The job market for current college graduates is at a crossroad. In our new digital age, as Marc Andreessen once said, “Software is eating the world”. The internet has emerged as the foundation for our rapid advancement in information technology and the tools and products built on top of it only continue to grow. Because of this rapid advancement, many companies have cannibalized their brick and mortar business models for new digital strategies. Once dominant companies that failed to adapt have been displaced by their digital counterparts (e.g. Amazon has substituted for Barnes and Nobles and Netflix has substituted for Blockbuster). Each time a company pivots towards a more digital strategy, there comes the need for a new set of talent to lead it. It takes highly skilled engineers to create these products, design their user experience and interfaces, and build the network infrastructure to deliver them around the world. Though the demand for workers with these types of skills has increased dramatically over the past decade, the supply has not. There are more and more of these high level, high paying jobs and not enough qualified candidates to fill them. Companies are now competing for a relatively small talent pool of graduates with computer science and software engineering skills. In this research paper I will explain why there is a shortage of these highly skilled workers, what human resource managers are doing to recruit ideal candidates for these positions, and what types of resources are available to increase the number of these highly skilled workers.
Why is there a shortage of highly skilled workers in today’s job market? Shouldn’t there be more full stack software developers, data scientists, and user-experience designers? At first glance it is because the acquisition of these skills take time, practice, and years of dedication. Engineers are paid high salaries because coding is hard, it is not something intrinsic to us, and in today’s job market programmers are a rarity. Right now we live in a world where software engineers from all over the world come to Silicon Valley to work for startups or blue chip tech giants like Apple, Facebook, and Google. In Seattle, technology companies are competing with one another for talent by offering a better Zen lounge or better free cafeteria. There is a definite shortage in the number of graduates with the computer programming skills sought out by these companies. From 1970 to 2011, the number of students with a bachelor degree in computer science has remained fairly stagnant at around 3% of all graduates (ITWorld). However, in the past 4 years that number of students studying computer science in the United States has increased. Due to growing popularity, over the next few years Harvard is increasing its computer science staff by 50% (Harvard Gazette). There is a growing demand of workers for this exponentially growing industry. Software is moving into every business model due to its cost effectiveness and its ability to reach anywhere in the world with an internet connection. Software is also making the scale of difference between companies much greater. The best company in a particular market could have 10x market share compared to the second best. This Pareto curve law only becomes more self-evident each time an industry becomes more digital. The dozen largest tech companies in the US are worth more than $2 trillion dollars, more than all other tech companies combined (Thiel). This power law creates winner-take-all economics (Brynjolfsson). Companies know this and are in constant competition for the best engineers in order to create the best products in their particular market. This trend towards investing in high skilled workers and digital technology is also affecting labor intensive business practices. We now have machines there are substituting jobs that can be easily automated because a capital investment in machinery is less expensive then hiring and training a human to do the same job. This then leads to the need for even more engineers to make changes to the capital investments when needed by upper level management (Brynjolfsson). The need for engineers and investments in machinery will only increase as more companies switch towards these digital models. The tools and skills that are currently being learned by the vast majority of college graduates may not be the technical skills needed for this rapidly evolving technology industry. We need to increase the number of students learning the computer programming and technical skills needed for the jobs of the 21st century. Data compiled by Code.org show that at current rates, the country will have 1 million more computer science jobs than students with computer science degrees by 2020 (code.org). The process for finding those 1,000,000 graduates to fill the jobs is also changing rapidly for HR departments. They too are increasingly using digital technologies to augment their search process and bridge this massive talent gap.
The HR search process for software engineers has changed due to the increase of software based search models and the lack of people with computer science degrees in the job market. This has led to a drastic increase in the competitiveness with other tech companies. The company has to differentiate itself to make itself look like the ideal place to work. They now are also the ones having to contact possible employees as opposed to employees contacting them. The current recruiting process for an HR officer is reaching out into the global pool of talent and finding those that can fulfill its current needs as a business. It starts at the identification level online, through email or some other digital resource. This then leads to a phone call to get a first impression, to the interview in person to see if they will be a good culture fit, to the hiring and training process. The first step is probably the hardest and the most that time is spent with. Often current employees are offered large bonuses for referring qualified computer programmers to the company. One of the digital resources recruiters use to find programmers is GitHub. GitHub is not only for version control and collaborative projects, but it also serves as a repository that recruiters can go and look at to see what particulars languages the programmer is proficient in and what contributions to open source projects they have made. As open source development continues to grow, GitHub will be an invaluable network to connect programmers to companies. LinkedIn has also proven to be another great tool that many HR officers, recruiters and job seekers rely on. One of the most important things with LinkedIn is being specific with word choice in company and personal profiles. Often companies will have scripts search through thousands of employees for certain words that are in their profile summaries. This could mean all the difference for someone who just has “software engineer” versus a “Node.js specialist” or “proficient in Salesforce.com”. The process for finding and hiring engineers that are from the United States is becoming more and more competitive because of relatively small number of students studying computer science. Because of this, software companies will look to find engineers from outside of the US. Companies are willing to pay for working permits and a more complicated hiring process in exchange for top level software engineers from countries like China and India. They want to find the best of the best to develop and keep them competitive in their given field. The jobs of the 21st will only continue to grow specifically in these technical related fields. How do we increase the size of this pool of talent domestically and connect high level skilled employees with great companies?
