Is There a Shortage of U.S. Tech Workers?

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates says it’s imperative that the U.S. allow in more foreign IT workers. But American tech workers aren’t cheering the proposal.


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The battle lines are clearly drawn.

On one side are IT employers, as exemplified by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. Speaking before a Senate committee earlier this month, Gates said that America is facing a critical shortage of tech workers. He recommended boosting the number of H-1B visas to allow more foreign tech workers into the U.S. His opinion is echoed by the ITAA, an industry trade group that states “an enlightened approach” requires the U.S. to attract IT experts from around the globe.

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On the other side are American IT workers, many of whom take a dim view of increasing H-1B visas. Not surprisingly, their stance is: hire American workers. Their attitude is exemplified by the Programmers Guild, which claims that bringing in more foreign workers will enable U.S. companies to pay $25,000 less to equivalent professionals.

While the conflict is complicated, some observers boil it down to a simple question: is there truly a shortage of IT workers in the U.S.?

If there’s really a shortage, then clearly the U.S. needs to issue more H-1B visas – and fast, or risk the decay of the domestic tech industry, clearly one of the jewels of the U.S. economy.

Yet if talk of a “shortage” is merely an employer gambit, an attempt to pressure domestic IT workers to accept lower pay, then certainly the government shouldn’t abet that by allowing in more foreign talent.

Dr. Al Lee, an executive with salary information site Payscale, has sifted through reams of IT pay data. He notes that tech workers are highly paid relative to other professionals, a condition which could suggest a scarcity.

Yet that still doesn’t fully answer the question, he tells Datamation. “Whether there’s a shortage, or whether Bill [Gates] would just rather pay $50,000 for a developer rather than $80,000,” he says, with a laugh, “is a question.”

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In truth, arguing about whether there’s a shortage of IT workers is an oversimplification. The tech market is a sprawling sector, from hardware to software to networking and beyond.

Regardless of whether there’s a general shortage, inarguably there are some niches that are genuinely hard for employers to fill.

Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director for Robert Half Technology, is constantly involved with filling tech vacancies. While she can’t comment on the overall tech market (because her work is highly specialized) she does see certain vacancies that are harder to fill.

“When we are looking for individuals with .NET development skills, SQL Server development skills, Windows 2000 Server administration (especially those with Active Directory), we have a heck of a time finding those three skill sets,” she tells Datamation. (In fact those three skills are numbers one, two and three – in that order – in terms of difficulty to fill.)

And, “We’re starting to have difficulty in locating individuals who have the Web 2.0 skill set – Java, PHP, and AJAX,” she says.

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