Tech’s hot in Pakistan these days no matter how one looks at it. You could substantiate that claim by using the inflow of investment in startups, which has already crossed $250 million with four months to go, but if anything, that doesn’t depict the true extent. A more representative way probably would be to turn to new company incorporations where information and technology have seen over 60 per cent growth over the past three years. Include the newly added e-commerce category to these numbers and combined they lead the charts.
With a healthy flow of both new product and services-based companies coming online, there is unsurprisingly a great demand for tech talent, which the current supply is unable to meet. According to most founders, that actually is the biggest challenge for startups as they all compete for a limited talent pool amid pressures from the global marketplace since the rise of remote work.
The average monthly pay for an entry-level programmer is Rs51,344 which goes up to Rs215,723 for a senior resource
Ensuring the retention of those resources is costly. Thanks to the Pakistan Software House Association’s recently published salary survey — based on data from 175 participating companies — we can gauge the extent of it in addition to other key trends in the tech sector labour’s market. To start with, the average monthly pay for an entry-level programmer is Rs51,344 which goes up to Rs215,723 for a senior resource (6+ years), reflecting the extent of potential growth in the field.
But some programmers are more equal than others as entry-level MERN/MEAN/full-stack developers command the highest starting average salaries of over Rs61,000, which increase to Rs101,000 for juniors (1-3 years), Rs160,000 for middle level (3-6y), and Rs233,534 in case of seniors. Python, Ruby, Node are other leading tech stacks in terms of compensation, depending on experience. Obviously, with seniority, employees move more towards architect roles.
Other high-paying technical roles include 3D animators with an average starting level salary of Rs70,000 — the highest for any field at that stage, data miner/scientist at Rs106,765 for juniors, Rs262,500 and Rs412,500 for middle and senior-level game producers, respectively.
According to the survey, 41pc of the participating companies reported giving out a high (30pc+) increment in 2021, an equal proportion awarded a good one (15-30pc) and 17pc handed out somewhere between 5-15pc. This is where the gap between demand and supply manifests itself as 56pc of the respondents cite a lack of skilled resources being the biggest factor in deciding higher salary. About 42pc also indicate prior experience as a key reason and 25pc mention prior/current pay.
Whether it’s because of the relatively meritocratic nature of technology where skills generally matter more than brand names/legacy or it’s something else but only 21pc companies reported giving preference to candidates from Pakistani universities and 11pc those having international certifications. Only 9pc leaned in favour of higher education or fancy foreign schools. All these seem to be in stark contrast to the apparent trends at leading multinationals. That said, graduates of major local universities do continue to lead the employee headcount, with Lahore and Islamabad attracting the most talent from Comsats, followed by Bahria and FAST-NUCES respectively. Meanwhile, public sector schools — the University of Karachi and NED — are the biggest talent pools for Karachi.
Roughly 78pc of the companies reported giving out increments to retain employees. With remote work becoming increasingly popular and attainable for an ever greater number of Pakistanis, the local tech sector is feeling some of the pinch. Approximately, 21pc respondents highlighted more than 50pc staff leaving their jobs for remote opportunities and 33pc deemed the situation alarming (10-50pc workers). It’s not surprising then that 2021 was the worst year in terms of turnover, which was 30pc, compared to 18pc in 2020. This was felt across the board by organisations of all sizes and experienced higher by entities in Karachi, at 35pc, than Lahore and Islamabad.
Another interesting area where the survey sheds light on is diversity, with regards to gender in this case. It’s no secret that tech has historically not been welcoming of women, so much so that even some of the biggest organisations such as Google have come under fire for cultivating a sexist and misogynistic culture. Unfortunately, the local industry is far behind if anything as the national diversity ratio stands at a meagre 17.08pc with Karachi at 17.20pc, Islamabad 16.6 and Lahore 15.03pc. As many as 65pc of the companies had a ratio of less than 20pc and only 6pc that boasted 40pc of women staff. This is only the surface that barely tells anything about the true extent of inclusion. Would have been great to see, say, what was the share of female employees in the c-suite or maybe the pay differential.
Despite the much-boasted population dividend and the usual talk of the real economy, it’s disappointing how the government bodies do not bother with collecting and releasing any regular frequency datasets on (un)employment trends. The entire survey would have made for far more interesting a read if we had updated numbers from other industries too to truly take a deeper view. But unfortunately, the only data we are getting are those useless comparisons with ticks and crosses from the ruling administration.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, September 6th, 2021