Urges Students To Embrace Programming - InformationWeek

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50% Urges Students To Embrace Programming

After tech industry hiring practices left students reluctant to go into software engineering, the industry wants to make up.

Technology, sports and entertainment luminaries have come together to participate in a video urging more young people to learn computer programming.

The video, published on Tuesday by computer education non-profit, features exhortations to explore programming from Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, of the Black Eyed Peas and the Miami Heat's Chris Bosh, to name a few.

Beyond the video, has published 60 statements of support from well-known business leaders like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

In a statement, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said, "At a time when people are saying 'I want a good job -- I got out of college and I couldn't find one,' every single year in America there is a standing demand for 120,000 people who are training in computer science."

[ How can universities meet the growing demand for data scientists? Read Big Data Education: 3 Steps Universities Must Take. ]

The message is that programming matters in a wide variety of industries and deserves more interest from students and more resources from educators. But the rationale for the message is more interesting: According to, there's a programmer drought in the U.S.

Citing statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Science Foundation, the College Board and the Association for Computing Machinery, claims there will be 1.4 million programming-related jobs by 2020 and only 400,000 computer science students to fill those positions.

However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook doesn't describe the situation as a shortage. In fact, it suggests that a lucrative career in programming is made less likely by IT outsourcing. "Employment of computer programmers is expected to increase 12% from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations," the website states. "Since computer programming can be done from anywhere in the world, companies often hire programmers in countries that have lower wages."

The thing is, this drought has lasted for years. Bill Gates said as much back in 2005 but the tech industry hasn't collapsed. Beyond outsourcing, now less in vogue than it was a few years ago, companies have tried to deal with the supposed lack of programmers by pushing for a greater number of H1-B visas, which allow foreign IT experts to come work in the U.S.

Some, like University of California Davis computer science professor Norman Matloff, have argued that the shortage is a myth. "No study, other than those sponsored by the industry, has ever shown a shortage," he wrote. He insists that "...employers use the H-1B program to avoid hiring older Americans." He defines "older" as "over 35."

Murray Jennex, an associate professor of in the department of information and decision systems at San Diego State University, contends there's less to this shortage than has been suggested. "I do believe it's a manufactured shortage," he said in a phone interview. "After 2005-2006, our enrollment dropped. The reason was all those programming jobs were outsourced. ...The bottom line was it was hard to tell a student to study programming when there wasn't a career path."

Management treated software engineering as a commodity skill, and U.S. students have been reluctant to participate in a commodity market, Jennex said.

In other words, one could characterize the situation as a programmer drought or, if you're a programmer, as a seller's market that companies brought on themselves. Either way, this isn't the kind of market that appeals to employers. It's one thing to pay millions in executive compensation, but it's something else entirely when $100,000 and workplace perks can't keep engineering talent from considering better offers elsewhere. Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit and Pixar tried to get around this problem with agreements not to poach each other's employees, but the Department of Justice put a stop to that.

It's perhaps worth noting that the supporters of include plenty of Silicon Valley executives and investors but no rank-and-file programmers.

According to InformationWeek's 2012 IT Salary Survey, IT staff made an average of $85,000 per year in base salary ($90,000 with bonuses) and IT managers made an average of $108,000 base salary ($116,000 with bonuses). This represents a 0.8% increase for IT staff and 1.6% for IT management since 2010.

Even so, respondents have become more optimistic about IT as a career path. Back in 2004, following the dot-com bust, only 15% of respondents considered an IT career path to be as promising as they did five years earlier. By 2010, 28% found the IT career path as promising as five years prior. And in 2012, 38% said as much, indicating at least that optimism about IT opportunities is growing.

Jennex agrees with's stand that everyone should learn to program because it's a valuable skill with cross-disciplinary applications. But he expects a correction in the market for software engineers, because there are only so many social websites and apps that can be made before the market reaches saturation. "I do think we'll see a bust cycle," he said, adding, "I think the next big cycle will be in security programming."

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User Rank: Apprentice
4/26/2013 | 10:46:36 AM
re: Urges Students To Embrace Programming
I just wish i have the vast knowledge in programming. Well, it can be learned but it takes a lot of time. I guess we all have our own specialties in the so called technology.

Spectra Equipment
User Rank: Apprentice
3/12/2013 | 5:56:25 PM
re: Urges Students To Embrace Programming
You know why students are encouraged to program and why the industry is decrying a shortage of programmers? Because they don't want the old-timers anymore. Notice the increase in IT management over staff? More bang for the buck is the bottom line.
User Rank: Strategist
3/7/2013 | 12:26:03 AM
re: Urges Students To Embrace Programming
History repeats itself.
Please don't 'train' any more new programmers, they'll join the course because it's better than selling shoes, but they'll only learn how to pass the final exam, not how to be a programmer.
A long time ago, IBM noticed that their programmers were far too well paid, and treated as gods, since nobody knew what they actually did. They opened a training program, and turned out programmers by the bucketful, till the market was flooded, and they could lower the going rate for the job. Competent programmers looked elsewhere for a job, so IBM ended up with those unemployable outside IBM and, accordingly, willing to work for peanuts.
Later, in the 90's, there was a shortage of 'C' programmers. The colleges jumped on the bandwagon, and pushed out 'C' programmers like shelling peas.
I worked with many of these programmers, and to say they were incompetent would be a gross insult to incompetence. On more than one project, I had to run an impromptu course in 'C' (out of sight of the project manager) just to get these guys onto a level where they could function.
I think that this period was directly responsible for the demise of 'C' as the language of choice for all projects, in favour of interpreted languages, needing no intelligence to write, and no nasty compiler to struggle with . Being a consultant at that time, I joined ailing projects in many companies, and one look at the code was enough to make one realise why the project was in trouble.
The worst such project was one run by IBM, which had been originally written in C++, which wouldn't work, and the graduates who had inherited it started to rewrite large chunks of it as shell scripts, since they couldn't understand C++.
This made the code run like treacle so, at the time I joined, everything was being written from scratch, in 'C'. Now in it's third year, the project had cost a fortune so, after a further six months, the management canned it.
The project was called 'Phoenix'....
User Rank: Apprentice
3/5/2013 | 5:10:50 PM
re: Urges Students To Embrace Programming
...and whining, alibis & bashing from present U.S. I.T. talents starts now... :D
User Rank: Apprentice
3/1/2013 | 2:43:50 PM
re: Urges Students To Embrace Programming
I made an account just to comment.
"In fact, it suggests that a lucrative career in programming is made less likely by IT outsourcing"

