Current State of PHP & Web Economy

So I’ve been on the job hunt since November when I got laid off from my previous position.  It’s been taking me a while, primarily because after having a number of jobs ‘in a row’, I’m really this time trying to find the ‘perfect’ fit.  A position that I’m going to stay in for the next 5+ years.   My next career, not just the next job position that sounds interesting enough to work on for a while.

The job hunt has come (essentially) to a close, and I’ll share more on that in the future.  But in the meantime I’m writing a series of blog posts here about this experience, and how the job landscape, for PHP specifically, has changed.

One thing that has surprised me, is how this particular job hunt situation is different from others that I’ve been on (unfortunately) over the last 5 years or so.   When Digg and I parted ways in July 2008, it seemed that the entire world was trying to hire experienced PHP Professionals.  There was no end to the number of positions that existed.  Everyone was hiring.

Fast forward to when Zend and I parted ways in the December 2009 / January 2010 timeframe.  The world had changed in those few years.  Suddenly noone was hiring.  Money was tight all over, hiring freezes were in effect.  Literally only a handful of positions were available to me (locally or remote).

Now, at the end of 2010/beginning of 2011, I’ve realized that things have changed again.

Actually numerous companies are hiring again.  It’s a glorious thing to see all the PHP jobs out there again.  But there’s an interesting catch now that didn’t exist before.  It seems that every single company, is hiring for the exact same position:  “PHP Programmer with 3-5 years experience”.  It’s uncanny how all these positions list exactly those same requirements.

Companies aren’t looking for more junior/entry level positions (not that this fact affects my job search).  But in talking to the companies, it’s that they just don’t see the ‘bang for the buck’.  They are hiring, but operating lean.  In that, they are seeing the 3-5 year experience person as the sweet spot.  Someone with enough experience that they won’t detract from the effectiveness of those around them needing to manage them.  Someone who can work independently.

But this leads into the other problem.  They also aren’t hiring for people that have more experience.  I walk in with 16 years of experience, looking for leadership positions, and they simply don’t exist.  Again this comes down to running lean.  They aren’t wanting multiple ‘cooks in the kitchen’ if you will, and they already have their Lead/Architect/Director/CTO/etc positions filled.   The words “Overqualified” have been stated quite often to me.

Even if I wanted to take the position at (much lower) salary than I’ve been making, the companies aren’t willing.  Because, perhaps validly, they assume that someone with 16 years experience isn’t going to be happy in a position with responsibilities designed for a 3-5 year person.

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16 Responses to Current State of PHP & Web Economy

  1. lucifurious says:

    I had the exact same problem last year. My advice is to be diligent. The right job is out there somewhere…

  2. vlucas says:

    I have had a similar experience recently as well. I come with 13 years of PHP experience, and have been looking for some sort of strong leadership role that is still involved in development like Lead, VP of Technology, or CTO just like you have. After some searching and taking senior developer positions at various places over the past few years and being generally unsatisfied at my lack of control over the codebase and direction of the product, I decided to just go out on my own.

    I’ve found that in most places, even if you are more qualified to be in the role, it’s usually been filled by someone else who was just in the right place at the right time or knew the right people, getting solidified into the team when the company was just just getting started. As a result, you either have to be willing to take a risk and join a brand new company to be solidified in that role yourself, or go out on your own risking even more to build your own business. I chose the latter route, and the jury’s still out on how well it’s going to turn out. So far, though, I’ve been happier in the past several months than I have in the past several years. That’s how I know it’s the right path for me to be on right now.

    • Really? 13 years? You were working with PHP2?

      • Eli says:

        I don’t know anything about vlucas’ experience myself. But one could have 13 years PHP experience at this point, and have started with PHP 3. PHP 3 was publicly released just 1 month shy of 13 years ago. And was in public beta for a while before that.

      • vlucas says:

        If you’re going to make a snarky comment, at least make sure your facts are straight. I started working with PHP right when 3.0 was released. It was June 1998, which is just shy of 13 years. So yes, more accurately 12 years and change, but effectively 13 years for all practical purposes.

      • Snarky? I asked a simple question, as in “whoah, this guy was working with PHP2? cool!”

        But it turns out he wasn’t anyway, and is suspiciously defensive about his “CV”. So, yeah, I too can see why I’d hire the bright young guy with 3 years instead.

      • Eli says:

        FWIW Shoe, your question (no emotion online, it sucks) came across not as “Woah, cool!” But as a ‘yeah right’ questioning.

      • And sorry Eli, but while I’m here, your blog forces upon commenters the significant inconvenience of registering with WordPress, yet is STILL riddled with spam comments about herbal medicine.

        Is that not the worst of all worlds? What gives?

      • Eli says:

        Sorry Shoe … But would you rather have to register for an account on ‘just my blog’? One of the reasons (so long ago) that I opted to just host on wordpress.com is that at least it’s a large common service that having an account on, is more worthwhile than just a single account for a single blog, as many are.

        (I do wish that they’d allow a ‘comment via facebook’ or ‘comment via twitter’ feature though, to make it a little easier nowadays.)

        Oh, and sorry, but what spam? A hundred or so spam comments have attempted to come through, but I see them all sitting nicely in the spam folder. Nothing on the website. *shrug*

      • vlucas says:

        I apologize if I misread the tone of your comment. Sometimes it’s hard to interpret text on the internet :).

  3. Eli says:

    A very good point vlucas, and what I’d been finding as well. I’ll say that I’ve fallen prey to what you are describing in the past, the ‘already filled’. And many companies are quick to point out that they ‘promote from within’.

    The problem is, that those promotions from within go to the people who have already been there 5-10 years. Not to the guy they hired 1 year ago, saying: “Well it’s a lower job, but we promote from within”

    It does seem that taking a risk on the brand new company (whether founding yourself or not) is the right approach.

  4. pmjones says:

    It seems that every single company, is hiring for the exact same position: “PHP Programmer with 3-5 years experience”. It’s uncanny how all these positions list exactly those same requirements.

    Part of it is because they don’t actually know what they need, or don’t know how to describe it, so they copy-and-paste from existing job descriptions. It’s a lot of work writing a job description; copy-and-paste helps with that.

    • Eli says:

      True Paul. But at the same time, I wasn’t ever interviewing at ‘generic’ companies. And the ones that I talked do, really did want a 3-5 year person.

      It’s that sweet spot in a developer’s career. They are still inexperienced enough to be ‘inexpensive’. But experienced enough to do independent work.

      The place where I’ve seen the most cutting at companies, is the middle management layer. That middle management layer, (ignoring all the puns about it), is the layer that really makes it possible to hire ‘fresh out/inexperienced’ people, and manage them, and help them to grow.

      Without that, people need to hire people that can manage themselves. But, the economy isn’t so good that they want to go around affording people with 10, 15, more years experience.

      Therefore, the 3-5 sweet spot gets found.

  5. pmjones says:

    Also, rarely have I found a company that promotes from within. Much more often, they start with their leadership, and then bring on staff. If one of the staff members leaves, rarely is a lower person promoted into that position; instead, an external person is hired to fill it (or it’s outsourced). Next time someone says “we promote from within” ask them the last three times that happened.

    • Eli says:

      I agree Paul. Which makes it extra frustrating when everyone keeps wanting to place you in a lower position and using that ‘excuse’.

      You have to be careful with the ‘last time’ question though. Why? Because the last time might have just been weeks/months ago. But that person was probably there for 5 years before they got that promotion.

      The real question is: “When was the last time that you promoted someone within a year?” Since that’s what you’d be looking at, entering that position.

  6. pmjones says:

    s/staff members/leadership members

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