It is a known fact that the United States is in a shortage of graduates with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), and in the era of technology, this lack of STEM graduates has increased the value of Engineers and Computer Scientists dramatically. In the past few weeks, a few events across the United States startled the Computer Science world, one of them being the University of Floridas decision to cut out their Computer Science Department.
Just a few weeks ago, Facebook purchased Instagram for a total of $1,000,000,000 (one Billion dollars) which might seem crazy (hence why I wrote all the zeros), but at the same time the crazy part isn’t the fact that Instagram was purchased for so much, but rather the fact that each engineer in Instagram was valued at about $80 million!
Engineers and Computer Scientists initial salaries are growing with every day, and just like Jon Bischke wrote for Tech Crunch startups are so desperate looking for great engineers that someone told him that “If you could find me five great engineers in the next 90 days I’d pay you $400,000″. You’d think that it would be an easy task if you know the right people, but to put things into perspective, Even the big companies like Facebook, Google, Zynga and others are paying top dollar for great engineers. A great example is Sam Lessin who’s the co-founder and CEO of Drop.io (a simple file sharing website) and currently works for Facebook as the Product manager of Facebooks Timeline. His startup was bought by Facebook for millions and immediately shut down. The money Facebook invested on his startup wasn’t for the product, but for the producer. Apparently, Facebook saw Sam as an asset they were willing to pay a lot for, and nowadays he’s the person in charge of Facebooks entire profile layout, groups layout and anything that uses the timeline format.
These cases aren’t rare. The industry reached a point where great engineers and computer scientists are worth millions to companies.
With all that being said, you’d think that more people would go into some of these fields, however this is not the case. As a computer science student I can tell you that the subject at hand and the future career of a computer scientist is very specific and requires a certain kind of person. It can be taught to anyone, however the amount of work and knowledge as well as common sense, general knowledge and ability to think abstractly required to be a great computer scientist is one of the biggest problems with the major and unfortunately I don’t believe it’s suited for anyone. Higher education institutions (just like the industry) don’t often offer support to the “weak ones”, making it an especially challenging major. BUT there is a light at the end of the tunnel: you don’t necessarily need a Bachelors.
With the existence of websites like CodeAcademy, CodeLesson, General Assembly, and others, a new kind of programmers is emerging in the market: self taught programmers. The web offers so many tools that allow anyone who’s truly interested to learn by themselves. After that, all it takes is a good idea. Websites like Stack Overflow are always there to help the public (and also computer science students with questions), making the learning experience even easier.
The big problem here isn’t the lack of resources but the lack of “incentives” to keep pushing and learn more. Computer science( as well as computer engineering or software engineering) is a subject that is extremely discouraging while you’re in the process of making something, but extremely rewarding once your product is done… The kind of “incentives” I am talking about are not the end of the month salary or final product presentation, but the incentive to keep sitting, coding, debugging, etc… the incentive to not quit half way through or break your keyboard for that matter…
The only way I think the United States can deal with this shortage of engineers is by making things more interesting, pushing not only those who are strong in the subject to excel, but also offer intensive support to people who are interested in the subject but aren’t the “exact fit” for it.