Programming is different than software development is different than software engineering.

Programming itself can be as simple as "here are the detailed specs, just go knock out the code in whatever language" and that can indeed be outsourced. "Code Monkeys" as they are called.

Software development and engineering often involve design and building something from scratch BLS outlook for those jobs is different.

My University, UGA, recently cut funding for the CS department because of the BLS' outlook on programming. Very short sighted, imo. I just graduated and demand is insanely high. I had multiple 60k+ offers months before graduating. There is definitely a shortage for good developers.
User Rank: Apprentice
2/28/2013 | 8:39:24 PM
re: Urges Students To Embrace Programming
It's been quite clear to me how the expectations of students graduating from high school have changed with regard to science and technical careers. I have done college admissions interviews for many years, and during those interviews we generally talk about a student's general plan for the future. They are looking to enter an institution known for science and engineering, and in years past that usually meant many were very interested in engineering and research. About 15 years ago I noted that this shifted greatly. Students who have the talent to be outstanding designers, developers, and researchers state that their ultimate goal is an MBA and executive management. Somewhere along the way these students who can work out the complex details of challenging scientific and engineering problems don't end up working on them because the status of the people doing the technical work has been downgraded. At one time I worked with a software development team that exemplified this attitude. They were allowed to rise in stature within the company and received promotions that were parallel to some of the management positions. Then the company decided that this was not good, and actually demoted many of these people to lower positions because they were not managers. Morale obviously dropped, and people started looking elsewhere. I'm sure this was not isolated to one team in one company. A talented person will naturally be able to read the prevailing trends and go where the greatest opportunities lie. If you don't think you will be rewarded for doing sophisticated technical work, why bother? For those employers who have taken the attitude that the management staff is clearly the most important part of an organization, you will encourage the best people to get out of technical work, and you have then created a shortage of very talented technical workers.
User Rank: Ninja
2/28/2013 | 6:14:30 PM
re: Urges Students To Embrace Programming
It is a bit ironic that representatives from companies who hire H1B and other imported workers by the thousands pose on that site. Yes, they are mainly nothing else than posers who abuse the good cause for marketing efforts. Fact is that many companies offer little to no secure future for developers, rarely initial training, and in most cases the requirements for entry level positions are so high that graduates cannot fill them.
If companies want to fix the supposed or actual shortage in talent they should work together with universities and offer degree courses with low or no tuition. The reason why many young people rather seek other career paths is that the huge investment into a degree does not yield sufficient return on investment in the software and IT industry. If a young person has the choice to get an MBA or an MS in CS I don't fault them to opt for the MBA. The cost and effort is roughly the same, yet the salary level in management or finances is much higher than for a junior developer or an IT admin. Posing for some motivational videos does nothing about the core problem!
Others are much more creative. Take a look at the Raspberry Pi Foundation who designed an inexpensive computer that is geared towards teaching programming and electronics. The Pi is very popular and not only fills the void for inexpensive all purpose computing, but also generates a lot of opportunity for others to market product around it and ultimately create jobs. And the effort was started by a handful of smart engineers. Just think what all these folks from the videos could do if they just put some of the their billions in riches to good use. But as long as shareholder value at companies and astroturf for the high school football team is more important than true STEM education, lower cost for graduate studies, and some degree of job security and reasonable wages not much will change.
Janna B
Janna B,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/28/2013 | 4:06:46 PM
re: Urges Students To Embrace Programming
It sounds to me as though employers are having to deal with a market full of programmers who think more like them and no longer subscribe to self-imposed serfdom. So now they want to fill the job market with qualified programmers so they can create greater opportunity for themselves to strengthen their own positions in wage negotiations.

American employers certainly have done it to themselves, demanding top dollar for their wares in any economic weather and now the community on which they lean most heavily for profitability engenders their mantra: nothing is free, buddy.

While I concede that this is bad for America on one level, I must also admit that I like seeing employers confronted by the illegitimate children of their own greed and selfishness.
Deirdre Blake
Deirdre Blake,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/28/2013 | 4:06:28 PM
re: Urges Students To Embrace Programming
True, but this is about more than just what we see as the traditional programmer's role in the workforce. An understanding of the code that now runs the world will increasingly become a requirement for fields not historically associated with software or programming, and this push toward "code literacy" should have begun long ago.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
2/27/2013 | 10:59:20 PM
re: Urges Students To Embrace Programming
If I had sufficient programming skill to be employed as a programmer, I'd encourage everyone to look elsewhere for a profession. Barriers to entry, even if only psychological, keep salaries up.
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