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Code Blue
No College for New Coders

There will be a million more computer programming jobs in 2020 than there are programmers to fill them, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as cited in a fantastic WSJ piece on the evolution of the coding market. The piece notes that there’s a fundamental mismatch between the enormous demands for coders and the ability of the university system to supply them. As a result, more and more coders are skipping college altogether, or taking classes at start-up coding schools not associated with any formal university:

The most intensive schools, like Seattle-based Code Fellows, are so sure they can get students work they will refund a student’s tuition—$12,000 for 16 blitzkrieg weeks to get a person from zero to trained—if that person doesn’t get a job […]

Fourteen percent of the members of some teams at Google don’t have a college degree, and 67% of the programming jobs in the U.S. are at nontech companies where other kinds of industry experience are more likely to be valued.

Computer programming, in other words, has become a trade. Like nursing or welding, it’s something in which a person can develop at least a basic proficiency within weeks or months. And once budding coders learn enough to get their first jobs, they get onto the same path to upward mobility offered to their in-demand, highly paid peers.

In a post-blue world college will continue to be an important training ground for many professions, but we will see more flexibility in how students structure their time at universities—as well as more vocational career paths that don’t pass through the college quad. Coding is a great place to get an early look at how these changes are working themselves out.

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  • Boritz

    Years ago there was a landmark law suit in which a programmer demanded pay for numerous overtime hours applied to a project. The employer said no. &nbspYou are an exempt (non-hourly) employee not entitled to overtime. &nbspThe law suit was decided thus: If an IT worker is primarily a coder then yes, you are entitled to overtime pay. &nbspIf, on the other hand, that worker does a significant amount of ‘analysis’ as distinct from coding then they are an exempt employee and not entitled to overtime pay. &nbspThe industry response was immediate. &nbspAll workers with a title of “programmer” became “programmer-analyst” overnight complete with re-written job descriptions that spoke about significant analytical duties. &nbspThe lack of a four year degree and the treatment of coders as trade workers means it may be time to re-visit this case.

  • EliseRonan

    This may be the propaganda put out by industry but I have experienced the reality. My oldest is studying for an MA in CS at a respected university with a high GPA. He applied to 50 internship positions and got one interview. His career advisor told him that the industry is very competitive right now and it is hard to get jobs. He wasn’t the only one in this position. If there is the glut of STEM jobs out there , then there would be people calling him all the time. The truth is alot more subtle. These companies may have jobs but the question is who are they really hiring? This is just another push to bring in foreigners to fill jobs in the US. Companies pay these immigrants less and give them less benefits. This is about companies simply trying to create public support for changing the immigration quotas to their benefit while leaving American citizens unemployed.

    • Boritz

      Troubling. &nbspIf we are really six years away from a million coder deficit you would expect better.

    • Fat_Man

      Elise: “This is just another push to bring in foreigners to fill jobs in the US.”


    • Thom Burnett

      I’m in the field and working as a programmer. My degree is in a useless field. My experience in blue collar jobs. I taught myself programming. Got my first job 20 years ago with no experience. I haven’t looked for a job in 10+ years – they find me. I get at least one request to apply for a job every week even tho I tell them not to bother me.

      My son joined the field and has had solid jobs for years. Nor have any of my programming co-workers ever quit the field cause they can’t find jobs.

      I have to agree with the article. Competent programmers will get solid jobs with above average pay fairly quickly.

    • Stacy Garvey

      Elise, Your second sentence my provide an explanation for why your son is having difficulty. As the article points out, coding doesn’t require a BA let alone an MA any longer. Perhaps potential employers see your son as overqualified? An advanced degree suggests a person who isn’t looking for an entry level position but much more and that may be a turn off to firms simply in need of a competent coder.

      • EliseRonan

        Actually most of his resumes were sent out through his college recruiting program directed specifically at the graduate program. Then on the websites the career center recommended. The best part is that he received responses telling him that he was underqualified. So in all honesty we are truly at a loss.

        • Stacy Garvey

          Well, I wish you both good luck in finding something suitable.

  • Thirdsyphon

    This article is half-right, but it gets the important half wrong. A certain segment of coding work has in fact become commodified. That is to say: a limited set of straightforward tasks that can be executed with little or no exercise of independent judgment by the programmer. Like other commoditized skill sets, the wages for this sort of work are subject to relentless downward pressure from cost-conscious employers and a vast supply of less expensive foreign talent that these programmers will have to compete against.
    What does pay well is the sort of programming that involves creativity, either in the form of unusual problem-solving or clever design. Those talents are, unfortunately, hard to develop in the absense of a social learning experience. That’s why so many great ideas in technology can be traced to late-night discussions in college dorm rooms. Unfortunately, there’s no quick and easy way to recreate this kind of experience on the cheap.

  • JackBeanstalk

    There is also a lot of “tech worker shortage propaganda” from the tech CEOs. The tech corporations are always crying about a shortage of tech workers at the same time they have massive layoffs of there technical talent, for example Microsoft, IBM and HP while they also lobby the government for more visas of foreign technology workers. It appears the employers don’t want to raise the salaries and wages of obtaining enough tech talent, so I think the idea of treating computer programming as a trade would be more honest and is more realistic match of the salary of computer programmers with the cost of a vocational degree. There is also an oversupply of STEM college grads too. Computerworld magazine had an recent article a few weeks ago that analyzed data from the Census Bureau and found only half of all STEM college graduates are currently employed in STEM occupations. This means the other half of all of these technology grads are in non-technology occupations. The reason for this is because the STEM college grads are overqualified for many of the tech occupations and find that they have better pay and opportunities outside of the tech field. I agree with WSJ that it is time for some lower cost training programs for technology training so that it matches up with the lower wages/salaries that employers are willing to pay for the tech talent.

  • ljgude

    My grandson is somewhere in the middle attending a Community College in CA, and doing an internship – they pay him for answering support calls but not for his coding. He has just finished his first year. He takes the courses and I feed him O’Reilly e-books liberally. He is keeping his debt low and certainly seems headed for something better than commoditized coding. He just turned 18 so I think he has a good shot at a well paid career.

  • Breif2

    Moar H-1Bs!

  • Josephbleau

    Reading things like this make me wonder how people can make such comments with so little knowlege of what is going on in the field. A smallish number of real computer science people are vital to assemble computer architecture structures to do classes of processing. In manufacturing, say, there are no comp sci people programming control/automation systems and robots, this is done by mechanical engineers supervising non college technicians who have some electronic background. In the military weapons systems are programed and debuged by tech reps and owned and serviced by corporals. Programing in a basic way is a general function of many jobs, do you call a bookkeeper a non-college trained programmer because she does excel? not if you want to inform a discussion. People who make games and aps are bright self made hackers. The university system provides plenty of comp sci people and high schools provide lots of electronics handy people who can cut and paste and configure general systems to the specific number of motors and flowmeters at a plant. The hard limit is that there are only so many people with an IQ over 120 so it is hard for the CEO’s to get the super smart people that want to have without going overseas. Like MD’s some comp sci people get As and some get Ds.

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