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Is There Room in the World for New Software Engineers?

I get career related questions from time to time. This week I got one that I thought was absolutely worth a detailed response.

The individual asking is finishing up high school here in the US.

Question: I wanted to ask if you thought that there was room in the world for new software engineers?

Not just yes, but HELL YES. :-)

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Software Engineers Needed

Companies are clamoring for software engineers. So many companies are looking for good software engineers that they’re having to go overseas to find them! Trust me, most would much rather find the talent that they need here.

Software is so ubiquitous that it’s easy to overlook. When we think of software we often think of PC’s and the servers that drive the internet. But being a software engineer doesn’t limit you to the devices easily recognized as “running programs”. Software – and opportunities for engineers – are all around you in places and in ways that are easy to overlook.

Many will of course realize that software drives their mobile devices. In fact, individuals that can write mobile applications and do so well are currently some of the most in-demand workers I can think of.

But there are many more types of programming than that. There are software systems in your car; flight control, entertainment systems, and more on planes; system control in modern (and sometimes not so modern) trains, and much more.

This timer probably has a microprocessor – and software – in it.

It seems like just about anything that runs on electricity is likely to have a microprocessor in it these days. We joke about a CPU in your toaster, (buy a high-end one, and I’ll bet there actually is a microprocessor in it), but seriously: from the networking equipment that connects your “real” computers, to the television and DVR you watch, to game consoles and even the little automatic light timer I have here in my office – it’s all running software.

Someone had to write all that software for all that. And I can tell you that there aren’t enough good “someones” go around. And I don’t really see it changing any time soon.

Question: Speaking from just my knowledge in the business world I know that potential employers like to look for experienced workers. I am still at the point in my life where I have the option to go into any field of study I wish to apply myself to and so that is why I am trying to reach out for other peoples’ opinions.

Which is awesome. I hope you get some great feedback.


Question: Being in the software industry, what do you feel would be the best schools that companies would seek the most new employees from?

There are so many: MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, and many more. I graduated from the University of Washington. Back in the day we recruited heavily from the University of Waterloo in Toronto.

But we also hired people with non-computer degrees and with no degree at all.

In fact, I’ll say that the most important school is really the school of hard knocks: experience.

When I was hiring back at Microsoft we weighed actual experience more heavily than grades or where someone went to school. That’s why one of the things I often advise folks without experience to do SOMETHING: anything that relates to your chosen profession. Hobbies count. Volunteer work counts. What you learn is important, but what you can DO is more important, and what you can do is often best judged by what you’ve done.


Question: How do you think I can start networking?

Networking is something that, to put it bluntly, I suck at. I’m a member of a mastermind group, but it was an unexpected invite. It’s not something that I necessarily would have reached out to join at the time, but it has made a tremendous difference in my life. Seriously.

All that’s just to say that while I may not have great suggestions, I can testify to the importance of interacting with like-minded individuals; both for personal and professional growth and for the contacts and opportunities that arise.

My advice to you: understand what your interests are and then look for opportunities to associate with people with those same interests. You might find them in online discussion groups, or local user groups, I’m not sure. One thing I can tell you is that you learn a tremendous amount by helping others (I learn something every day just by answering other people’s questions) and that’s often a productive way to make an entry into online or other collaborative venues.


Question: What cities do you see to have the biggest future in programming/job opportunities?

Any. Honestly, particularly with the internet being what it is, there are opportunities everywhere.

Sure, you might look to the traditional tech-hubs like Silicon Valley, Redmond, and so on, and there will definitely be opportunities there.

But even in non-traditional tech locations, there are almost always companies in need. Just refer back to my list of examples of software everywhere, and you’ll see that those devices originate all over the place. It’s often the areas that are least tech-centric that have the highest demand, depending on local industry.

Hardware versus Software

Question: Do you think it would be more beneficial to go into hardware or software?

Take your pick.

Enjoyment translates to passion, passion translates to performance, and performance translates to a successful career.
This is one where I’d simply advise that you go with what speaks to you – with what will give you the greatest enjoyment to spend your time on.

Enjoyment translates to passion, passion translates to performance, and performance translates to a successful career.

As I said earlier, there’s a shortage of good software engineers. Unfortunately there are plenty of mediocre or outright poor “wanna-be” ones. If you can excel at what you do that’ll put you head-and-shoulders above the crowd.

And it’s easier to excel when you love what it is you’re doing.

I’ve mentioned before that I was blessed to have found software as it became both my hobby and my career. I was originally on a hardware path (I had a general expectation to work in “electronics”), and when I stumbled on software there was no question this was my life’s role. Lucky people get to do what they love, and I’m very, very lucky. (My degree is actually Electrical Engineering, but at the time there was no formal “software engineering” program. I came at software with a hardware point of view, but as far as I was concerned it ended up being all about the software.)

I wish you a LOT of success with your career. You’re asking the right questions at the right time, and that’s very encouraging to hear.


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4 comments on “Is There Room in the World for New Software Engineers?”

  1. This is a great article. However, I believe most young people, which included me at one time, don’t really, really know what they want to do or be at graduation time. There are exceptions, however, and they are lucky and sometimes really become the “go getter” types (for money or otherwise). It can be done. My brother spent four years in engineering school but was driven by desire to be an artist. He dropped out of engineering school and began going to various art schools (while having to earn money to live). Finally, he got a Masters in Fine Arts and became an Assistant Professor at a college. He did apply, on occasions, what he learned in engineering school to some of his artwork. (I am a retired engineer and have had a reasonably good life but I must admit sometimes to the “what if I had”. No, I had/have no talent as an artist.)

  2. A friend who runs a software and website company says Americans will price themselves out of the software engineering market. There are millions of Indians and others who can be hired right on the internet for jobs large and small for a fraction of the price of an American. Is this true? If so, why doesn’t every company do it?

    • I think a more important difference is the quality of education and the quality of engineers coming out of school. Companies will pay top-dollar for truly good engineers, regardless of where on the planet they happen to be.

      • I agree with Leo. Over my career, I managed many programmers. The Brilliant ones were ten times as productive as the competent ones.

        I felt the key fator was what I called “span of comprehension.” Some people could look at a 4-page program printout and comprehend it, while others could look at a 40-page program listing and comprehend it. Huge difference.


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