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
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
”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
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
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
”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
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