Visit additional Tabor Communication Publications
December 08, 2006
In the Information Society that we seem to be inhabiting, it has become a cliché to talk about the insatiable demand for information technology workers. The IT workforce shortage is an annoying reality, but it makes sense. In agricultural societies of the past, a significant percentage of the populace ended up as farmers to serve that economic model. Things are no different in this era; only the economic engine has changed.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say we're at the very beginning of the Information Society -- basically the "hunter and gatherer" stage. At this point, whole battalions of tech workers are required to keep the system humming along.
And there's little doubt that the demand for IT workers is growing. This year, a Money magazine article documented that software engineering, a typical IT occupation, can expect 46 percent growth over the next 10 years. Or at least that's the hope. Hardly a month goes by without some report lamenting the fact that we're not turning out enough scientists and engineers to satisfy the demands of the information technology sector. It's not that IT jobs are getting a bad rap. That same Money magazine article rated software engineering as the top career pick, based on growth, pay, stress levels and other factors.
So what's going on?
Analysts have proposed a number of reasons why our output of IT professionals is so low. Some believe schools are failing to provide students with enough science and math education in grades K-12. Some are pointing to the dot-com bust that forced workers into other pursuits during the early 2000s. Others believe the high-tech outsourcing phenomenon and the use of H1B visas is persuading workers to seek employment in other careers -- those that can't be shipped overseas or undercut by foreign-born workers.
All of these explanations have some validity. To be sure, college student enrollment in computer science programs is down substantially from the 1990s -- around 20 percent according to the Computing Research Association. In fact, the peak numbers reached in the last decade reflected the Internet boom and represented twice as many CS students as there were in the 1970s. Outsourcing is helping to meet the demand of some types of IT jobs, but many companies are still hard-pressed to find qualified tech workers.
A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report predicts that competition for high-tech talent is going to become even more severe over the next few years as globalization absorbs the remaining technology workers around the world. The report says that while companies have been forced to look offshore in order to gain access to larger pools of talent, even this resource is not bottomless. European and Asian executives anticipate a severe shortage of tech talent within the next three years. And, according to the report, worker compensation is being equalized globally; even India and China are not considered low-cost anymore.
The PwC report also recognizes that science and math skills, by themselves, are not enough. The most successful tech workers are able to innovate, collaborate and manage change. Technology companies need to recognize this and employ strategies to develop and manage their human capital accordingly -- such as partnering with schools to develop technology education programs and providing individualized career development for their employees. Some of the larger IT companies, such as Intel, IBM and Yahoo, have processes in place to do things like this and are achieving various degrees of success. But overall, the industry has not changed the supply-demand imbalance of tech workers.
That's the big picture -- but maybe not big enough. I can't help thinking something is missing. Eventually, we have to ask ourselves why it's so difficult to develop and maintain well-paying jobs that are highly regarded by society. Maybe we're forgetting something more fundamental.
Here's a theory: Most people don't want to be information technologists.
In fact, I would guess that at any particular time, only a small minority of the population is genuinely interested in (and capable of) doing this type of work. This is reflected by the actual number of people in the IT workforce -- around 3.5 million, out of a total workforce of 141 million. You don't have to look too far to understand why. Here's a typical example of a job ad for a software engineer in Silicon Valley:
Company X looking for senior level engineer to provide technical leadership and implementation skills to help drive the development team to success in producing quality software ... to build new and maintain existing medium and large scale web-based applications ... focused on developing consumer tools and aggregating data from retailers and make its service available to other sites as they look to increase their ad inventory and consumer value.
How many people have the specialized tech background to match the acronym soup in this job description? And of these individuals, how many are going to want to do this job for very long? We can't just assume it's reasonable to turn large portions of the citizenry into software developers, hardware engineers and database analysts just because our economic model demands it.
