March 21, 2017

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Poll Indicates Possibly Epic Brexit Brain Drain

A small poll I ran on the Codemanship Twitter account paints a pretty grim picture for software development in the UK after Brexit.

Of the 265 people who responded, 12% said they had already left the UK. 10% had plans to leave. And a very worrying 26% were considering leaving.

These numbers aren't entirely surprising, when you consider an earlier poll showed about 80% of developers opposed Brexit, and nearly half of devs working in Britain are immigrants, many of whom suddenly don't feel very welcome and are struggling to live with the uncertainty about whether or not they'll be allowed to stay.

The Codemanship take on this is we shouldn't be surprised that necessarily very international professions like ours suffer under nationalism. It simply isn't possible for any nation to go it alone in computing.

But my fears are worse for the potential knock-on effects on the wider economy of a major brain drain. Think of all the investment projects - both in the private and public sectors - that have a significant computing component.

The short-termist may think "hoorah, less foreign devs = more work and higher pay for me!", but I fear they're just not thinking it through. If projects are too difficult to staff - and building good dev teams is already hard enough - then the natural (and perfectly legal) response from investors will be to take those projects elsewhere.

Government is finally catching on to just how reliant UK plc is on IT, but has yet to make the leap to recognising just how reliant UK plc is on people who write software. Even a brain drain of 10% would be likely to hurt economic performance. 25%+ is likely to be a disaster. And as more of the better devs leave, more good devs will be encouraged to follow.

They'll say, of course, that they're investing in addressing the skills shortage. But when you look at how much is being invested, you realise it's just a bit of PR, really. That budget needs several extra zeros adding to it to have any noticeable impact. And even when it does, the gap won't be filled overnight. It takes many years to grow a software developer. Increasingly, 2019 looks like a cliff edge.

The obvious solution, of course, is to remain in the single market and continue to accept freedom of movement. But this is looking unlikely now.

What are we to do?

I believe there could be a way forward, but it would require us to jump some hurdles that software managers have traditionally balked at. In particular, it will require us to favour smaller teams of better developers. And we know that most dev teams could be working smarter, paying more attention to quality, doing smaller releases more often, and so on. In other words, we might be able to ride out the brain drain by getting better at software development.

Posted 4 years, 11 months ago on March 21, 2017