Cultural Blog 3: Issues in Tech

When combing the web in search of a ‘tech industry issue’ about which to write this blog post, I was inundated with one prevailing topic. On Google News, if you search the keywords ‘tech industry’, you’re given a dozen or so pages of links to articles about why women are leaving the tech industry, the income equality gap between men and women in tech, the continued rise of the ‘boys club’ in the largest tech firms, the fact that the problem is actually getting worse, not better, etc…

But I’m not going to write about that. It’s not an issue I’ve experienced personally, as every tech company I’ve worked with from Groupon to Apple to Dev BootCamp has (at least on the surface) strived to maintain gender equality. Of course, to be fair, at Groupon I worked in merchant research, at Apple I worked in retail and repairs, and at DBC, I don’t know the inner workings of salaries or what their management hierarchy is. In the end, I just haven’t had enough exposure to this issue, which obviously exists (seriously, search Google News. It’s amazing), so I’m going to let better minds than mine discuss it while I focus on a slightly more generic topic.

Glassdoor, one of the best job search / company research / job review websites available, recently posted their list of the 25 Highest Paying Jobs in Demand for 2015, and it’s a doozy. The usual suspects are all there, from Physician to Lawyer to Pharmacist to Sales and Marketing, but the overwhelming majority of the job titles (14!) were for the tech industry.

So, why is a career in technology so lucrative while also requiring considerably less (relatively) time investment? As a future graduate of DBC, I will be a beginner web developer, which, while not on the list, still commands a national average salary of nearly $70K. These jobs will be in my wheelhouse after an 18 week program. I didn’t go to school for computer science, and I have no previous background in technology aside from a little website building. So how is this possible?

It’s all about supply and demand. Every company worth its salt should have a technology and development team, whether they’re Coca-Cola or Nabisco or… Hang on I’m hungry. Okay. Or whether they’re Sony or SouthWest Airlines or Century 21. If every company has a need for tech specialists, and there aren’t enough tech specialists, it creates a bubble that continues to increase the salaries of these positions to staggering heights. Right now, there are over 90K positions available for web developers on Glassdoor. If the pay is so good, and there are plenty of jobs available, why aren’t there more developers?

I think it all stems back to education. You go to a 4 year college, you get a CS degree. You graduate, you start looking for work. The problem is, your experience is now outdated. Everything you learned at school is now at least 4 years or more behind the current trend of technology needs. Colleges move at a snail’s pace when it comes to adjusting their curriculum to accommodate for the changes in the industry. It may not matter too much in most majors, since the arts, science, and medical fields don’t change that dramatically from year to year, but when it comes to computer science, being agile means staying relevant. Colleges require accreditation, something that’s very difficult to get when your curriculum needs to change on a rolling 6 month cycle.

And that’s where companies like Dev BootCamp come in. In the past few years, there have been dozens of ‘learn fast, get to work’ type programs that have cropped up geared towards helping people with no technology background find work in the tech community. None of the top players in this group have any connection to any college or university. They don’t need to spend any large amount of time changing their courses on a yearly basis. They don’t have to because their courses are always changing. 2 years ago, the 9 week at-home portion of DBC didn’t even exist. 1 year ago, it was still optional (but suggested). 6 months ago, the focus was completely on Ruby, Rails, with a little JavaScript. Today, it’s about 1/2 Ruby and Rails, while JavaScript and JS databases are slowly taking over the program. This is all done in order to adjust to the market needs of the industry. You have to go where the money is.

So what’s the problem? What’s wrong with companies like DBC succeeding financially by filling a gap in our nation’s educational structure? Well, nothing really. I appreciate it, because it means I’ll be able to find work in a field that’s booming. My only fear is that at some point, The scale is going to shift. Either schools are going to get better at adjusting their programs to change with the times, or there are going to be so many bootcamp programs out there churning out programmers that the need for them is going to drop. This happens in every corner of the economy: A new job category appears, a gap between knowledge and pay builds and builds until a solution appears for filling that knowledge gap, and the bubble bursts. When will that happen in the tech industry? Not too soon, I hope.

Of course, there are other changes happening in the tech world that could disrupt the current landscape. Have you ever heard of MUSE? It’s a program being developed by DARPA that will combine every computer language into one super language that accepts regular, plain word commands. When MUSE goes live, everyone will be a developer, and that’s a scary thought.

My name is Edwin Unger, and I’m a software developer. Sort of. For now.