Job Market Sucks? Not for Techies

The economy still sags, but the market for programmers is hot.

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Join the DC Tech Jobs group on Facebook, and you'll get pinged with constant updates. Not from job seekers, like with most online job-search groups; these updates, usually one or two daily for fewer than 300 members, come from companies looking to hire.

Even as large numbers of unemployed scramble to find positions in this faltering market, one group continues to land jobs easier than ever: techies.

Call them what you will—engineers, programmers, developers—the job titles are usually interchangeable. They're in high demand and short supply, enjoying not only their pick of jobs, but being courted by companies that want to bring them on board even when they're already employed.

"It's a really good time to be an engineer," says Alice Hill, managing director of Dice, a job-search community for technology professionals. "You really have your choice of pretty much any type of company."

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Computer and mathematics professionals suffer from only 3.8 percent unemployment compared with the nation's 9.1 percent, according to the Labor Department. That means the tech industry is even better off than the country as a whole before the recession put so many Americans out of work. And the job market for workers with those skills continues to improve. Dice reports nearly a third more full-time job listings on its site in June than at this time last year.

"The [programmers] that are in higher demand are people who can create really good user interface," says Todd Thibodeaux, CEO for CompTIA, the Computing Technology Industry Association. "Anybody can write code, but can you write code that makes [what you're building] easy to use?"

That code powers websites, applications, and other increasingly popular tools like the iPad. While engineers are sometimes called programmers or developers, it's the descriptor that precedes that term, often a programming language, that truly defines the job. Scan any major job board and you'll see calls for JavaScript programmers, front-end developers, and Rails developers (short for Ruby on Rails, or RoR). While some programmers specialize in one language, fluency in several languages can make a candidate more marketable. "We're looking for guys who can do it all," says Chris McCroskey, founder of Idealoop, a company that builds websites and applications. Since launching seven months ago, the company has hired eight developers and is looking for three more. "Down here in Dallas, the market is especially tight. If you're a competent developer who has some social skills, you can have a job any time you want it."

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Though a shortage of programmers makes it easy for those workers to find jobs, it's causing problems for companies, big and small, looking to fill those positions. Job-search engine Indeed has been trying for months to fill about 20 developer positions, including front-end and back-end engineers and product managers, says the company's co-founder and chief technology officer Rony Kahan. "It's not a new thing, this tech scarcity, but it does feel like it's gotten worse in the last six months," Kahan says. To fill the gap, Indeed is now recruiting outside of its home base of Austin, Texas, an increasingly popular tactic.

Part of the problem—or opportunity, depending on who you ask—is that techies are in demand at more than technology companies. Because all industries have gone digital, Web- and code-savvy employees are needed most everywhere. Take financial services, for example. "Technology is the backbone of financial services," says Constance Melrose, managing director of eFinancialCareers North America, an online career site for financial professionals. "You can't deliver without it." Yet Wall Street usually wants employees who have not only technical expertise, but experience in and knowledge of the financial world, she says. Tack on that additional qualification, and it's even more difficult to find worthy candidates.