Demise of Programming Greatly Exaggerated

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To steal a line from Mark Twain... The rumors of programmers' demise have been greatly exaggerated.

For the past year or so, there has been a lot of talk about offshoring sounding the death knell for low-level IT jobs here in the U.S. Programmers were most often mentioned as the profession that would be the first to die out thanks to cheaper labor in countries like India and China. If you are a programmer, analysts were quick to warn you to run, not walk, to go back to school and learn a new skill.

But the numbers tell a different story.

According to Scott Melland, president and CEO of New York-based Dice Inc., an online recruiting service for IT professionals, computer programmers are the most sought after IT professional right now.

In case that needs to be clarified... no other IT job is as hot right now as programming. That's a far cry from being a skill that's on its death bed.

''It flies in the face of what we've been hearing,'' says Melland. ''There are a number of tech positions that are being offshored... but the demand has been greater than the offshore effect.

That's just not what the tech industry has been hearing.

Industry analyst giant IDC has predicting that by 2007 nearly one out of every four (23 percent) IT jobs in America will have been moved offshore and performed by non-US personnel. Last year that figure was at 5 percent.

And analysts widely proclaimed that programmers and other so-called low-level jobs would be the first to go. And they would go because programmers in some other countries would do the job much, much cheaper. According to E5 Systems, Inc., an IT outsourcing company based in Waltham, Mass., computer programming is generally calculated to cost $80 per hour here in the U.S. In India, that figure drops to $22 per hour, and in China it falls to $15 an hour.

''Those programmers have to grow up... If you code for a living, you need to reinvent yourself,'' said Gordon Brooks, president and CEO of E5 Systems, in a previous interview. ''There will be fewer of those jobs, and companies will pay less for it. Does that sound like a good long-term job?''

But so far, programming still is a good long-term job.

''I think if you're a developer, you should feel pretty good about the opportunities out there,'' says Melland. ''And if you're a developer with experience in VB, .Net, ASP and SAP, you're seeing a lot more demand for your skills than you were a few years ago.''

He means a lot more demand.

From July, 2003 to July, 2005, the number of high-tech jobs advertised on Dice's Web site has grown by 180 percent. But programming jobs -- five of them in particular -- have grown much more dramatically.

There has been a 348 percent increase in the call for Visual Basic programmers, along with a 275 percent increase in the call for .Net programmers. But they're not alone. Melland reports a 224 percent increase in advertisements for ASP programmers; a 220% increase for SAP programmers, and a 201 percent increase for XML programmers.

''Overall, I guess what we've seen from the jobs on our site is a nice steady, healthy increase for developers and application programmers with these particular five skills growing very fast,'' says Melland, who adds that he doesn't see this healthy trend changing any time soon. ''Today, there is a nice job market for developers.''

John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based outplacement company, says the death of the programmer was way overestimated.

''The death of the U.S. programmer is a myth. Absolutely,'' says Challenger. ''Much of the programming that's done today is highly complex and requires an immense amount of discussion with a lot of people. They're part of a development team. They have to deal with operations to customize the programming. There's a lot of in-person, on-site understanding that would really get lost if the work was shipped out to someone who is anonymous overseas... There is so much demand for programming -- people who can take technology and adapt it to a situation.''

Challenger says part of the confusion was that people started to mistakenly consider programmers to be semi-skilled or low-level jobs.

''Somehow we got mixed up with the idea that programmers are low- or semi-skilled workers,'' he adds. ''They're not even in the same ball park. Certainly, programmers should be seeking to upgrade their skills and keeping abreast of developing technology. But to suggest that they ought to find a new line of work, is just not right.''

Both Melland and Dice say there are several reasons why programmers are in such hot demand right now.

First off, they note, while some programming jobs are being offshored, many are not. And with both the overall U.S. economy and the tech industry itself slowly turning around, companies are starting to hire again. They're also starting to add new technology to their legacy systems. They're making new plans, and upgrading their systems. That all means they'll need programmers.

And there's another twist. Since some programming jobs are being outsourced, those outsourcing companies will need programmers to do the work. And many of them are right here in the U.S.

''Certainly, it's not a situation that's black and white,'' says Bob Cohen, a senior vice president with the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), a trade association with 400 members. ''When you look at the situation, there are going to be companies that are not going to want their work done offshore. There are too many applications that don't conform. There are going to be companies with blended models, with some working onshore and some working offshore.

''There's going to be programming in America for the foreseeable future,'' adds Cohen. ''I think the reports of its demise are way overblown.''

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