Hiring wars – is it really so tough to find tech talent in Berlin?

Nina Fowler 2012-09-12 10

hiring wars

Berlin’s tech recruiters agree the scene is heating up – but that doesn’t mean it’s time to pack up the laptops and move to Munich.

A few weeks back, TechCrunch’s Mike Butcher shared a few dark anecdotes from the Berlin tech scene – a startup founding CTO lured away to another company by a €180,000 salary; three sales chiefs poached by Rocket Internet in six months; certain startups no longer speaking to each other…

We’ve heard a few of these stories too but how bad is it getting, really, and why? Keeping in mind there might be a certain occupational bias, we asked a few of the city’s tech recruitment agencies to share their thoughts. 

Are developers becoming divas?

Jeremy Del-GuidiciJeremy Del-Guidici heads up NJF Europe, a London-based tech recruitment firm working with companies including DaWanda (Berlin) and InnoGames (Hamburg). The firm places about 100 candidates into Germany, its main market, per year.

Clients are indeed finding it harder to hire, he says, because developers now know they’re in demand:

An example – a couple of days ago, I met with one of the best Java script front-end developers I’ve ever known. He’s a front-end architect, based in Poland. He told me, ‘A couple of years ago, I would have had to move to Germany for a job. But now, I can basically sit at home in Poland, pick up a massive daily rate and not move.’”

Salaries in Berlin, though, Del-Guidici says, have stayed roughly the same, at about €60,000 for a senior developer whether it’s “PHP, Java, Ruby on Rails, whatever”.

Anna OttAnna Ott, managing director at i-potentials, a Berlin-based agency working with Delivery Hero, Westwing, 6Wunderkinder and other well-known names, agrees €60,000 a year is pretty normal. She guesses that’s probably gone up by €5,000-€10,000 compared to what it was two years ago, in part because the general skills levels are higher. ”If you have two more years experience in Ruby on Rails, you have €10,000-€15,000 more a year.”

Both employers and employees are becoming more professional and more picky. The very good developers are becoming “a bit like divas”, Ott jokes, only signing up when it’s a cool, disruptive project with the right “blades”, hardware and documentation guidelines – and even then – only as freelancers.

As for outright hiring wars, iPotentials does get asked to stalk specific candidates. That’s not something the firm does, but there’s little to stop it happening elsewhere – apart from internal policies to stop some of the incubator companies poaching from portfolio mates.

Berlin vs Hamburg vs Munich vs London

This doesn’t mean Berlin is necessarily worse off than in other major Germany cities. NJF recently took a cross-section of 200 available roles and compared that to developers they knew were willing to go to those cities (or who already lived there). The results:

Berlin: 1 candidate to every 2 vacancies
Munich: 1 candidate to every 3 vacancies
Hamburg: 1 candidate to every 3 vacancies

While it’s hard to hire in Berlin, this suggests it’s relatively easy to find people willing to move here. (It could also reflect demand from some of the large digital media agencies – and a growing number of startups – in Munich.)

For Del-Guidici, the obvious solution to the hiring wars is to hire talent wherever it comes from. “Some of the most successful startups we work with have 15-20 different nationalities working for them,” he points out. “They hire guys from Russia; they hire guys from Brazil. But a lot of startups in Germany are very particular about only having German-speaking guys and that makes it very, very difficult.”

(He and iPotentials’ Anna Ott are quick to say that’s fair enough in many cases, especially when the rest of the team only speaks German.)

Berlin’s arguably still in a better position than London – for developers as well as employers. “Weirdly enough, a lot of developers in Berlin actually take better salaries than they do in the UK, especially when you compare it to living costs and quality of life,” Del-Guidici says.

Don’t take the good times for granted

The internet scene in Berlin will continue to evolve and the relatively good times now should not be taken for granted. “A couple of years ago, investors were throwing money around like it was nobody’s business,” Del-Guidici says. “Fast forward, and we notice that even though there are plenty of startups coming out of Berlin each month, a lot less are getting funding and a lot more of them are failing… Berlin’s got a great scene, but it’s not untouchable.”

Right now, the startup scene is a “pop culture”, Ott adds. “Everyone is going out of university because he wants to be the next Mark Zuckerberg. In a year or two, there’ll be a downsize in the market… Economic changes in Europe probably, less money on the market, less startups, less people working for startups.”

Less bright hype and less startups might turn out to be a good thing. Still, those currently employing should enjoy the access to talent they have while the sun’s still on them.

Featured image credit: Flickr user M.CERASOLI

FOR RELATED READING, CHECK OUT:

Time to walk the walk – why the Berlin startup scene is still in a bubble of hype
“Screw the karma, give me cash!” Why free labour is the unfair fuel of the startup scene

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