The IT Workforce Conundrum

By Michael Feldman

December 8, 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:

Job description:

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.

Requirements:

  • 3+ years of PHP programming, 7-10+ years of professional programming experience
  • 5+ years of programming within Unix/Linux environments
  • 3-5+ years of Java
  • 5+ years working with Production Relational Database Systems (MySQL, Oracle or Postgres)
  • 3+ years acting as a development lead
  • Perl/BASH/Shell scripting experience
  • Javascript and AJAX experience
  • Very comfortable working with and debugging Apache
  • Strong object-oriented programming skills
  • Oracle and MySQL and PHP integration
  • Working knowledge of Subversion and repositories a plus
  • Experience with Zend IDE and tools a big plus
  • Understanding security issues surrounding deploying distributed, large scale web-based applications
  • Confidence to participate, contribute and lead within a fast-paced, technically aggressive, and highly skilled development team

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 protected].

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Supercomputers Take to the Solar Winds

June 5, 2020

The whims of the solar winds – charged particles flowing from the Sun’s atmosphere – can interfere with systems that are now crucial for modern life, such as satellites and GPS services – but these winds can be d Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

HPC in O&G: Deep Sea Drilling – What Happens Now   

June 4, 2020

At the beginning of March I attended the Rice Oil & Gas HPC conference in Houston. That seems a long time ago now. It’s a great event where oil and gas specialists join with compute veterans and the discussion tell Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

NCSA Wades into Post-Blue Waters Era with Delta Supercomputer

June 3, 2020

NSF has awarded the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) $10 million for its next supercomputer - named Delta – “which will kick-start NCSA’s next generation of supercomputers post-Blue Waters,” Read more…

By John Russell

Dell Integrates Bitfusion for vHPC, GPU ‘Pools’

June 3, 2020

Dell Technologies advanced its hardware virtualization strategy to AI workloads this week with the introduction of capabilities aimed at expanding access to GPU and HPC services via its EMC, VMware and recently acquired Read more…

By George Leopold

Supercomputers Streamline Prediction of Dangerous Arrhythmia

June 2, 2020

Heart arrhythmia can prove deadly, contributing to the hundreds of thousands of deaths from cardiac arrest in the U.S. every year. Unfortunately, many of those arrhythmia are induced as side effects from various medicati Read more…

By Staff report

AWS Solution Channel

Join AWS, Univa and Intel for This Informative Session!

Event Date: June 18, 2020

More enterprises than ever are turning to HPC cloud computing. Whether you’re just getting started, or more mature in your use of cloud, this HPC Cloud webinar is an excellent opportunity to gain valuable insights and knowledge to help accelerate your HPC cloud projects. Read more…

Indiana University to Deploy Jetstream 2 Cloud with AMD, Nvidia Technology

June 2, 2020

Indiana University has been awarded a $10 million NSF grant to build ‘Jetstream 2,’ a cloud computing system that will provide 8 aggregate petaflops of computing capability in support of data analysis and AI workload Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

NCSA Wades into Post-Blue Waters Era with Delta Supercomputer

June 3, 2020

NSF has awarded the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) $10 million for its next supercomputer - named Delta – “which will kick-start NCS Read more…

By John Russell

Indiana University to Deploy Jetstream 2 Cloud with AMD, Nvidia Technology

June 2, 2020

Indiana University has been awarded a $10 million NSF grant to build ‘Jetstream 2,’ a cloud computing system that will provide 8 aggregate petaflops of comp Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

COVID-19 HPC Consortium Expands to Europe, Reports on Research Projects

May 28, 2020

The COVID-19 HPC Consortium, a public-private effort delivering free access to HPC processing for scientists pursuing coronavirus research – some utilizing AI Read more…

By Doug Black

$100B Plan Submitted for Massive Remake and Expansion of NSF

May 27, 2020

Legislation to reshape, expand - and rename - the National Science Foundation has been submitted in both the U.S. House and Senate. The proposal, which seems to Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Boosts Deep Learning Accuracy on Memristive Chips

May 27, 2020

IBM researchers have taken another step towards making in-memory computing based on phase change (PCM) memory devices a reality. Papers in Nature and Frontiers Read more…

By John Russell

Hats Over Hearts: Remembering Rich Brueckner

May 26, 2020

HPCwire and all of the Tabor Communications family are saddened by last week’s passing of Rich Brueckner. He was the ever-optimistic man in the Red Hat presiding over the InsideHPC media portfolio for the past decade and a constant presence at HPC’s most important events. Read more…

Nvidia Q1 Earnings Top Expectations, Datacenter Revenue Breaks $1B

May 22, 2020

Nvidia’s seemingly endless roll continued in the first quarter with the company announcing blockbuster earnings that exceeded Wall Street expectations. Nvidia Read more…

By Doug Black

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Steve Scott Lays Out HPE-Cray Blended Product Roadmap

March 11, 2020

Last week, the day before the El Capitan processor disclosures were made at HPE's new headquarters in San Jose, Steve Scott (CTO for HPC & AI at HPE, and former Cray CTO) was on-hand at the Rice Oil & Gas HPC conference in Houston. He was there to discuss the HPE-Cray transition and blended roadmap, as well as his favorite topic, Cray's eighth-gen networking technology, Slingshot. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

SC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour

AMD
AMD
ASROCK RACK
ASROCK RACK
AWS
AWS
CEJN
CJEN
CRAY
CRAY
DDN
DDN
DELL EMC
DELL EMC
IBM
IBM
MELLANOX
MELLANOX
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
PANASAS
PANASAS
SIX NINES IT
SIX NINES IT
VERNE GLOBAL
VERNE GLOBAL
WEKAIO
WEKAIO

Contributors

Tech Conferences Are Being Canceled Due to Coronavirus

March 3, 2020

Several conferences scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, including Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference (GTC) and the Strata Data + AI conference, have Read more…

By Alex Woodie

Exascale Watch: El Capitan Will Use AMD CPUs & GPUs to Reach 2 Exaflops

March 4, 2020

HPE and its collaborators reported today that El Capitan, the forthcoming exascale supercomputer to be sited at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and serve Read more…

By John Russell

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Cray to Provide NOAA with Two AMD-Powered Supercomputers

February 24, 2020

The United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week announced plans for a major refresh of its operational weather forecasting supercomputers, part of a 10-year, $505.2 million program, which will secure two HPE-Cray systems for NOAA’s National Weather Service to be fielded later this year and put into production in early 2022. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU: Up to 2.5X the HPC, 20X the AI

May 14, 2020

Nvidia's first Ampere-based graphics card, the A100 GPU, packs a whopping 54 billion transistors on 826mm2 of silicon, making it the world's largest seven-nanom Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This