The other day in my interesting links post I included links to several articles/blog posts. One article was titled - IT hiring increases last month despite broader jobs decline and the other was DARPA feels that the geek shortage is a national security risk. It seems like I see those sorts of articles regularly. In the comments for those articles I usually see stories about IT professionals who are laid off and can’t find jobs. I hear them from friends as well. I also hear stories of college computer science professors who are getting lots of calls from companies who want to hire their graduates.
Mark Guzdial (from Georgia Tech) asks about The disconnect between the Geek shortage and the Geek layoffs on his blog. It’s a question that comes up often. Neither the statistics or the stories from out of work IT people tell the whole story. I wrote some comments as a reply to Mark’s blog but I wanted to expand on them a bit. First a story.
A little over 15 years ago I was laid off from my job in software development. I looked around and realized that the skills/knowledge that I had used to the previous 18 years were pretty much unnecessary. The world had moved from mini computers (my area) to PCs and had done so without out me. So I started rebuilding. I took a large step sideways (into teaching) and taught myself about PCs, new programming languages, and developed other skills. When I was ready for industry I found that industry was ready for me. I know other people who kept looking for the same types of jobs they had been doing for years. Some of them have spent a lot of time out of work. The people who are looking for continuing jobs as mainframe operators struggle – a lot. Those who went back to "school" figuratively if not literally have mostly had steady work.
Not all companies will retrain workers. Companies have a short term attitude and will train people only for short term needs. In computer fields it is largely up to the individual to retrain themselves. Right or wrong that is a fact of life. These days I keep more on top of things and do a much better job of staying current. It is not always easy and I suspect the young people in their 20s are having an easier time of it than I am. But I see not point in blaming them, the companies, or the job market for any of it.
In the long term I think that a formal education in computer science is a huge benefit. I can’t imagine the learning curve I would have had without my schooling. I had a deep base that I could draw upon. had I been completely self-taught I’m not sure I could have caught up with things. Oh some might but that does not strike me as the way to bet.
I do know self-taught people who have never been out of work. They keep teaching themselves new things. They use the same learning skills that got them started to keep themselves going. Other people seem to jump into the job market too quickly. They learn enough to get their first job and for a while they do very well. Then the needs of the job change and they lack the base of knowledge or the learning skills to keep up. They assume that they are so smart and so good at what they do that they will always be in demand. All too often they are wrong.
One of the things I tell students when I do career talks is that if they want a career where they can do the same thing for 30 years and then retire computer science and information technology are not for them. This is a career that requires life long learning as much as any field I can think of. While at times you may feel like you have to run as fast as you can to keep up you will also seldom be bored. After 34+ years in the field I keep learning new things, doing new things, and growing as a person. If that is what you want this is the field you want. Just my opinion.