Readers Respond To Alleged Programmer Shortage

Technology Staff Editor
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Boy, did this column strike a chord. In the latest issue of Embedded Systems Design, I wrote a column about the shortage programmers . Very shortly thereafter, I was inundated with responses from our readers, chiming in both to agree and to disagree. On the whole, I'd say about 40% of you agreed with me. To start that column, I made reference to a chart that was part of an industry analyst presentation. You can see that chart here, which comes from VDC.
Some of your responses will appear in next month's edition of the print publication, and some have appeared in the on-line version. And finally, I'll share a few here: One reader, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "With programming jobs being outsourced daily to India and China, the timing of this "shortage" is nothing more than a ruse to reinforce Intel's and TI's (judging from the locations of the Congressional sponsors of the legislation) "sponsorship" of the Bill, currently making rounds in Congress, to up the H1B "guest" visa quotas by a factor of three. This enables these corporations (read corporate executives) to continue their pressures for cheapened U.S. labor and to train foreign management in America, at tax payers' expense, for their overseas offices. Taxpayers' expense you ask? As long as foreigners' wages and benefits are tax deductible to corporations, taxpayers subsidize wages, and the US gets shortfalls in its treasury and Social Security because of the substandard payout. Meanwhile, if such shortages really do exist, all of your readership must eagerly look forward to double digit merit increases this review cycle, increased levels of respect, job openings for those programmers driving cabs for lack of available work, and immunity from layoffs." Another reader send in this response: "Too few programmers. Engineers. Designers. Shortages all over the place. Please. If there is such a dearth of these talents, why has my company laid off thousands in the past few years? Why are there so few local job listings? If you want to shill for the multi-nationals and beat their carefully orchestrated "not enough local talent" drum, well, it's a free country. For now, at least. The reality is that the only "shortage" is in the willingness to pay U.S. labor rates. I'm getting ready to shell out big bucks to send my kids to college. They aren't stupid - they're going to weigh the cost of their education against the likely reward for their money and effort. Engineering starts to look like a very bad bet in that light - no wonder engineering graduation rates have tanked. Which, happily enough for the multi-nationals, fuels the specter of "looming engineering shortages" that have so many politicians wringing their hands so emphatically. Keep beating that drum, and suddenly it becomes fact, and we all resign ourselves to hiring talent from China and India, because these are "jobs Americans don't want to do". Sound familiar? Anybody driven through Detroit lately? Rust Belt? Textile towns? What are those folks doing, now that some Chinese worker is doing the job "they didn't want"?" J. Gammon, of Dallas, Texas, had this to say: "Yes good tools produce good results in the hands of persons who understand the goals of good programming practice. That understanding allows a view that can lift both productivity and quality. So among the questions in need of answers is: why are programmers leaving programming behind following extensive layoffs? And why do many continuing programmers resist learning the mindset and skills to use more productive tools? Many human factors need consideration here. Personally, I have left the field. It is too unstable for career employment in a country with a retirement system as unstable as its politicians. Why work for an entrepreneur when you can be one? If you are quality, know what you want, and understand logic and technology, the doors of opportunity are open everywhere for innovators in many areas outside programming. So why would any qualified and trained CS person want to be an employee programmer? Industry has deflated incentive while exporting jobs. We may soon see a division between power programmers who design systems for auto-coder programs and routine based technician-style programmers produced by two/four year programs, perhaps very much like the division between graduate engineers and operating-engineers/technicians. Considering tools, how many employers have tried tools to remove dead code? How many have not bought good error checking tools because of cash outlay? How much dead code (unreachable) is embedded in re-used code after major releases by major code sellers? These are quality control items that are easily detected by tools before first-test of code. What about spaghetti-code detection? Use of a detection tool can locate many defects automatically before taking time for test.

