As Google hires all of the world’s good software engineers and my friends with startup companies fight over the scraps I am left to wonder how everyone could have been so wrong in predicting that the world would be glutted with good programmers and sysadmins by now.
In the early days of programming there was not considered to be a limit on how many people could be trained to do the job. IBM would hire graduates from all kinds of college majors, e.g., music, and train them (there were hardly any computer science programs at universities back in the 1950s). A popular idea among corporate managers is that this could be a good job for women, who were readily available at reasonable rates.
With the rise of the worldwide Internet, open-source, and inexpensive microprocessors, it seemed inevitable that the world would be glutted with technically skilled people. Programming is easier to learn than a foreign language (a friend who has a PhD in physics and is an expert hardware and software developer says that learning Mandarin and to read Chinese was by far the hardest thing that he ever did). Getting hired as a programmer does not require a specific degree or training course. Programming or system administration can be learned by anyone worldwide who has access to a $300 personal computer and an Internet connection. Why wouldn’t the millions of unemployed Americans train themselves to code? Why wouldn’t middle class people in China, India, and Africa?
Admittedly in the U.S. folks with an organized mind, the grit to get through technical subjects, and the drive to go to work every day can find higher paying jobs that involve more social interaction (e.g., medical doctor, Wall Street banker, etc.). But that doesn’t explain why people in the Philippines or China aren’t training themselves en masse to be able to soak up the $30-100/hour jobs that would be readily available to them if they could demonstrate the ability to turn a customer request into working code. Why are the Greeks, Portuguese, and Spaniards going bankrupt instead of learning to administer Cisco and Linux?
Any good futurist circa 1990 would have predicted that by now most of the world’s programming would be happening in low-to-medium-wage countries and that customers wouldn’t have to pay a lot for high quality software. But it hasn’t happened (e.g., see my posting about California’s state government spending $327 million on a straightforward ecommerce site (I visited http://www.coveredca.com just now and it seems to be a work in progress)). Why instead do we have catfights over mediocre talent in Kendall Square and Silicon Valley?