With as much talk (and evidence) of a slowdown in the economy, it’s surprising how many recruiters and companies I have run into recently who still have a lot of trouble finding technical staff to fill open positions at their companies. In particular, I find there are lots of companies who are desperate to fill software engineering positions for their companies. In fact, I’ve spoken to several companies who tell me that they’ve been forced–not by costs or pressure from investors–to look to offshore outsourcing because of the challenges of finding qualified software engineers. It appears the demand for technical talent is very strong.
The problem is an interesting dilemma–both for local companies, as well as for the nation’s overall competitiveness in technology–because when I talk to software engineers, it’s quite an opposite picture. Many software folks I talk to feel like the writing is on the wall, that even if there is demand for software engineers there’s a huge salary and wage pressure, and that the outlook–at least for some–is bleak. College students appear to be thinking the same thing: there’s been a huge enrollment drop in the number of undergraduate computer science majors which has been hitting engineering and computer science schools since 2000.
Why the disconnect? In part, I think it’s the realization there is intense competition, from very hard working, smart, and willing people in China, India, Czechoslovakia, Russia, Pakistan, and elsewhere who are willing to work hard and for less; and that the Friedman’s “flat” world is becoming a reality particularly in the software area. Even if there’s intense pressure here to fill positions, the truth is that there’s enormous downward wage pressure and job insecurity looming over software. This is particularly true of entry level computer science graduates, who do not have the advantage of experience which often counters those wage and job security issues.
I also think it’s a bit of the challenge inherent in technical degrees. Engineering and computer science are all very math-centric, difficult degrees to attain, and — whether due to the well documented lag of U.S. students in math, or just an unwillingness of the current generation of students to buckle down to a difficult major–students just aren’t as interested in the hard word it takes.
It’s a challenge, because without the local talent base, I think “high tech” companies will struggle to be competitive. There are no easy solutions; however, I think a focus on companies cultivating new graduates (we’ve got great raw material coming out of our local colleges and universities); a true committment to developing employees (not just window dressing); and providing a vested interest in a company’s success to engineers can do a lot. Companies absolutely have got to be willing to pay more, for their own, local talent, even if it may seem cheaper and easier to send off your core IP elsewhere. For software and other engineers, I think they need to realize there’s a lot of hungry folks just an Internet connection away who are willing to work their best to fill their jobs; the world today has no room for a mediocre, expensive software developer living in a high rent district when there’s someone with better training and skills who happens to live in the second world.