Tech boom! The war for top developer talent

With eight qualified candidates for every 10 openings, today's talented developers have their pick of perks, career paths, and more

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The amenities of Neverland

Oval Office aside, GitHub is not unusual in the kinds of perks it offers employees, roughly 70 percent of whom are developers or designers. Across Silicon Valley and beyond, companies compete to see who can offer the most generous salaries, the best benefits, the most over-the-top extras. 

That's because for every 10 coding jobs in the marketplace, there are maybe eight people who can fill them, estimates Avik Patel, senior staffing manager for WinterWyman in New York.

"Demand has grown like crazy, but the talent pool hasn't kept pace," he says.

Not surprisingly, the jobs most in demand are mobile and Web developers, says Patel, and companies will pay handsomely for those with the requisite skills. Nationally, the average salary for software engineers is a shade under $93,000, according to Glassdoor. In the tech-crazed San Francisco Bay Area, it exceeds $110,000.

But it's the extras that get the most attention. Catered meals? Check. Keggerators? You bet. Full-time barista? You wouldn't want $150,000-a-year software engineers burning their fingers on the espresso maker, would you?

Then there are all the toys. Nerf rifles. Scooters. Gaming arcades. Legos. Electric guitars. Slides and ball pits. Climbing walls. Pool, ping-pong, Foosball tables. At many offices, totem animals dangle from the ceiling or peer from behind rows of 32-inch displays. At cloud storage company Box, it's unicorns. HortonWorks -- the Hadoop services firm named after Dr. Seuss's sensitive pachyderm -- is all about elephants. At Yeti, a 10-person mobile and Web development firm in San Francisco's SOMA district, Abominable Snowmen loom atop shelves and lurk under coffee tables.

The slide at Box's Los Altos, Calif., headquarters
The slide at Box's Los Altos, Calif., headquarters

Group outings include dodgeball tournaments, go-kart excursions, trampoline parks, and whiskey tastings. Some companies shuttle employees to and from work, do their laundry, and subsidize their haircuts.

Such amenities are no longer exclusive to Silicon Valley. They can be found virtually anywhere geeks gather to hack code -- if not within the musty offices of old-school enterprise IT shops, then certainly the wide-open cubicle-free spaces of high-tech startups. In these organizations, the Peter Principle -- in which each employee rises to the level of his or her own incompetence -- has been replaced with the Peter Pan Principle. So long as you keep shipping product, you'll never have to grow up.

Perks vs. work/life balance: The central trade-off of the hiring market

But only the naïve believe such perks are truly free. The trade-off for being served breakfast and dinner at work is that you're expected to arrive early and stay late. The toys, trips, and games with coworkers substitute for a social life, as it is not uncommon for developers to grind through 80-hour workweeks. It's a culture designed for the young and unattached.

The gaming industry is especially notorious for its disregard of life/work balance, notes Scott Keller, director of strategic solutions for Yoh, a high-tech recruiting and staffing firm. With billions of dollars riding on the success of a game, coders are expected to do whatever it takes to hit their release dates.

"People end up missing the birth of their children and postponing their weddings," says Keller. "When you get into your 30s and 40s and have a family, you don't want to work 18 hours a day anymore. But if you only put in 12 hours, well, then you're a slacker."

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