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A recent Stack Overflow blog post claims that:

With nearly five open jobs for every available software developer, the need for qualified technical talent is higher than ever.

I have seen this claim repeated many times, with different numbers cited, but I've not been able to get down to any underlying factual source for these claims. In this case, the article links to another non-authoritative press article about agile developers.

Does the number of open jobs surpass the number of developers "on the market"? Does this depend on skill or experience?

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    IMO "Agile developers" is red herring, Agile is around for 15 years now. Pretty much any developer using modern project management techniques is an "Agile developer". – vartec May 6 '15 at 19:20
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    The new version of the question might be easier to answer, but is nearly meaningless. – CodesInChaos May 7 '15 at 11:32
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    Possibly relevant: Are we producing too few or too many science and technology grads?, based on this report. – Bobson May 7 '15 at 14:35
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    @CodesInChaos I don't understand the purpose of your comment. Even if it is right, it doesn't explain why this question is now meaningless nor how to improve it... – Sklivvz May 7 '15 at 23:31
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    @trejder IMO the actual claim is likely to be "we have vacancies we can't fill" or "we can't find developers with the experience/CVs we want at the price we're offering". So asking about the total number of open jobs versus the total number of developers on the market is a misquote of the claim: I doubt that anyone claims what the question is now asking. – ChrisW May 8 '15 at 7:45
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A report which was issued by the Economic Policy Institute in 2013, analyzed the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) labor market and workforce and the supply of high-skill temporary foreign workers, who serve as “guestworkers.” A programmer (or a software developer) is indeed in the core of this market.

Their research proved that colleges are already producing far more graduates than the STEM market is absorbing on and concluded:

In our research we find that there is no lack of domestic graduates or existing domestic STEM workers to fill available STEM jobs.

But it turns out that the job gap and growth opportunity is in computer science, not in STEM.

According to the chart below, computer science is the only STEM field where there are more jobs than students. The data below comes from the National Science Foundation, comparing jobs data and projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to student data from the National Science Foundation. enter image description here

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Science Foundation

Despite all of the excitement STEM, it turns out that when you exclude computer science from STEM, you see that the remaining STEM fields have too many students, and not enough jobs.

Moreover, code.org predicted there would be 1,000,000 more jobs than graduates in 2020: enter image description here

From the 2010 - 2012 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/, across all industries we are adding 136,620 jobs per year in computing. Subtract 40,000 annual computer science graduates (see NSF data below) and you get roughly a gap of 100,000 jobs.

100,000 jobs adds up over 10 years to 1mm jobs.

Furthermore, there The Job/Student gap in Computer Science seems to be real:

The source for the job data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/. Projections for job openings and replacements in computing jobs is 1,366,200 jobs from 2010 - 2020. Projections for all other STEM jobs combined (engineering, life sciences, physical sciences, social sciences) is 908,700 jobs over the same period. This is a 60:40 ratio of jobs in Computing vs the rest of STEM. The source for the students data comes from the College Board, surveying 2012 AP examination participation (see http://research.collegeboard.org/programs/ap/data/participation/2013), shows that of the 1,379,585 AP math and science exams taken by US high school students in 2013, only 29,555 were computer science exams. This is a 2:98 ratio of students in computer science vs the rest of STEM

But this is all one slice of the puzzle. That is, because almost half of developers don't have a degree in computer science, a survey by StackOverFlow says: enter image description here

48% of respondents never received a degree in computer science

So far, the number of programmers in the US are estimated based on their employment, it would be really hard to estimate the number of programmers who don't have a degree and compare them with the number of jobs available to give you a neat conclusion.

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    Along with the variation in talent and knowledge, there is also the issue that the question asks about software developers specifically. "Computer and information sciences" is a broader category, and STEM is much broader still. – KSmarts May 6 '15 at 17:48
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    The survey by StackOverflow is not representative of industry in US, only 4.7K of 26K responders are in US. – vartec May 6 '15 at 21:15
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    @vartec, true. But this is all I could find. – George Chalhoub May 6 '15 at 21:16
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    The other problem with the Stack Overflow survey is that, anecdotally, it seems to me that the self-taught approach is far less common today than 10-20 years ago, so a naive plotting of the curve wouldn't capture the actual situation. As you say, though, there isn't great data available (that I'm aware of). – Chris Hayes May 7 '15 at 7:09
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    @KSmarts comment is very on target and seriously calls into question the comparisons made in this otherwise excellent answer. It variously compares "computer science degrees", "computer science and related fields" and "jobs in computing", but as an actual employer and consulting interviewer, I can assure you that these are three wildly different things. From personal experience, I can tell you that in the U.S., the number of people "in computing jobs" with "computer science degrees" is far less than 1/3. Indeed, I doubt that it's even the most common degree (it's probably IS/IT). – RBarryYoung May 7 '15 at 12:41
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The issue is mostly raised in the context of tech talent being brought to US on H1B visas. They are good proxy for showing how many openings are there, as the companies struggling to find talent on local market, would search abroad.

