Software development in Germany - costs, challenges, and chances

When you think of Germany, what comes to mind? I am thinking BMW (which I am a massive fan of), Mercedes-Benz, Siemens… What do these brands have in common? They stand for high quality. The 50 most respected German brands, i.e. brands which have the highest corporate value (measured in financial and non-financial terms) have a combined equity of €263 billion, which puts Germany ahead of France and the UK.

Software development in Germany - costs, challenges, and chances
Contributor Photo - Kasia Kowalska

Kasia Kowalska

Guest Blogger

Most of us associate Germany with high-quality products which makes the German market particularly demanding. This also relates to software development. Software development in Germany, just like in the rest of Europe constitutes a challenge due to its time-consuming nature and a deficiency of experienced software developers.

Germany is considered the biggest market for software development and therefore needs reliable software partners to help them fulfill their needs to the highest standards.

Software development in Germany - what are the challenges?

High potential which creates high expectations and competition

The software development market in Germany is flourishing. It is the largest software market in Europe, accounting for circa 25% of the entire European market, leading the UK and France. It’s expected to grow by 5.5% between 2016 and 2019. Markets that represent such high potential are also prone to high competition.

Even though companies such as IBM, Oracle, and SAP are important players, the market is dominated by highly specialized SMEs which also drive significant demand and create a promising customer base. This leads to two challenges:

High customer expectations - since there is a lot of product variety, customers can afford to be picky, and they don’t have to compromise on quality. Since German brands strive for excellence, they will only cooperate with software development partners who can fulfill their high demands.

Talent competition - Germany, just like most markets worldwide, suffers from a lack of skilled software engineers. The more software companies on the market, the wider the choice for potential employers of software developers, which might prove problematic. In fact, according to Eurostat Statistics, 41% of European firms find it challenging to fill vacancies in ICT. In Germany alone, there are 440,000 empty MINT vacancies (Mathematik Informatik Naturwissenschaft und Technik; in English: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) which further demonstrates the limited talent availability.

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Skill shortages

While overall, the German labor market’s record low unemployment rate looks extremely promising, especially for programmers, there are significant skill shortages in the engineering space. Especially in software development, programming, aerospace, automobile and mechatronics. Knowing how competitive the German market is, filling the recruitment gap is going to be difficult. According to Prognos, by 2030 as many as three million skilled workers might be missing in various industries.

Lack of talent pool limits investment

Not having enough talent available might seriously impede investment. Competition between European cities is fierce, they all fight for the interest of startup founders. One of the key factors which investors/founders take into account while deciding where to set up a business is talent accessibility. Europe is an attractive hub for software developers with over 6 million professional developers working in Europe.

Germany and the UK are home to the most significant number of software developers, i.e. over 1.7 million. However, since Germany is the biggest software market, this number is less impressive than it initially appears. For Germany to remain the A-player in the software industry and to attract a large pool of investment, it has to find a way to maintain a continuous flow of talent. It’s not mission impossible! We will discuss how it can be achieved later in this article.

To outsource or not to outsource?

To be honest, if you already have an in-house development team that is capable of providing the highest quality, then you don’t need outsourcing. On the other hand, if you feel that hiring new people, or investing in new skills for your in-house team might be overwhelming for your budget, you should think about working with external partners.

How much does it cost to develop a software program?

Software development cost estimations should consider the following factors:

Salaries of the dev team

Building software is not a cheap endeavor! You can’t build software without building a development team first. Devs’ salaries constitute the biggest cost component. If you were to hire a programmer in Berlin, expect to pay them an average of €48,523 annually. If your team was made up of just four developers, that’s nearly €200,000 a year. And that’s only software engineers. Ideally, your team should include quality assurance specialists, project managers or scrum masters, UI and UX designers, etc.

The time it takes to build a high-performing software team

Companies in almost every industry rely on programmers, which makes recruiting them even harder. 86% of employers claim that hiring skilled developers has become a real problem. For example, it takes an average of 50 days to hire a developer in Berlin. And finding the right match for your company is just half the formula.

Onboarding also takes a significant amount of time. You can’t expect a new programmer to be fully productive right from day one. It can take up to few months to bring them up to speed. Overall, it takes between 3-6 months to build a high performing software development team from scratch.

To be able to win in this highly competitive and demanding market, you’ll have to hire the best talent. Your software is only as good as your dev team.

Office rental cost

Unless you’re an extremely small team or you’re fully remote, you’ll need an office to work from. Rental costs in Germany vary from city to city. In Frankfurt it costs an average of $573 per square meter to rent office space; in Munich, it’s $525, while in Berlin it’s $477.

Prices have gone up tremendously over the years. Office rent is 56% higher in 2019 than it was in 2014. The rental cost, however, is something that can be quite easily mitigated. More about that later.

