Saturday 28 June 2014

What are the essential skills of a software engineer ?

In our last article, we tackled the question of what local industries software engineers should be looking at, specifically the difference between them. This week, we take a look at the other side of the equation: what technologies and skillsets do employers favour in their projects?

An ever-present question in technological circles, “what is the best programming language” is best considered not solely by the merits of the code’s structure or ease of handling but also by considering the opportunities opened up by each language. Knowing what languages are currently on demand and being able to predict changes in the next few years means you will be better positioned to be competitive in the market.

By looking at 37 software engineer vacancies published by local employers since January 2014 on,,  the media and their corporate websites it is clear what the vast majority of employers are looking for.
To verify our conclusions, we also gathered information from our network by interviewing 7 software developers employed across igaming, B2B and software companies.

Here are the most requested programming languages by employers in Malta, listed according to the probability of an employer asking for it in job descriptions:

  • .NET (ASP.NET, C#, VB.NET)  -  Originally developed by microsoft for the .NET initiative, this group of object oriented programming languages tend to be requested together. C# is required by practically every employer who develops software components for deployment in distributed environments. ASP.NET is not strictly a programming language but a server side web application framework. With most software now being built as dynamic web apps, it is very much in demand. Mastering these is a good career move however keep in mind that it is a tough area to compete in: unless you have other unique skills you will not stand out.
  • Java  Confirming the continued popularity of object oriented programming, Java is also highly popular, which corresponds to our recent in Java vacancies.  A highly flexible language designed to run on a broad variety of platforms, it is mostly demanded by clients in the telecoms and enterprise solutions (client server applications) industries. If you are interested in mobile development Java is a safe bet, as it powers a lot of development for the and the Android platform. Due to its flexibility demand is increasing, and as of 2014 there are slightly less developers who are experienced in the platform, so honing this skill makes you extremely attractive hire in the eyes of employers.
  • SQL or structured query language is the next in line. Defined as a “special purpose language designed for managing data held in relational database management systems”, it is often required in combination with other skills and drives the majority of any data driven engineering. Combining SQL proficiency with UX knowledge is an interesting combination, and allows you to play a leading role as projects are moving towards simple interfaces which conceal high backend complexity.
  • C, C++  For software engineers who want maximum transferable skills, C is an easy choice. Used on practically all platforms, it is one of the most widely used programming languages locally and has been around for a while, partly due being a precursor to other languages such as C++, Objective C and Python. The trend, however, is that development on pure C will slowly become marginalized as employers seek these later languages. Being object oritened, C++ has gained in popularity and will soon become a mainstay. Objective-C on the other hand is not so popular in Malta as it is mostly used today as the primary language in developing applications for Apple OSx and iOS.
  • Javascript, HTML5, CSS3, jQuery:  Since they are so tightly related, we have listed these together. Until just a few years ago, any agency-style company that made websites for clients required at least knowledge of 3 of these front-end oriented skills. With cloud infrastructure becoming commonplace, the increasing amount of  popularity is now exploding however, particularly in the igaming industry. Javascript in particular is being requested for server side programming, game development and desktop applications. In relation to HTML and CSS, it is also common that employers ask for AJAX knowhow so as to send and retrieve data in the background.
  • PHP is an  open source server side scripting environment designed for web development, and another mainstay of igaming development. It remains high in demand, and Malta currently has a lack of software engineers who have mastered its complexity, which means that it commands a premium in salaries.
  • RDBMS (Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle MySQL) Finally, knowledge and experience with databases is particularly useful and often requested. While differing in structure, knowing NoSQL as well will help cover certain weaknesses of RDBMS such as speed in certain areas, making the software engineer become more valuable to employers.

It is important to note that the typical software engineer vacancy in Malta requests 3 years of experience or ability with around 4-5 different language in combination with database knowledge.  Employers in Malta are increasingly looking for Full Stack developers rather than specialists. This is reflected in the increase in average yearly salary for an experienced full stack developer (35,000 euro average). The reason is that employers require flexibility. Software and web services are always on the rise, but the nuances between employers specific needs means that software engineers must be more flexible than ever and cannot risk locking themselves into one platform or methodology

As you can see, most software engineering jobs in Malta still revolve around the web and Microsoft Windows platforms, with Oracle/Linux following up and mobile (Android/ioS) opportunities lagging behind but increasing exponentially.  

There is a lot of focus on .net , c#, locally but PHP, Java etc might have higher growth . Compared to countries with similar economics such as Romania and Ukraine, Malta also has a low incidence of employers asking for Python, Ruby/Rails, Perl, Delphi, Scala and MongoDB, all of which are showing international growth. This is a reflection of the major pool of available talent. Since the University of Malta, private education institutions and MCAST tend to train people in the languages above, this is manifested in a bias for employers as well. However if you have the basics covered, we highly recommend setting yourself apart by mastering one of the high growth languages on the international scale which will inevitably come to Malta as well, as with such additional skills you can excel both during the initial interview and during employment.

NEXT: What non technical skills do local companies want in developers?


Thanks for sharing, nice post!

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