The H1B visa is intended to allow high-skilled workers to come to the U.S. for three years with a three-year extension. While there is currently an annual cap of 65,000 new worker visas that can be issued, each year companies’ requests often far exceed this cap within days after the application opens on April 1. (As of April 7, 2014, 172,500 H1B petitions were received by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.)

In 2013 businesses made 909,465 certified requests for H1B visas. Table 1 on the left shows that the top 10 demanded H1B occupations were in either computer technology or finance, representing 77 percent of the total, or 700,000. The rest were in fields that ranged from medical professionals and scientists to teachers and business administration analysts.

Computer technology jobs, including computer programmers and software developers, accounted for 647,653, or 71 percent of all visas requested. Accountants, auditors, and financial and management analysts accounted for 53,433, or about 6 percent of all visas requested.

It's safe assumption to make, that number of open positions is at least as big as number of requests for H1B visa. Request can only be made once candidate is actually offered the job.

Another good indicator, that H1B correlate to shortage of tech talent is the fact that in years following the dot-com crash of 2001, the numbers used dropped significantly, as the local talent became available.

enter image description here

Of course the counter-argument is, that there isn't any shortage and companies only bring in foreigners to pay them less than American talent. This is false, as part of H1B visa process is getting approval for Labor Condition Application (LCA) from the Department of Labor. Two significant preconditions to falsify that thesis are:

  • employer must prove that they cannot find candidates with same skills on local market

    Prior to filing any petition for a H-1B nonimmigrant pursuant to the application, the employer took or will take good faith steps to meet industry-wide standards to recruit US workers for the job for which the nonimmigrant is sought, offering compensation at least as great as that required to be offered to the non-immigrant. The employer will (has) offer(ed) the job to an equally or better qualified US worker.

  • the wages must be above prevailing wages for same position in same region (for example you cannot bring a software developer to San Francisco on H1B and pay them less than $114,400/year).

    The employer must attest, and may need to furnish documentation upon rest, to show that the non-immigrant workers on behalf of whom the application is being made will be paid at or above both these numbers:

    • The wage paid to other employees in the company who do the same work.
    • The prevailing wage for that occupation in the geographical area.

    The employer must make similar attestation regarding non-wage benefits offered.

In fact, a 2013 study has found that H1b-ers are paid on average more than native US workers:

H-1B visa holders earn more than comparable native-born workers. H-1B workers are paid more than U.S. native-born workers with a bachelor’s degree generally ($76,356 versus $67,301 in 2010) and even within the same occupation and industry for workers with similar experience. This suggests that they provide hard-to-find skills.


Another set of counter arguments is that if there was shortage, then why don't wages increase and unemployment decrease?

These arguments also fail the fact check. According to data from Dice, just in 2012 alone the salaries grew 5.3% YtY, way above national average. Unemployment among software developers was 3.8%, less than half of national average.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Sklivvz May 7 '15 at 22:54
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    Folks, if you have something alse to add, backed by references, add another answer. If you don't have evidence to bring, do not use the comments in "alternative". – Sklivvz May 7 '15 at 23:30
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    Consider the recent case where a bunch of Disney programmers were made to train their foreign replacements. There obviously were qualified workers yet H1-Bs were hired anyway--the rules are awfully lacking in teeth. – Loren Pechtel Jul 27 '16 at 23:49
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    @vartec What's the point of Florida vs Silicon Valley? The workers were there--obviously there were qualified Americans. – Loren Pechtel Jul 27 '16 at 23:59
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    @vartec Why do you keep mentioning Trump? Literally no one else on this page has referenced Trump, presidential candidates, or presidents. I liked the arguments in your answer, but repeatedly disparaging a guy because of who he'll vote for is uncalled for. If you want to discredit that lawsuit because the guy was unqualified for the work, that's acceptable. – Zach Mierzejewski Dec 9 '16 at 12:29
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I think there's a very large variation in estimates. Even from BLS itself. Compare the accepted answer with the more recent BLS data from a 2017 NYT article which show near parity for the 2014-2024 projections between job opening and US degrees in CS:

enter image description here

While using BLS data, the above analysis was performed by Edward Lazowska, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington.

