hubs around the United States, and sometimes internationally,” said Chad Ellsworth, a partner at Fragomen, a global law firm that specializes in immigration cases and serves tech clients. “That’s a big focus: that strategic workforce planning, looking at existing resources and where they’re going to be in the future.”
Quali, a company that provides enterprise sandbox software for cloud and DevOps automation, maintains offices in Austin, Texas and Petah Tikva, Israel, and is considering a third location, according to its CEO, Lior Koriat. The pandemic’s demand for remote work has changed the game for hiring managers, he said.
“There is a desire for companies to get together,” Koriat said. “But at the same time we found, oh, this actually works. So there is no reason for us not to hire someone in Ireland, in Canada, in India, in Belarus … This is really gonna open up opportunities for people to hire remotely.”
Hot Specialties: Security, Data
Listings for cybersecurity jobs leaped 31% in the third quarter of 2021 compared with the previous quarter, according to Dice’s data.
Python skills — with their utility in web development, data science, machine learning, and more — are super hot right now, Desseyn said. Data management and analytics are also high on employers’ wish lists, and likely will continue to be in 2021, said Desseyn and other job market observers.
Skills Gap: Can It Be Closed?
It’s becoming clearer to organizations that there simply aren’t enough developers and engineers available to take a guiding role in building, running and maintaining cloud architecture.
The number of developers worldwide who use Kubernetes has leaped 67% over the past 12 months, to 5.6 million, according to a report by SlashData released in December by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.
But the rapid pace of innovation is making it harder to develop the expertise needed for DevOps and architect roles, said Koriat, of Quali. “The intellectual ladder that someone has to climb in order to really master those technologies is becoming taller.”
Koriat sees a lopsided ratio in organizations between consumers of infrastructure (developers) and people with cloud expertise. It’s “almost one to 100, or even one to 1,000 in some cases. That’s not scalable.”
If companies can’t redress the balance with hiring or lack the budget for more in-house training, their pace of innovation and growth will slow, he said. To keep up, Koriat foresees more organizations turning to technology that makes infrastructure more easily consumable, and low-code/no-code solutions.
Some organizations, however, are working on getting more people into the developer pipeline, recruiting from non-traditional pools of talent (such as people without college degrees). That movement will likely keep gaining momentum in 2022 as hiring needs intensify.
For example: Interapt, a technology services firm with headquarters in Louisville, Ky., started a workforce development program in 2016, in response to customer needs, that finds and trains people in software development, cybersecurity, IT Support, UX/UI and data analytics.
Once apprentices have completed training of up to three months (for which they’re paid a stipend), they are matched with jobs at Interapt working and learning on the job for a minimum of one year at clients like GE Appliances, Humana and EY (for which they’re paid a salary with benefits).
To date, the program has graduated 186 apprentices who are now employed in tech, with several hundred additional slots being ramped up for 2022, according to Interapt founder and CEO Ankur Gopal.
Interapt’s program, called Interapt Skills, finds non-traditional tech talent — high school graduates who are female, people of color, or military veterans and their spouses — by intentionally searching for them. “These people may not be on LinkedIn,” Gopal said.
The program’s recruiters have built relationships with veterans groups, women’s groups, and community groups that have helped surface candidates for the program. Showing results for the apprentices has helped make these partnerships effective as recruiting sources, Gopal said: “We have built not only a large net, but a bunch of good-track-record relationships, creating sustainable employment.”
In July, Interapt Skills was featured on “PBS Newshour” as an example of a successful initiative to tap non-college-educated talent. Gopal’s company is now looking to scale the apprenticeship model in locations around the country.
The Interapt founder also sees more upskilling opportunities for mid-career IT workers employed by enterprises. He’s onto something: more than half of respondents to the survey Stack Overflow released in December said having opportunities to learn is an important factor in considering their next job — or staying in their current one.
Unionization: On the Rise
These past two years have seen the rise of efforts to unionize tech workers at a number of companies. Kickstarter employees formed a union in February 2020, the first major tech company workforce to do so. Last January, the Alphabet Workers Union began at Google, followed by the formation in early February of the international coalition of unions called Alpha Global.
