Rick Giner's expertise lies behind the scenes, but as far as the job market is concerned, he may as well be a rock star. The 33-year-old front-end web specialist receives an average of five or 10 job offers every week, and has worked at four different organisations in the last five years.
Pic via Shutterstock
This is despite having no formal training — as a teenager he mucked around on computers at home, and got his first job at 18, fresh out of high school. He learnt the rest on the job.
"For a long while it [front-end development] was kind of seen as the little brother of programming and development ... really just like colouring in pictures," Giner says.
Just six years ago, The Guardian described his profession – simply speaking, making apps and websites look great and work seamlessly for the user – as a "relatively obscure internet discipline".
But in the last few years, with the explosion of smartphones and mobile apps, and the need for websites to adapt to any device, his skills have become increasingly sought after. Giner is emblematic of a new breed of IT workers born out of Australia's IT skills shortage and the rapid pace of technological change.
They are highly mobile, highly sought after, and tend to "upskill" off their own bat. The ball is most definitely in their court.
Richard Fischer, managing director at specialist IT recruitment firm Greythorn, says the Australian technology workforce of today is transient and lacks loyalty.
A recent Greythorn survey showed 90 per cent of IT workers were either actively looking to change jobs or "keeping an eye on the market". Sixty-one per cent were actively looking to change jobs in the next 12 months.
"The hottest area, of course, is digital, including design people as well as technical people," Fischer said.
App developers and people with skills in mobility, analytics, cloud and security, as well as experienced project managers and business analysts, were also in high demand, he said.
Contract work has always played a big role in IT thanks to organisations needing to boost their staff for short-term projects. But it's on the rise.
Fischer said contract and temporary positions now make up about 90 per cent of IT jobs (across recruitment firms, not just at Greythorn), up from around 60 to 70 per cent prior to the global financial crisis.
Most of the time, this is mutually beneficial for employer and employee. Organisations can get a project sorted with minimal overheads, while in-demand talent have the opportunity to build their CV with each new position, and have little to fear when it comes to finding the next job.
But a workforce conditioned towards mobility is not good news all of the time.
"Job-hopping" – where a worker leaves before a contract is up, or quits a permanent position – can have its downsides for both staff and firms.
Some employers will overlook talent that has had too many different jobs, opting instead for someone they consider more loyal.
Luke Singleton, of from ICT recruitment firm Spark, says for the employer an inconsistent project team can also result in missed project deadlines; financial losses incurred by replacement costs; lost productivity; lower team morale and that modern workplace bugbear, stress.
Consultancies, government and other large, complex organisations such as banks, are more likely to want to hang onto intellectual property and retain staff.
So how does an organisation catch and keep a rock-star tech professional with 100 other job offers in the pipeline? The answers may be surprising.
Fischer says if an organisation wants to retain talent like Giner, it needs to be thinking in the same 12-month time frame and be able to communicate opportunities for professional development. Investing in staff training can also pay off in a big way.
"If employers working on a digital development project are only talking to their team about 'deliverables', it's not enough," he says.
Singleton says career growth opportunities, flexible working conditions, employer-paid training, and having an employer with a strong leadership team are all attractive to top talent. "Gone are the days when salary was the main reason why candidates would change roles," he says.
That certainly rings true for Giner, who says work-life balance and the opportunity to work on fulfilling projects are both priorities when deciding on the next conquest.
In his spare time, he's heavily involved in Melbourne's local developer community, organising programmer gatherings and even launching an "emerging technologies" festival called Buzzconf, to be held in Ballan in rural Victoria next month.
For him, it's never been about the money.
"People want to do more than just program," he says. "It used to be enough 15 years ago to sit and code in the dark and be antisocial, but that's not really the case any more. We want to bring real benefits to the places we work in."
But imparting skills and helping a place to grow and change often takes only a short period; and then, he says, it's time to move on.