October 2, 2007

The CS/IT job market

A few somewhat divergent recent views, one from the US and one from the UK with the Canadian situation at the end.

The USACM Technology Policy Weblog has a very sunny and optimitic post IT Job Prospects and Salaries on the Rise:

Continued declines in interest and enrollment in computer science has troubled the computing community for the past few years. After the dot-com bubble burst, employment fell and computer science majors rationally followed suit. However, in the past couple of years this trend has continued to puzzle the field’s leaders who hear widespread but anecdotal stories of graduates receiving multiple job offers and employers noting trouble finding talent for open positions. New data has recently been published that provide more than mere anecdote for the strong job prospects in information technology (IT).


It is clear that the IT industry has recovered from the dot-com bust. But enrollment and interest in computer science seems to have moved beyond a cyclical downturn. As more stories and data about the job market come out the question is: When will we start seeing undergraduate enrollment increase, or is there some other consideration besides employment driving this trend?

On the other hand, the situation in the UK seems a bit different as Silicon.com reports Skills Survey 2007: Industry falling out of love with IT grads. The main problem seems to be the skill and quality of grads.
The quality of computer science graduates is falling, according to results from the exclusive silicon.com 2007 Skills Survey.

Just a quarter of survey respondents agree or strongly agree with the statement 'computer science courses turn out high-quality IT graduates' - a drop of 10 percentage points on 2006's result, and a further drop on the year before, when 37 per cent of survey-takers agreed or strongly agreed grads were high calibre.


But the UK's IT industry has its own particular pressures - from a general falling off of numbers of students enrolling on tech courses, to a shifting playing field of priorities. IT systems are increasingly important to almost every aspect of a business, which means greater complexity in administering, maintaining and scaling such systems. This does not sit easily with an academic teaching philosophy designed to cover 'fundamentals'.

This is the view of another former CS student - Rob Chapman, CEO of IT training company Firebrand Training (formerly The Training Camp). Chapman believes "complexity" in today's IT world and the demand for "niche skills" means it's far harder for universities to prepare students for the workplace.

And how about Canada? Here's a September 2007 report on the market across the country. I'll quote a bit on from the section the Toronto area:
Through the month of August in the GTA, there were strong indications that many projects were on the move from planning and analysis stages into the next level of the development lifecycle. There also seemed to be a change in focus for many organizations as they moved from hiring functional roles, to more technically driven roles such as Technical Architects and Developers. There were high levels of activity from Fortune 500 organizations. From the financial sector, some of the leading banks offered many high-level contracts for Business Analysts and Senior Level Developers. With a lot of projects moving from planning to development, it is an anticipated that the financial sector will be increasing development efforts and QA positions. Many of the projects involve Java, C/C++, .NET, Siebel and Mainframe technologies.


Jane said...

Regarding the "where are the CS undergrads" from the first article: I can only speak for my students, but there seems to be a very pervasive attitude among them that all of the tech jobs have been outsourced. So perhaps this is why the numbers are still down. I'm not sure how we debunk this particular myth, though.

John Dupuis said...

The same assumption seems to be pretty common here too. I think part of the problem is that the job search experience can be quite uneven. Lots of short contract jobs, uneven pay, lots of turnover.

Curious Cat said...

I would hope potential scientists could see a myth is a myth with the data that showed that it was. If not, I am not sure that they really are very good scientist candidates anyway.

Now some will just claim that even though the current data shows that IT salaries remain very high and the job market is good today that will change over time. That at least is a prediction and more difficult to refute.

My guess is that global competition will increase and salaries may be pressured, but really I don't think there are many professions where one can hide from that likely future.

What is a wise course of action? Arm yourself with skills that can add value to organizations. And learn how to keep learning to adapt to a changing world. Those strategies seem wise to me. And understanding technology is likely to be an important key to adding value (and adapting) in the next 30 years.

So I would see a heavy dose of technology and science as a wise course of study. Frankly for many IT jobs I don't see much need for a CS degree but do see a good number of courses on technology (computer science, engineering...) and science and math (and business too) as useful for a future in IT.

The career category of my Curious Cat Science and Engineering blog discusses related ideas.