Nearshore Americas

Junior Developers and the “False Paradise” of Working from Home

The last year has been rough for everyone. But for those just starting out their careers, the pandemic delivered particularly obstructive effects. 

The junior software developer position is all about absorbing and learning.  They’re often fresh out of college, do not posses experience and require serious tutelage to make the steps that will lead them to become a valuable member of a development team.

The inability to see the forest for the trees is a classic sign of a developer still wet behind the ears, says influential programming blog, Better Programming: “Junior developers are inexperienced. Some just graduated and are starting their first full-time job. The mindset of a junior developer often is to just make the code work. Working software and good software are considered the same,” it says.

The hours of programming, understanding how to reframe technical challenge and, importantly, how to work in a professional environment, are all done as a junior. But during Covid-19, junior developers have not experienced the normal learning curve.

A Junior Developer’s Path

Nicholas Amarelle, CEO and founder of CodigoDelSur

At CodigoDelSur, a mobile development app based out of Montevideo, Uruguay, the initial training of a junior developer is an accepted sunk cost that the company takes on board. “Our initial aim for the development of a junior developer is to bring them to the point at which they are able to take on their own responsibilities, their own tasks and, eventually, the moment at which we can begin billing for their time. When a junior developer starts they are not productive hours for the company in terms of selling their work. When they begin, we are investing in their learning,” Nicholas Amarelle, CEO and founder of CodigoDelSur told Nearshore Americas.

The process of moving a junior to a capable and autonomous team member would usually take a year at CodigoDelSur, Amarelle says, and would be guided by three main stakeholders: a technical leader, a project manager and a member of the HR department. “But this has changed substantially over the pandemic,” explained Amarelle.

“Following up with students was incredibly difficult. Student numbers fell from about 400 to 107” — Christian Corcino

At IntelliSys D. Corp. in the Dominican Republic, juniors take around three years to move to senior positions as they learn and improve. But the past 18 months of work from home has had a dramatic impact on talent production.

The company’s institute recruits inexperienced developers from some of the most deprived areas of the Dominican Republic and Latin America, where infrastructural problems, like access to a guaranteed electricity supply and reliable internet connection, are common. During the work from home period, almost two-thirds of its trainees who were unable to enter the bubble set up at the company’s headquarters, dropped out.

Christian Corcino, CEO and co-founder of IntelliSys D. Corp

“We have lost nearly 65% of the students who were outside of the bubble,” explained Christian Corcino, CEO and co-founder of IntelliSys D. Corp. “This was due to the lack of interaction and the stifled communication. Following up with students was incredibly difficult. Student numbers fell from about 400 to 107.”

Trainees who enter the IntelliSys D. Corp. institute often arrive with patchy high school records. The institute works with them to fill any gaps in addition to the traineeship that normally takes “between 9 and12 months, requiring a minimum of 20 hours per week during that period.”

Once trainees reach the level of junior developers, they enter the working world where they are physically co-located with the IntelliSys D. Corp. team and its senior developers, while continuing with technical training: “Working weeks are at least 36 hours of work and eight hours of training. This can only be done full time,” explained Corcino. 

Beyond Technical Skills

Technical skills are the bread and butter of a developer. But in the modern business setting, and particularly in the Nearshore market where client languages, cultures and expectations are so distinct, ‘soft skills’ are a vital part of learning.

Junior developers are taught three main pillars when they begin working at CodigoDelSur, Amarelle says. There is the technical skills required to do the job, customer interaction and work habit skills that are learned from others and team bonding in order to feel at home and understand the company’s culture. All of these have been affected by the pandemic.

When a junior developer starts they are not productive hours for the company in terms of selling their work. When they begin, we are investing in their learning” — Nicholas Amarelle

“The technical learning is the least affected though it isn’t the same to learn new technologies by yourself,” he said. “The second would be customer relations and work habits. This aspect is more impacted because it is done through seeing and witnessing. But the most affected is team bonding, understand the company itself and its culture. It isn’t the same to work for CodigoDelSur as it is another company. This understanding that happens in person, as does the creation of creation of bonds and fostering a team feeling. At the moment those bonds still exist but they’re laxer. How to make those bonds stronger is the challenge and it isn’t restricted only to junior developers but also to other new members of the team who have joined us over the pandemic.”

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For IntelliSys D. Corp., the problem is more acute. “As we recruit from many deprived areas not all trainees and juniors have had access to the same work culture as is expected in the team. Our offices are wealthy areas, the work can be international and certain behaviours are required,” Corcino explained. “It is critical that trainees and devs work together. They might be from urban areas that are dangerous, or from very rural areas. If they stay at home there is no opportunity for them to build those specific interaction skills that they need.”

Work From Home: A False Paradise?

Successful vaccinations campaigns are turning minds towards the future of working. With the rise of digital nomadism, and migration out of major urban conurbations to smaller cities and towns in the developed world, a hybrid model of time split between the office and work from home looks most likely. 

But for junior developers, the need to be together with senior team members – to learn both technical and ‘soft’ skills – will remain crucial in their professional growth and the speed at which they can become value-adding members of their company. This fact, and the reality of Latin America, means that the idea of working from a tropical beach or halfway up a mountain is not the paradise it is considered elsewhere.

“There is a lot of romanticism about work from home. But we need to remember that there is a lot of inequality in Latin America, and if companies choose to work only from home in the future, it will be very difficult for people from poorer areas to gain access to professional opportunities,” Corcino warned.

Peter Appleby

Peter is former Managing Editor of Nearshore Americas. Hailing from Liverpool, UK, he is now based in Mexico City. He has several years’ experience covering the business and energy markets in Mexico and the greater Latin American region. If you’d like to share any tips or story ideas, please reach out to him here.

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