Furthermore, graduating with CS/IT degree is nowhere near a guarantee for a job as one might incorrectly infer from the graph above. For instance, in the same NYT source, we read that:

Unemployment rates for STEM majors may be low, but not all of those with undergraduate degrees end up in their field of study — only 13 percent in life sciences and 17 percent in physical sciences, according to a 2013 National Science Foundation survey. Computer science is the only STEM field where more than half of graduates are employed in their field.

This somewhat jibes with the EPI report (which I myself) found pretty questionable in its inferences as it uses exactly one year (2009) as sample, but the findings of which, as pertaining to CS/IT, were eschewed in the accepted answer:

In computer and information science and in engineering, U.S. colleges graduate 50 percent more students than are hired into those fields each year; of the computer science graduates not entering the IT workforce, 32 percent say it is because IT jobs are unavailable, and 53 percent say they found better job opportunities outside of IT occupations. These responses suggest that the supply of graduates is substantially larger than the demand for them in industry.

So deficit of jobs and surplus of graduates in IT/CS? Skills mismatch? Hmm...

And if I'm allowed some related thoughts, although the question was tagged with US, the situation that CS/IT graduates fare better than the STEM average in finding a job in their field of study doesn't seem to hold in other Anglophone countries; e.g. in Australia. So frankly any inferences based on US data of a global shortage of developers seems even more tenuous.


And frankly taking the linear extrapolation used in the accepted answer to forecast millions of unfulfilled IT jobs is ridiculous, as the EU has found out:

“In 2011, the European Union was faced with 300,000 unfilled vacancies in the ICT sector; if this trend is not checked, there could be as many as 900,000 unfilled vacancies by 2015,” said the official conclusions of an October 2013 summit in Brussels.

“This skills mismatch is detrimental to our economic and social policy objectives,” added the text, signed off by all of the EU's government leaders, who promised action.

But in reality, the number of unfulfilled potential jobs in the ICT sector remained more or less the same in the following years, at around a third of the expected figure.

In 2012, the figure was around 274,000. In 2015, Empirica said there were 373,000 open posts, “so the actual shortage is not as massive ... as feared two years ago”. One year later, Empirica said the skills gap figure was 270,000.

Even assuming these gaps are real, they're not necessarily increasing, but showing some hard-to-predict variation:

enter image description here

In its reports, Empirica offered estimates based on different scenarios, but it was not uncommon for commissioner Ansip's predecessor for the digital agenda, Neelie Kroes, to take the highest figure, saying that “Europe faces an ICT skills gap of nearly one million workers”, without mentioning a year or any caveats.

The researchers had also stressed that what they calculated was a “demand potential” or “job potential”, not actual expected vacancies.

“It should be seen as a (theoretical) figure describing the demand potential for new ICT jobs which ... could theoretically and additionally be created in Europe due to an e-skills demand likely to occur especially in the years closer to 2020,” the researchers wrote in 2014.

“Vacancies that cannot be filled year after year will go away – projects cannot be realised, tenders not submitted, innovations will simply not be made”, they added.

That's why vacancies don't simply accumulate (linearly).


And to conclude my skepticism by coming back to the US, a 2017 Forrester report, as summarized in TechRepublic said that the purported unfulfiled jobs didn't translate in a substantial compensation increase, the widely accepted measure of such gaps:

Even high-demand tech roles have seen limited wage increases, the report found. Applications developers, security specialists, and other coveted positions have seen annual average job growth rates exceeding 7% over the last five years, while professions related to management and analysis of tech systems have grown at CAGRs about 3%. However, the wages for all of these roles have only growth around 3%, which suggests an efficient labor market, the report noted.

Further, over the past four years, the number of students graduating with degrees and diplomas in computer science has grown faster than the number of new tech jobs. "This suggests that any tech talent shortage is getting better — not worse — from a training and development standpoint," the report stated.

The report goes on to say that any "skills gaps" involve experience in hot technologies do jour (like mobile apps nowadays) and/or less attractive work locations; geographical areas identified (via salary growth): Rhode Island, West Virginia, Montana, and Washington State.

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