The current developer shortage myth is merely a repeat of the 1960s myth of the shortage of technologists in the UK as the brightest minds, not being stupid, realised the best life was to be found outside the UK. There is evidence that the shortage myth is being manipulated to justify outsourcing of software production.
The Brain Drain and the White Heat of technology
In the 1960s the media panicked about the brain drain: British Scientists and Engineers emigrating to somewhere where the view that scientists should make everything except money did not hold sway. At the same time the great and good (lawyers, accountants, politicians etc) claimed Britain needed more Scientists and Engineers and referred to the transformative effects of the “White Heat of Technology”. Persuading young people to enter a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine) was a great way to prevent bright minds outside establishment families from aspiring to the positions of power and influence held by those calling for more people to enter STEM. Whether the country needed more STEM it seemed clear that industry and commerce wanted STEM the way they wanted the proverbial cranial aperture
Fast forward 50 years and there is an alleged shortage of software developers. When evidence to the contrary is presented it is dismissed or spun as a shortage of “good” developers - “Good” as in “What Business says it wants”.
In 1948 London Transport imported West Indians to do the jobs British people allegedly were unwilling to do at a wage the company was willing to offer. This eventually led to race riots in 1958. These were, rightly, suppressed. In the late 20th and early 21st century the Internet allowed outsourcing of many types of work to developing countries. Since this did not bring “immigrants” into Britain to “steal jobs”, always an incorrect term since jobs are offered not stolen, it was almost impossible that the job related race riots of 1918 and those of 1958 would be repeated
Today anecdotal evidence is being spun into a mythical shortage of software developers to justify outsourcing development to cheaper countries.
Even if there is a shortage of developers, the current (2016) drive to increase the number of people who can program will, by virtue of the law of supply and demand, polarise the software industry into a small number of near genius level digital technologists, a large number of commodity developers doing routine work and a few “seniors” and “leads” in between herding those at the bottom.
As in the 1960s, the public are being deceived into trying to enter STEM, today with a focus on digital technology, in order to benefit the “elite” of society.
There is no developer shortage
At the time of writing layoffs in Silicon valley supposedly the place where the demand for Software engineers is greatest, have doubled. Even allowing that the supply there exceeds the local demand, an excess of software talent in the supposed hub of innovation is surprising.
Also at the time of writing there has been a fall in the number of permanent technology opportunities in the UK but a corresponding rise in contract opportunities and, according to Cvtrumpet, competition for job vacancies is increasing as the number of employees who are looking for a new job has reached its highest level since autumn 2013.
This may reflect uncertainty over Britain's membership of the EU plus more generalised anxieties.
Developer salaries have not risen neither in real terms nor, it seems, in absolute terms, at least in the UK. London has the highest salaries and the employers least likely to compromise on their requirements, but London salaries reflect the cost of living there and are not qualitatively different elsewhere. Ten years ago an entry level developer could expect to command about £30,000 a year. Today entry level developers can command between £25,000 and £32,000 a year. This is higher than most non programming jobs but advancing beyond this can be difficult without job hopping, and requirements are more stringent: an increasing number of entry level jobs require a degree in computer science, and in practice this will mean an upper second or a first.
The most telling evidence against a developer shortage is that every advertisement for a developer job attracts several hundred responses. This level of response has led to automated CV scanning and rejection by software that simply ticks boxes: This saves the time of people in HR who used to tick boxes manually, but can be overkill: Some years ago a company received 25,000 applications for a run of the mill job and their scanning software rejected every one. Companies may have an exaggerated view of what such software can do, but the fact automation is needed to scan applicants strongly suggests an abundance of candidates. Against that is the increasing ease of making an application, though this trend is not confined to programming jobs.
But could it be that there is a shortage of “Good” developers?
There is no shortage of “Good” developers: Good is whatever business wants it to mean
A standard response to the question “is there a shortage of developers” is “NO, there is a shortage of good developers”.
The problem here is defining a “Good” developer.
At least one employer has specified candidates must have graduated from one of the top ten universities in the world. This is obviously someone's desire to boost their ego and must be mentioned then ignored.
The various definitions of “good” but they seem all to relate to what business says it wants. Ignoring experience and technical skills this seems to boil down to a love for problem solving, an analytic mindset, a passion for learning, a desire to improve and ability to work on a team.
Solving problems is easier than deciding what problems to solve: this meta problem is normally reserved for managers. An analytic mindset tends to conflict with creativity, another function often reserved to managers. A passion for learning is often reduced to “Passion for technology” with technology meaning programming, and a desire to improve is allowed as long as it does not threaten the power structures in the company. Ability to work in a team usually good but tends to reduce the best to the average and managers tend to distrust anyone who is willing to work on a cross team basis.
Once upon a time programmers rejected corporate values and produced remarkable things. Today programmers embrace corporate values and tweak existing products. Innovative products today are produced by those who have never been in a corporate environment or have left it in order to do their own thing. Unfortunately when people like this succeed they usually form a corporation and create a corporate culture just like everywhere else.
Business defines good developers as what they say it needs, a definition that could well exclude many pioneers of software development, and the developer community has embraced this definition. What business NEEDS may be neither what it says or thinks it needs or what it actually desires (compliant machine like employees who do not rock the boat but meet deadlines).
Why does business claim there is a shortage of developers?
The developer shortage myth allows manufactures to lobby for outsourcing
|It takes years to learn digital skills.|
The most cynical, and therefore the answer most likely correct answer, is that employers want an excuse to outsource work to developing countries and thereby reduce wage costs.
Fortune Magazine  looked at an analysis of the US H1-B visa system and found that only 30is% of the top ten requested positions when applying for an H1-B Visa lacked enough qualified American jobseekers to supply demand. Also it was common for employers to write requirements so narrowly that only one temporary overseas worker would fit. The pattern for this is a Jobserve advertisement early in the 200s which required a software developer who was a “ Graduate of an Indian university, fluent in an Indian Native language and had a complete understanding of Indian Culture”. The Fortune article does imply that employers are abusing the H1-B system.
In the UK in the early 2000s outsourcing proved less popular than actually importing workers from developing countries and exploiting them mercilessly. Unlike 1918 this did not provoke race riots. Some contractors on the shout99 website noted they had to spend half their contract training inexperienced overseas developers to replace them. One contractor reported workers employed on £35 a day and replaced regularly so as not to violate restrictions on time spent in the UK. At least one other company in Mainland Europe (which I will not name) did the same transferring workers from its overseas branches to a branch in Europe.
In brief the shortage myth was created to lower costs by importing lower paid workers keen to work in the US or by outsourcing development.
Current trends suggest there is no shortage of developers. Layoffs in Silicon Valley are increasing, software salaries are not increasing, employer requirements are becoming more stringent and the response to an advertisement for developers is so great that automated CV scanning is needed.
Long experience suggests the “shortage” is a myth designed to justify cost reduction by outsourcing and that the drive to increase the number of coders is a confidence trick that will ultimately result in shunning of STEM by the next generation.
If there ever was a shortage of developers it no longer exists.
The most likely resolution of the developer “shortage” will be the development of specialised AI that can produce code from a rough spoken or typed specification, perhaps learning from its mistakes. At that point the entire software industry will be dead, or at least meat free.
- Where are all the software developers? - from 2014