New Normal

Everyone has felt the impact of Covid-19, and the technology industry is no exception. In challenging times businesses have increasingly turned to technology to meet those challenges. To satisfy the increased demand for software, we need more developers. Major technology companies have complained for some time that there is a shortage of developers. As the founder of a small technology solutions company, I’d argue it’s a bit more nuanced that.

With Wepala, I want to allow developers to work on projects that they are interested in. Over the last five years, our strategy has been to engage university graduates, train them, and allow them to work on projects for international clients. Alongside client work, we’ve also been able to work on our own ideas, fulfilling the dream of working on things that we’re passionate about.

I always tell developers that I don’t expect them to stay with us for the rest of their careers. When I look back on my own career, Wepala is the longest job I’ve ever had. I’ve been an employee, a contractor, and everything in between, and I would readily admit that my view of work has been shaped by the changing times and my own life experiences.

What is an employee? In legal terms, “An employee is an individual who works under the supervision or control of an employer; a worker who is employed by an employer. An employee works in the service of the employer under an express or implied contract of hire that gives the employer the right to dictate the employee’s work duties.” The legal definition is subject to many different interpretations. At Wepala, employees are expected to meet specific technical performance standards, and they are expected to take on duties like helping train other developers, participate in brainstorms for projects that they are not working on, etc. Employees get mandated leave (i.e., public holidays) and various employment benefits (travel allowances, bonuses, etc.)

A contractor, by contrast, is defined as “A legal category of worker that is distinct and different from an employee. The key to the definition is that, unlike employees, independent contractors retain control over how they do their work”. To what extent the contractor has control will depend on their industry and terms of engagement. If you want to be a successful contractor in the technology industry, you have to master being able to go into the project and quickly understand their way of doing things (retaining control over the how does not mean that you can simply write everything in Go). As a contractor, you have to figure out quickly how you add value to the project because it is much easier to make a change with contractors than with employees. The benefit for contractors is flexibility in the “how,” which can translate to flexibility in time, being able to fulfill multiple contracts at the same time, and using tools that you’re most comfortable with (mac vs. windows laptop).

Man in grey hoodie using laptop and looking outside
Photo by Yasmina H on Unsplash

Which is better? Well, it depends on the individual and where they are on their “developer journey.” There were times in my own journey where my goals aligned with the company I worked for, and I was happy to be an employee. At other times in my journey, I wanted to simply lend my skills to someone else’s project and then get back to mine. Your life circumstances often dictate which type of “work” is best for you.

Covid-19 has forced all companies to contemplate the nature of work. Large companies have been forced to accommodate remote work. Remote work has been on the rise for a number of years, but current circumstances have advanced the debate significantly. In many organizations, employees are demanding that they be allowed to work from home partially or indefinitely. Employees also want more control over when they execute their work. On the other hand, the same companies that once preferred to be in control of how their team did things are now looking further to get remote developers to get the job done. The desires of developers and the wants of the companies need not be in conflict with each other.

Running a small technology company, I’m caught in the middle. We’ve always structured compensation based on the “level” team member you are (e.g., Developer 1, Developer 2, etc.). Each level gets standard compensation, and compensation is not negotiated. The correctness of this could be debated, but it’s important to us because it ensures that everyone gets equal compensation regardless of sex or ethnicity. We can’t make the offers that major technology companies do, but I recognize each individual’s prerogative to do what is in their best interest.

How do we balance these concerns? Well, one thing we can do is give developers more options. We can ensure that we have developer desires aligned with the company’s wants. This means thinking about how we can give developers an opportunity to be a contractor to better fit their needs but continue to be fair and equal to all members of our team. I understand wanting to work extremely hard to secure a nest egg for a major life event or wanting to be able to take time off to watch World Cup (all things that I’ve done). Once you are able to execute and show results, this model benefits the company as well and can be accommodated.

We can also continue to optimize for discovering and nurturing developers that want to be part of Wepala ideas and culture. As a “startup,” we do need employees to help figure out things that we’ve not been able to. Innovation does require space to learn, make mistakes, and share, and that is what is provided to employees. We need to do a better job recognizing developers that are good candidates for employment and ensuring they get the resources for their continued success.

I don’t have all the answers, but I do think solutions begin with understanding. If you are a developer and you are open to helping me understand the developer perspective or would like to be a member of the Wepala team, complete this questionnaire. My aim is to make Wepala a place where team members don’t have to choose between earning a good living and working on things that they are passionate about. I firmly believe in the power of the “and” as described in a book that I learned a lot from, “Built to Last.” Adjusting to the changing environment is one-way Wepala will continue to last.