The cost of poor quality in software development

If there is one thing which you really shouldn’t save your money on, it’s your dev team. Cooperating with unskilled programmers might result in poor quality software, and the cost of poor quality software can be massive. In the US alone, it accounted for $2.84 trillion in 2018 due to external and internal failures and deficiencies, technical debt, management failures, canceled projects and money spent on expensive customer support.

Your product development team will have a decisive impact on your end product. Knowing how competitive the German market is, and how demanding the customers are, it is not an option to compromise on quality.

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Software development in Germany - how to tackle the challenges?

If the previously mentioned challenges are not addressed, software development in Germany might prove problematic. Here are a few ideas on how you can turn problems into opportunities.

Seek talent beyond Germany

There are 22.3 million software developers worldwide, why limit yourself to Germany only? Especially considering how scarce the programming talent is and how long the recruitment process takes. Also, who says you necessarily need an in-house product development team?

Working with an external software development partner will help you eliminate the problem of hiring and onboarding devs. Although you’ll have to carefully select the company you’re going to cooperate with (and there are plenty out there) you’ll get a full set of competencies which would otherwise take a lot of time to find.

Where should you look? In Poland – and not because we’re a Polish product development company. Polish software developers are among the best in the world. They regularly get the highest ranks in international programming competitions like Google Code Jam, Microsoft Imagine Cup or TopCoder. What’s more, their salaries are significantly lower than the salaries of their German counterparts. An average software developer salary in Poland is €29,436.

By choosing a Polish software development company you’ll be able to save a significant amount of money without compromising on quality. As a reminder, the average developer’s salary in Germany stands at €48,523 – that’s almost 40% higher than in Poland. And when you consider the salaries of the entire team, it becomes a massive cost, and money that you could potentially invest elsewhere.

At Boldare, we have experience working with German companies from various sectors including the renewable/green and energy sector.

Remember: Agile is your best friend

At Boldare, we work using an agile framework. It helps us to create better software, and for various reasons it’s a good choice also for our partners (you can explore this topic in our article “The great dilemma. Agile or waterfall?”). It’s mainly because at the very core of Agile, there is a belief that customer satisfaction and a focus on their needs improves the quality of delivered software. Thanks to agile, we work in iterations by releasing small but functional pieces of software regularly, making it easy to improve and pivot if necessary.

We mention this approach because it’s still uncommon for many software companies in Eastern Europe or developing countries. However, at Boldare we align our work with lean startup methodologies, agile and scrum. This helps us set up processes to build software quickly, efficiently and to the highest quality. Following agile lets us spot and eliminate errors as soon as they arise, which speeds up time to market and reduces development costs.

At Boldare, we value privacy and security, so we have strict processes to deliver finished products to customers.

Faster time to market and lower product development costs

If you decide to work with an external software development team, you get a full package of skills and experience. This means getting your product faster and more cheaply. Software development costs will depend on the project’s complexity. At Boldare, we usually work with projects over $10,000, as we prefer to work with more challenging products. It takes us between 6 to 8 weeks to release an MVP to the market, with a starting price for development of $30,000; including project consulting, design and development.

We’re also open to working with abandoned digital products and bringing them back to life! Occasionally, we take over digital products which were badly managed by unreliable software development companies. They couldn’t finalize the project due to a lack of skills and expertise, miscommunication, etc. Being skilled software engineers with a problem-solving attitude, we’re able to effectively take over the unfinished product, investigate what it lacks, propose a solution and create a finished version.

If you are stuck with unreliable service provider, you may want to read this article:

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Cooperating with an external partner = no need for an office

Office rental costs can be burdensome. Cooperating with an external software development partner will help you mitigate this problem. In this day and age, working remotely has become common practice. You don’t need to be in the same place at the same time to create remarkable products. Look at Zapier or Hotjar – both of these companies successfully operate remotely.

However, if you feel the need to meet face to face, then Poland is just around the corner. It takes 5 hours to drive from Berlin to Gliwice (where Boldare’s headquarters are), and less than 6 hours to get from Berlin to Warsaw (where we have an office). And if you’re not into driving, then there are numerous busy airports that you could use to get to your desired destination.

Concluding thoughts

Software development in Germany is not an easy endeavor due to the market’s specificity, i.e. its significant competition, demanding customers and scarce programming talent. It is the biggest software market in Europe, however, and there are steps you can take to explore its potential.

Looking for talent beyond Germany will help you tackle the problem of programmer deficit. Poland has some of the best programmers in the world. Cooperating with external software development partners will not only help you save on various costs (like office rentals, employee benefits, etc.) but it will also equip you with a more complete skill set. Working with companies who follow lean software development practices (e.g. agile and scrum) will ensure faster error elimination, lower development costs and as a result, faster time to market.

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