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Meeting the Growing Demand for Software Professionals

The shortage of software developers and computer engineers has become acute. As all fields of human endeavor become more and more dependent on technology, and on software in particular, the supply of computer scientists and engineers has started to limit innovation and productivity improvements. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the current demand for computing jobs is predicted to continue for the foreseeable future.

While most companies prefer that candidates have a bachelors degree, the software development field is still relatively open to skilled, self-taught programmers. Only one state in the US (Texas) requires licensing of software engineers. The gap between supply and demand has given rise to a host of non-traditional, private sector training programs.

Nevertheless, the majority of computing professionals will come from universities. While enrollments have been growing in the last few years, the levels are still well below the peak seen during the late 1990s and, more importantly, are dramatically below the current demand from the job market. The number of graduating seniors is determined by two things: the capacity of university programs, and student interest in those programs.

Capacity in university computing programs should be increased. NPR reported this morning that the University of Washington turns away many qualified students who wish to major in computer science due to enrollment restrictions. Incredibly, the University of Florida actually plans to close their computer science program!

Interest in the computing professions should be encouraged by parents and teachers starting in middle school. Unfortunately, I still regularly meet educated people who tell me they have actively discouraged their high school aged kids from pursuing computer science because, “all that work has shifted to India.” Calvin College has done a nice job collecting statistics about computing jobs and the future demand for them. Sharing this page with the parents of middle and high school age kids can help fight this ignorance. At the very least we shouldn’t be discouraging kids in secondary schools from computing careers.

Filling the demand for computing professionals is made harder by the fact that we have so few women in the field — in effect we’re taking half the potential workers off the table from the start. Enrollment of women in college computing programs is low (below 10%) and still declining in most schools. Harvey Mudd shows that this doesn’t have to be the case, as they’ve increased the percentage of women in their computer science program from 10% seven years ago to 40% today.

Ironically, the idea that there are no jobs in computing in the United States will become a self-fulfilling prophecy if we don’t create a skilled, educated workforce. Reducing our capacity for innovation through software at a time when so much depends on it can not possibly bode well for our future economic success.