This year also saw other workplaces seek collective bargaining power, including digital teams at NPR and The New York Times, Change.org, and Code for America.
The impetus for forming tech-worker unions isn’t only about the traditional concerns of labor unions — hours, pay and benefits, workplace behavior and conditions — but also sometimes about the ethics of their employers’ projects and partners, surveillance and censorship.
Tech workers who unionize have sometimes joined forces with traditional unions like the Communications Workers of America, whose Code to Organize Digital Employees campaign (or CODE- CWA, with which the Alphabet Workers Union is affiliated) and the Office and Professional Employees International Union (or OSEIU), which formed the national Tech Workers Union Local 1010.
Currently, basic working conditions are on the minds of many tech workers, said Toy Vano, a former product manager at Kickstarter and Spotify who organizes with OPEIU Tech Workers Union Local 1010.
“We’re going into our third year of the pandemic, and tech companies are pivoting to address the needs of the workforce during these times,” Vano noted, shortly before the current Omicron surge. “A major issue that workers in tech are dealing with right now are strict return-to-office policies and how they’re being inequitably applied across departments, often with little or no transparency as to how worker safety will be prioritized.”
With half of the technology workers surveyed by Protocol and the Morning Consult saying they are interested in joining a union, this movement is likely just getting started.
Immigration: Pent-up Demand
For companies and managers seeking to add to their IT teams by hiring internationally, 2022 is likely to bring some challenges. However, tech workers from China and India who have been stuck in the backlog of applicants awaiting a U.S. permanent residency visa — the “green card” — might have better luck in ’22.
H-1B visa applications for mathematics and engineering job candidates, often used by companies to help fill IT roles with highly skilled talent from abroad, were down by 19% in 2021 compared to the pre-pandemic year 2019, according to an analysis by Bloomberg of Labor Department data.
COVID-related travel restrictions and Trump-era visa rules in the U.S. likely slowed down the number of applications for H-1B visas. But that has created pent-up demand, according to Ellsworth, the immigration attorney from Fragomen.
Though President Joe Biden allowed his predecessor’s H-1B visa ban to lapse last May, Congress has not increased the number of H-1B visa slots. An annual lottery — next held this coming April — determines who gets the roughly 80,000 H-1B visas available.
In 2021, “it was a very low selection rate,” Ellsworth told The New Stack, with roughly 250,000 to 300,000 applying for those 80,000 slots. “Most tech companies that were used to probably a 40% selection rate got close to 20%.”
This coming year, he expects a crush: “You’ve got the backlog from last year, people who weren’t selected, you’ve got the new hires, you’ve got a tight labor market, and you’re got another lottery coming up in April, with no increase in the number of H-1Bs available. So I think it’s going to be really coveted this year, and probably a low selection rate.”
However, he added, green cards may be another story, at least for applicants from China and India. Regulations mandate that no individual country’s citizens can claim more than 7% of the total 120,000 permanent residency visas granted per fiscal year.
As a result, Ellsworth said, “There’s a huge backlog for certain nationalities, China and India are the primary ones. The reason being that there are so many applicants that come from these countries that there’s a separate backlog for them.” For Indian citizens, for instance, cases can stretch a decade or more.
During the Trump years, due to restrictions and also the closure of consulates abroad, fewer green cards were granted on a family basis per fiscal year, causing what Ellsworth calls “a huge spillover into the employment-based categories.”
“So there’s been significant advancement of that backlog over the last year for Indian and Chinese [applicants] because of that spillover. We had hundreds of thousands of cases that were filed by tech companies in 2020 and 2021 because of that spillover,” Ellsworth said.
This coming year, he said, he sees tech employers “getting their Indian and Chinese workforces through the green card process faster than they otherwise would have been.”
That might be the only good news on the immigration front for U.S. companies and their foreign-born workers. With midterm U.S. Congressional elections looming for 2022, and with a slim Democratic majority in the House and a 50-50 party split in the Senate, the outlook for substantial change in the status quo remains dim.