My experience seeking employment as a PHP developer

I am a PHP developer in central New Jersey and recently became unemployed. I have been programming in PHP for about twelve years, doing so professionally for ten of those. The following is my experience seeking employment in the New York City/Central New Jersey/Philadelphia Area for a senior PHP developer position.

I created my profile on monster.com on a Monday and made it public that night. The following Tuesday morning my telephone went nuts and my email inbox blew up with recruiters reaching out with positions that I was “perfect for”. Over the course of the next week and a half (not including weekends) I spent 10-12 hours a day receiving and returning phone calls, and reading and responding to emails from recruiters. At no point did I ever have to actively look for an open position (although I did to make sure I didn’t miss anything). Apparently experienced PHP developers are in short supply locally and even nationally as I received opportunities from around the country with both opportunities to relocate and telecommute. Recruiters were very aggressive.

It took eight days to get my first offer and ten days to accept a position and end the job seeking process.

The median salary for PHP developers outside of a major city seems to be about $65,000/yr if you do not have another major programming language or skill on your resume. As you get closer to a major city, salaries rise. (Of course that figure will also vary based on many other factors such on industry, bonuses, etc).

Some interesting things I noted during the job seeking and interviewing processes were:

  • Even though experienced PHP developers are in short supply, posers apparently are not. Many of my technical interviews started off with very easy questions (“How do you find a string in an array?”). These questions were asked because employers and recruiters are encountering a lot of developers who are claiming to be experienced developers who in fact have little or no programming skill at all.
  • Experience with unit testing was never listed as a requirement or even as a “plus”. In fact, the only time unit testing was mentioned was when I interviewing with a senior PHP developer and I had asked him to tell me more about their existing codebase. (They did use unit testing).
  • My knowledge of design patterns was only asked during one interview. It was never listed as a job requirement or mentioned in any job description.
  • Only a couple of job descriptions listed a knowledge of Memcache as a requirement or a “plus”.
  • Almost all potential employers were running LAMP stacks. The only company who was running PHP on Windows was in the process of migrating their infrastructure to LAMP.
  • PHP was not the exclusive language of choice for about half of potential employers. Some had legacy PERL code and PHP was used in all new code being written. One used PHP for everything but used Ruby on Rails for one API (they never explained why). One was a Java shop but used PHP for one internal app. Most employers were willing to teach new employees new languages as long as your skills with PHP were very strong.

If you are a PHP developer and you want to make yourself as attractive as possible to potential employers, here is what you should get experience in to make your resume stand out:

  • Have experience with frameworks. The most common framework employers were using in production was Zend by far. CodeIgniter was a distant second.
  • Joomla was very commonly being used so being familiar with it is definitely a plus. Drupal would be a close second. WordPress third.
  • Have sample code to show your coding skills. Ideally your code will be available on Github or a similar alternative as many recruiters will be looking for it there as well some employers.
  • There’s more to the world then PHP. Being strong with JavaScript/jQuery, HTML5/CSS3, MySQL/SQL/Database design, Shell Scripting, Java, Ruby on Rails, Python, and more will make you even more attractive to potential employers.

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6 thoughts on “My experience seeking employment as a PHP developer

  1. Hey – congrats on getting the new job so quickly. I just finished recruiting and hiring for a PHP position and I wanted to give a bit of insight.

    Recruiters are aggressive yes. And there ARE tons of posers. Believe it or not, I got a code sample once that contained both code the applicant didn’t write and a file that contained only phpinfo(). Um…

    The other thing you’ve noticed is the lack of ‘requirements’ on these postings. I would say that’s by design. I’ve experimented with my postings a lot. Add a few requirements like “unit testing” or “patterns” and suddenly no one wants to apply. Remove those, and you have tons of applicants. Those words are ‘scary’ and sound like boring old computer sciencey jobs (at least, that’s my guess). So, instead we’re reduced to just asking for PHP talent and doing a lot more testing afterwards. So yes, that’s why you’ll see a lack of those type of requirements in your search.

    Veteran PHP programmers – you can definitely look at the suggestions here as good steps to show your expertise. There are two other things I would suggest. First, SEO yourself. When a recruiter or an employer is researching your skillset, you should be the first result for your name. Second, connect and network at all times. You never know when that nerdy CEO you met 2 years ago at a conference has a department with a perfect position just for you.

  2. Thank you very much for sharing! Based on my own experience, mid-level PHP developers are currently hard to find. I’m not surprised you were courted so heavily! I’m also glad to hear it, personally.

    Also, I appreciate the full-disclosure of the average pay you noticed. That’s valuable information on both sides of the fence.

  3. It’s nice to see a post about this.

    I’m from Brazil and here most companies uses .Net or Java and these developers are the most well paid and PHP is considered a low to mid salary, even thought some of these companies switch to PHP after some project failures or expensive project duration.

    It’s tough to find companies here that pay what you really deserve, just to give you an example, in a mid city you get about R$ 2000/month (US$ 1162/month) and in big cities you get R$ 4000 – R$ 5000/month (US$ 2325 – US$ 2906/month) and the cost for living in these cities are usually higher.

    Thanks for the post.

  4. One thing I have noticed, especially with developers from the US….You have a habit of “selling” yourself as a developer of PHP, C++, Python, etc. IMHO if you are a good developer the language is secondary (even if you prefer a specific one).

  5. Thanks for sahring this, it’s reassuring.

    You should try the same test in Italy, you won’t need a phone because no one will ever call you. Or maybe they do and offer you an wonderful €5 per hour salary.

    Anyway after reading this article I’m gonna try to submit my resume on Monster. Let’s see if I can find a job in Singapore or in Abu Dhabi.
    Here the situation is getting worst and worst, almost once a week there is a small entrepreneur commiting suicide (and I’m not kidding).

    Would you say recruiters cared about your StackExchange ranks?

  6. If I remember correctly, at least one recruiter asked about my participation at StackOverflow and my activity in the PHP tag. I have no way of knowing how many recruiters and employers checked out my profile by following the link on my website, though. But I definitely have made it a point to increase my reputation at StackOverflow and upvotes in the PHP tag. Since then I have obtained the gold PHP badge and have moved into the top 750 members in terms of reputation on the whole site. So if I find myself in a similar situation again I won’t have to worry about my StackOverflow presence being a potential hole in my overall résumé.

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