Before suggesting insufficient programmer numbers, we need to examine why managers fail to set policies to obtain good code practice. I have seen too many who do as little as possible to satisfy external contract demands for good practice and completely miss the point that good programming design and practice produce good, reliable code needing far less maintenance. Perhaps it all comes to the point of a great need to motivate employers to use good Software Engineering practice in their own interest. Then perhaps the employers can find means to motivate employees to follow their lead."
John Speth, of Coherent Molectron, offered this response: "I agree completely with your #include column in the May 2007 ESD magazine. I have one problem your article. You seem to accept the tool vendors' claims that their tools deliver exactly what each programmer needs. It's just not always true. When tool vendors deliver automatic code generation tools that are truly as flexible as manual code generation tools, software engineers will start to use them regularly. For example, my only serious exposure to automatic code generation tools is Cypress' PSOC Express. It's an impressive tool and it works as advertised. The problem with it is that it might not be easy or simple to deviate from the rigorous design infrastructure that the tool imposes on the programmer." Finally, Juan Aranda-Alvarez, a software developer for Wirespring Technologies, says: "I'm a Linux programmer. You know, for a long time I thought that you only needed vi, your code and the Makefile. Then comes Eclipse (and the vi plugin for eclipse of course), and totally changed the way I work. CVS integration, Debugger integration syntax tools, etc. I haven't use any code generation stuff yet, but the tools are definitely here. And the cool thing, I can still use vi :) but I do feel more efficient." Feel free to keep the dialogue going. I welcome all your responses, regardless of whether you agree or not. Richard Nass is editor in chief of Embedded Systems Design magazine. He can be reached at Reader Response
I think that the people getting upset about there not being enough jobs in the US are some of the same people that rank themselves at or above average on the software skill level poll. We can't have 86% of programmers at or above average. These people need to critically assess their skill level and maybe they will see that the engineers over seas might not only be cheaper, they might be better at developing code. Although this is not allways the case, I'm sure that it does apply more often than not. -anonymous Golden Valley, MN
Hi fellow engineers, I am one of those that are eating the lunch of the American engineers. I am employed by a firm in India and I do projects for American clients. It's so sad to see the multinational corps rip the American economic system with this outsourcing mess. Wonderful comments earlier about first laying off people, then importing cheap labor from other countries, kids in US no longer taking engineering etc. I really feel for you all. In my shoes now, I have a nice job because of all this. However, in the future, India could become too expensive, and then the jobs could move somewhere else. The greed and the unrestricted power of these corps is amazing. I encourage the American engineers to be vigilant about the latest happenings (not just being entertained on the idiot box for 4 hours everyday), talk with their legislators, be actively involved in courting public opinion and fight for their jobs. I really don't think there is a natural serious 'dearth' in the number of programmers there. It's like the following scenario: a person sets fire to a house and then calls emergency. This is what the MNCs do with their outsourcing and now asking for more H1-Bs. Engineers....unite...and be a force to reckon and guide your destiny. Don't believe the crap propaganda spited by these corps in the papers -Kenneth Mathews Madras, India
As a European, I am quite amazed at the recent development I see in the U.S. I see the new immigration bill (read "amnesty for illegal immigrants") that will hurt low-waged Americans big time and goes against any law-abiding people in the free world; I see H1B visas given by multinational corporations to low-cost countries for short-term profits (this will hit the American middle class); I see an ever-expanding military budget for funding a senseless war at the cost of more sensible investment in technology or education; I see a trade deficit that mostly finances America's biggest future challenger: China. While Europe is by far not exempt from mistakes, I feel as a European citizen much more protected by my country and Europe as a whole than an average American probably feels. First, my company cares about me; second, if I get fired, which still might happen, the state will care about me; third, I do not have tons of enemies around the world because my governement has not engaged in a senseless war. And, yes, we do outsourcing, but when we need it, not to simply cut cost at any price. We go to Eastern Europe so as not to finance tomorrow's competitors from India or China, who will make no prisoners. All the money that flows to Eastern Europe will flow back to our pockets one day unlike the money that goes to China or India, which just builds competition. I have not been in the U.S. for the last 3 years; instead I have been several times to Asia. Not by personal choice but because my company wants me here. The last time I went through U.S. customs I had to wait 2 hours in queue and go through an random search (for drug, terrorist, or what I still do not know). Back in the 1990s, I never experienced such inconvenience. It is easier to go to China nowadays than to the U.S. Well, do I miss America . . . -(Name not published by request)
The conversation continues . . .

Mr. Nass, I must admit that I was greatly disappointed by your ignorance of the topic of your article in the May 2007 Embedded Systems Design magazine. You obviously are not a software engineer in the field or you are the boss of a company trying to get more H1 Visas to undermine the American workers. To the contrary of your propaganda, there is a surplus of quality programmers in America. You have just been brainwashed by the rhetoric of the rich and our current regime. What is happening is that corporate America whines that there are not enough workers. Then Mr. Bush doubles (or more) the H1 Visa plan to allow more foreign workers into the country to work at a much lower salary than the average American needs. Take it from a person in the field, there is a huge surplus of programmers and software engineers in the field. Try to find a job out there. You won't. Every time you look in the news, some company is laying off a few thousand engineers. Tell me, if there is a need, why are so many getting laid off? Also, the few jobs that have surfaced are in other states, contract only, and pay far less than what the engineer was making before. Instead of discussing the facts, you have just gone and proliferated the propaganda that this regime keeps lying about that the economy is "strong and growing" just because profits are up and the average American continues to make less. That is not good for the country. -PSB New Jersey
I consider statements such as "Programmer Shortage" extremely offensive to the legions of excellent software engineers that can not find employment. Microsoft gets over a 100,000 resumes a year and only offers jobs to about 1,300. Microsoft has no problems finding the employees that it wishes. Even worse, is the H1B program which allows companies to bring in low cost foreign imports displacing qualified Americans from their jobs. I often advise young Americans to ditch the scientific and engineering fields due to the extremely poor job prospects and concentrate on the more lucrative fields of law and engineering. -Stephen M. Hohs


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