There has been another trend of private institutions teaching specific skill sets such as ITT Technical Institute. This private institution trains people in a specific technical field and then links them to companies that need those certain skilled workers. They have different schools within the program that offer a whole new path that financially makes more sense to some people than the four year university loan driven program. The school of information technology offers programming classes that can be very rewarding upon graduation. These institutions are around the country and offer a great way to learn some of today’s most prevalent technological skills. Another great track that enables someone to learn the most forward technical skills needed in today’s economy is with the United States military. The Army, Air Force, and Navy all offer programs that teach enable men and woman to acquire many different high level technical skillsets needed in today’s job market. These include many non-combat tracks that teach information technology, cryptology, information warfare, and computer science (Navy). The military is one of the best resources to not only learn emerging technologies and programming skills, but also disciplinary and leadership skills as well.
It is important to note that although a degree is a necessity nowadays for today’s job market, a GitHub profile of a programmer can prove competency in a developer or technical related field. All of these self-paced, self-organized learning environments and programs lead to skills that are sought after by the most innovative and growing companies in the world. My high school college counselor told me not to take computer programming because it was too hard and I should focus on classes that I knew I could pass. It has become self-evident that being able to build software or have a proficient understanding of computer science is the future for many jobs. We need to augment our ability to learn these skills by starting the process at a young age. In K-8, the computer curriculum shouldn’t just be learning how to type, it should be learning how to code. Federal and State Policy should mandate and challenge our students to learn the newest technologies, almost all which are based in the ability to read and write computer code. The access to this information has never been more available and for a lower-cost using the various digital resources, some of them do not even require internet access. A great example of this is a new program at San Quentin Federal Penitentiary north of San Francisco. Code 7370, is teaching prisoners how to code while they serve their sentences. A select group of inmates take the class four days a week, eight hours a day for six months (Ars Technica). They save their work locally to be reviewed by experts from Hack Reactor, an organization partnered with the program. The hope is that when they get out they will be able to find a job as a programmer and it will decrease the rate of recidivism. If we take a step back and look at what constitutes an effective education, it is not as important as where you went, but what you technical skills you acquired during your time there. The San Quentin case is an extreme example of this but it still demonstrates that computer skills can be taught and learned by anyone, with minimal costs, and within a relatively short period of time. It is about what you can effectively create using various digital tools and what you will be able to do as technologies continue to advance and build on top of each other.
In conclusion, the number of resources available to enable to the acquisitions of high level skills needed in today’s economy continue to grow. Universities are expanding their computer science departments by hiring more staff and investing in more computing infrastructure. Organizations are launching more free, globally accessible courses to learn how to code, design graphics, and make sense of big data. Companies are creating more training programs for new hires. HR departments and recruiters continue to use digital technologies to move through a global pool of talent in search of the people who have acquired these engineering skills. These companies are now faced with the challenge of having to separate themselves as places to work and to attract the best candidates to their organization. As we move farther into this digital age, the programmers will continue to be the ones leading the way. They will develop the next application we all use and love. They will develop the machine learning algorithms that better understand and improve our world. They will engage with robotics and help them recognize patterns and complex communication. The advancement of technology is happening at an exponential pace and the internet is going to reach bring 5 billion people around the world into the digital economy by 2020 (Thiel). It is not exaggeration to say that they will have a printing press, reference library, school, and computer all at their fingertips (Brynjolfsson). They will all be able to utilize these technologies and create and share with the world unlike any other point in human history. The acquisition of the high level technical skills that augment their ability to use these tools will be invaluable as the world continues to shift towards digitization. The more we can build and use these skills to interact, collaborate, and work with others around the world, the more we can learn about what is needed to build the future we want to live in.
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