Uncharted Waters

Nov 10 2014   4:31PM GMT

Is There a Tech Talent Shortage?

Justin Rohrman Justin Rohrman Profile: Justin Rohrman

Whenever I talk to companies or recruiters at local meetups, there is usually a common theme. They are looking for tech people, but good talent is really hard to find. Conversations like this are usually followed up with a description of some sort of very senior job for not so senior pay or a very hard to come by skill set.

Forbes online did a piece on why more people don’t go into programming. I’m not sure I agree with all or even most of the reasons mentioned, but when reading the laundry list it would be easy to come away with the impression that software jobs, particularly programming, is something no one really wants. High barriers to entry, high levels of ambiguity, and constant high pressure make the job sound really undesirable.


The premise of this problem is probably questionable, lets take a look at why.

The question of ‘Why are so few programmers/testers/admins applying to this job opening’ is uttered at some companies pretty often. One possibility is that there really is a shortage of technical people. This can be especially true in smaller cities in the US outside of traditional tech areas like Palo Alto, or the North East. Another possibility is that there actually is a good amount of tech people, but they are in high demand. These people get the jobs they want and employers are smart enough to keep them happy.

And yet one more option is that employers are looking for a person that simply does not exist. This is happening more and more in software testing because companies are seeking a sort of ubermensch tester that has mastered software testing, programming, sys administration, and software usability.

Too few programmers?

Part of this assertion was based on the fact that the number of Computer Science graduates has been steadily dropping for 10 or 20 years depending on who you ask. That argument is a little weird though. At every tech job I’ve had, there have been a number of people that got there without a Computer Science degree. People with backgrounds in physics and maths, the humanities, all the way to people with no formal education past high school can all end up in programming jobs with a little self-study. Programmers and tech people in general come from varied backgrounds, that is a good thing.

Or not enough places people want to work

Maybe, there is also a shortage of places that real talent are excited about working for. In certain parts of the US, there are many programming and testing job that stay open for long periods of time. A positive public reputation in the tech community can make job hunting much easier for the person that is looking, it is equally important for the company looking for that person. People can smell organizational problems a mile away and if they can’t, they have been told about them by their friends. Things like large numbers of people leaving a company, employees not having the power to make decisions relevant to their work, and days upon days of meetings all ripple through the community and affect a companies ability to hire the people they want.

There might very well be a shortage of people ready and willing to work in software jobs, but the reasons are complicated. They usually are.

The solution for the talent (you) takes some time but is definitely doable. Develop yourself into a person people want to hire, that usually means be good at in-demand technologies and be capable of working with other people. For the company; become a place people actually want to work at. Valuing the people (and showing that) is a good place to start.

2  Comments on this Post

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  • ToddN2000
    I can see some of the points myself. It seem like some employers are looking for the "moon and the stars" when it comes to talent. Most programmers can provide the moon or the stars. I see very few programmers that can code in C#, VB, java, 3D-modeling, Unity and every other language and do them all well. I feel some companies are looking to consolidate their IT staff and get an all-in-one person. With the constant changing in the programming field, it's hard to stay current in everything.
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  • JPK1999
    There isn't a quick answer to this. For one thing, application developer's field is constantly changing. Fifteen years ago C, Java, and Visual Basic were all the rage. The field has moved on to other Object Oriented languages. Another drawback is the trend in many large corporations to hire foreign contract help; Johnson and Johnson just signed a $1 billion contract with an Indian sourcing firm to do most if not all of their IT tasks. Microsoft let go 18000 workers this year, but they are lobbying for Congress to allow more H1B Visas into the nation; ditto for Oracle, Facebook, and Google.

    The true measure of whether a skill or trade has a shortage of workers is the wage scale. Yes, there are some well paying jobs out there in IT; however, the over-all picture is one of flat wages. Perhaps technology is partly to blame. Virtualization, SDNs, and the Cloud have allowed many enterprises to do more without having to hire a whole gaggle of infrastructure technologists. And many corporations have gone to hosted solutions for much of their software deployments; this again reduces the need for large number of developers. Managed Service firms allow many businesses to eliminate IT departments save project managers and executive positions.

    Overall, a combination of technology breakthroughs and the desire for companies to hire inexpensive but talented software developers has caused demand for IT Pros to go down and not up. If there are shortages of workers, those are usually short term events for narrow fields of expertise. 
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