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The Shortage of Programmers

December 26, 2012
The fellas

Is there a shortage of talent?

This editorial was originally published on May 12, 2008. It is being re-run as Steve is on vacation.

At least at the top. I was reading the Joel on Software latest entry the other day about architecture astronauts and it seemed to make some sense in terms of developers building things they only think people will need, but the tone of the article was quite a rant. It actually sounds very different and a little angry compared to other things he’s written in the past.

It was at the end of the rant that I saw this: “Why I really care is that Microsoft is vacuuming up way too many programmers.” and “…between Microsoft and Google the starting salary for a smart CS grad is inching dangerously close to six figures and these smart kids, the cream of our universities, are working on hopeless and useless architecture astronomy…”

That last paragraphs (there’s more ranting I left out), seem to sum up why Joel is angry. Whether he should be or not is another story. I tend to believe that if someone can pay more and someone wants to work for more and accept the environment, they should be allowed to do so. It might not seem fair and seem to give an advantage to a larger company, but I think we should all be allowed to choose for whom we work and why we go there.

The top graduates in any field are always in demand, really the top people in any field, and they will end up getting bigger salaries, and help to drive up the cost of labor. It happens in movies, in sports, and many other fields, and the top people get the headlines. But for every baseball or basketball player making $10 million a year, there are dozens getting $200k or $300k and that’s not reported quite as widely.

The same thing happens here. Or at least I think it is happening here with the top graduates getting close to 6 figures. While that might push up the cost of the second tier and other CS grads (and other people changing jobs), I’m not sure it means that all programmers will cost this much. I think the salaries might rise a little over time, but overall it takes time for those averages to filter through to the HR departments and raise salaries. So most of us don’t benefit and it’s not worth getting upset about.

In smaller companies this might happen quicker as managers or even owners have the flexibility to quickly decide to pay more for a particular person, but I’m not sure how many companies want to match the larger salaries or perks of a Microsoft or Google. Or even can match that environment. If someone wants to go to work at a large company, with a big budget, lots of resources, the prestige of being in the news, etc., why is that a bad thing?

I guarantee you that for every 10 people that want to work at Microsoft or Google, there are some other very talented people that want to work in a smaller environment, avoid bureaucracy, have a larger impact on the company, or just live in a different place. I’m a good example of this.

A lot of people have mentioned they think I have some talent in the database area and I think it would be cool to work for Microsoft, especially in the SQL Server group, but unless I can work from Denver, there probably isn’t an offer they can make to get me to move to Redmond. There’s a lot more to my career than money or perks.

‘Course I wouldn’t mind them making an offer. Being the “Voice of Microsoft” has a nice ring to it :P.

Steve Jones


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