Some wishful thinkers are suggesting that we can turn poets into programmers if the right education and incentives are available. But coercion through cultural tinkering or monetary incentives will only take us so far. Even in the PwC study, it was noted that less than half of the IT execs reported that base pay was a "highly effective" method of compensation for attracting and retaining employees. Other benefits such as flexible work hours, extra leave, telecommuting and day care support can make a job more bearable, but not more fulfilling.
So it's hard to imagine how we're going to transform our workforce to meet the escalating demands for IT professionals. I propose that if we're going to get beyond the "hunter and gatherer" stage of the Information Society, we're going to have to think about the problem differently. Instead of churning out hordes of technicians, we will need use our precious IT workers more efficiently. From 1750 to 1900, the Agricultural Revolution dramatically reduced the number of farmers by employing advanced food-raising technologies, effectively bringing an end to agricultural-based economies. A true Information Revolution could accomplish the same thing for our IT-based economy.
How might this happen? I'll talk about this in next week's issue.
As always, comments about HPCwire are welcomed and encouraged. Write to me, Michael Feldman, at email@example.com.
Posted by Michael Feldman - December 07, 2006 @ 9:00 PM, Pacific Standard Time
Michael Feldman is the editor of HPCwire.
No Recent Blog Comments
The Xeon Phi coprocessor might be the new kid on the high performance block, but out of all first-rate kickers of the Intel tires, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) got the first real jab with its new top ten Stampede system.We talk with the center's Karl Schultz about the challenges of programming for Phi--but more specifically, the optimization...
Although Horst Simon was named Deputy Director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, he maintains his strong ties to the scientific computing community as an editor of the TOP500 list and as an invited speaker at conferences.
Supercomputing veteran, Bo Ewald, has been neck-deep in bleeding edge system development since his twelve-year stint at Cray Research back in the mid-1980s, which was followed by his tenure at large organizations like SGI and startups, including Scale Eight Corporation and Linux Networx. He has put his weight behind quantum company....
May 16, 2013 |
When it comes to cloud, long distances mean unacceptably high latencies. Researchers from the University of Bonn in Germany examined those latency issues of doing CFD modeling in the cloud by utilizing a common CFD and its utilization in HPC instance types including both CPU and GPU cores of Amazon EC2.
May 15, 2013 |
Supercomputers at the Department of Energy’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) have worked on important computational problems such as collapse of the atomic state, the optimization of chemical catalysts, and now modeling popping bubbles.
May 10, 2013 |
Program provides cash awards up to $10,000 for the best open-source end-user applications deployed on 100G network.
May 09, 2013 |
The Japanese government has revealed its plans to best its previous K Computer efforts with what they hope will be the first exascale system...
May 08, 2013 |
For engineers looking to leverage high-performance computing, the accessibility of a cloud-based approach is a powerful draw, but there are costs that may not be readily apparent.
05/10/2013 | Cleversafe, Cray, DDN, NetApp, & Panasas | From Wall Street to Hollywood, drug discovery to homeland security, companies and organizations of all sizes and stripes are coming face to face with the challenges – and opportunities – afforded by Big Data. Before anyone can utilize these extraordinary data repositories, however, they must first harness and manage their data stores, and do so utilizing technologies that underscore affordability, security, and scalability.
04/15/2013 | Bull | “50% of HPC users say their largest jobs scale to 120 cores or less.” How about yours? Are your codes ready to take advantage of today’s and tomorrow’s ultra-parallel HPC systems? Download this White Paper by Analysts Intersect360 Research to see what Bull and Intel’s Center for Excellence in Parallel Programming can do for your codes.
In this demonstration of SGI DMF ZeroWatt disk solution, Dr. Eng Lim Goh, SGI CTO, discusses a function of SGI DMF software to reduce costs and power consumption in an exascale (Big Data) storage datacenter.
The Cray CS300-AC cluster supercomputer offers energy efficient, air-cooled design based on modular, industry-standard platforms featuring the latest processor and network technologies and a wide range of datacenter cooling requirements.