back to article Scala contributor: Open source and diversity key to tackling dev skills shortage

Diversity and open source can help fix the software developer skills gap, argued Scala contributor and Carnegie Mellon Assistant Professor Heather Miller in a keynote talk at the virtual Open Source Summit North America. Miller examined the IT and computer-related skills shortage from a US perspective. "The Department of Labor …

  1. LDS Silver badge

    "when you had to learn the syntax of several programming languages"

    For many years you needed just one or two... then came the web and its languages and frameworks madness....

    1. AMBxx Silver badge

      Re: "when you had to learn the syntax of several programming languages"

      And now, when your trendy framework goes out of fashion, you have to start all over again.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I agree with most of that, but there's one bit I strongly disagree with.

    "a massive influx of students coming into CS programmes. They don't even know what they're going to do, they just know that's where the money is.

    I taught for a few years in a university which had just had such an influx for just such a reason.

    That's helpful; perhaps some will stick."

    It wasn't in the least bit helpful. About a third of them left when they realized that "Computer Science" didn't mean "Advanced Microsoft Word usage", and quite a lot of the remaining ones were permanently struggling. One of the more competent students from that influx, near the end of the course, quietly told one of the lecturers that probably about one-eighth of the cohort were actually able to code and the rest were copying others or just trying random guesses until the errors went away.

    Ah well, they're probably all in management now.

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      If you haven't already been coding for several years before going to university, then software development is the wrong field for you.

      1. disgruntled yank Silver badge

        Fields

        Pretty damn near nobody who got to university before 1970 had experience coding. Guy L. Steele did (if it was before 1970) because he went to Boston Latin School, but not e.g. Donald Knuth. Somehow the Knuths, Ritchies, etc. managed to make a living.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Fields

          >Pretty damn near nobody who got to university before 1970 had experience coding.

          But back then "computing" was a sub-branch of maths. In 1979 there were only a handful of UK universities that offered a pure Computing degree course (within a Computing department), most ran maths courses in which students could select computing modules.

          So whilst I understand your point, I think the need for for some exposure to logic and mathematical analysis. But then that is in part why languages like Cobol came about, they were intended to be used by people who hadn't studied maths/computing at Uni.

    2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Unhappy

      or just trying random guesses until the errors went away.

      The sounds like one of my "programmers"

  3. Warm Braw Silver badge

    500,000 computing-related jobs open in the US that were not filled

    I don't know the situation in the US, but I'd happily fill 30%-50% of a job in the UK, but not more as I have other things to do with the rest of my time. When I ask recruiters about this, they look at me as if I'm insane. If you want to encourage more people to work for you, you also have to look at how that work is done if you want to maximise the pool of people that might be interested in doing it.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: 500,000 computing-related jobs open in the US that were not filled

      Not everybody has positions for someone who wishes just to fill 30% of it. Some tasks may be sometimes assigned this way, but often they can't - simply.

      Moreover if companies start to fill roles in a ubereque way, people will find themselves continuously begging for jobs at reduced wages - with those having other revenue streams and working as a past time advantaged.

      Then we will stop about looking at slavery in the past, and will look at the one in the future.

      1. Warm Braw Silver badge

        Re: 500,000 computing-related jobs open in the US that were not filled

        I'm not even sure employers put that much thought into job requirements. "Not everyone" is not the opposite of "no-one" and that's pretty much the number of part-time jobs recruiters have ever heard of or I see advertised. I don't believe the number of fractional FTEs required by employers is 0.

        Given the number of people writing open source software in their spare time for nothing, I find it a bit of an ubereque argument that part-time workers might somehow undercut their full-time colleagues. Especially as I didn't suggest I'd be prepared to do it on the cheap. Not that, anyway.

        1. LDS Silver badge

          Re: 500,000 computing-related jobs open in the US that were not filled

          The problem with part-time job is they tend to be or menial tasks, or very high-level ones - which may be your case.

          Or maybe something you can do aside like documentation, translating, graphic elements.

          Otherwise it may be difficult to build a team where part of it may not be available when you need it, and there's always the need to ensure someone else is fully aware of what that part is doing and fill-in anytime it is needed. You may also wonder how much someone is committed to a given project and evaluate the risk they may give up in the middle of one.

          So yes, you may find some offers, but they are not as common as you may wish.

          In some ways open source did undercut jobs for full-time workers - the more code you can borrow from somewhere, the less skilled people you need to employ.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: 500,000 computing-related jobs open in the US that were not filled

            In some ways open source did undercut jobs for full-time workers - the more code you can borrow from somewhere, the less skilled people you need to employ.

            Possibly, yes.

            I involuntarily became part of a larger organization ~2 years ago. They have way more developers than the organization I came from had, but I think not as skilled. When it came time to reorganize the teams, I started looking at the linkedin profile of those being promoted to "architects". The most experienced of them started there career a while back (early naughts), but their profile only mentioned 'Java'. (I have more experience btw)

            I discussed this with a colleague who came from the same team as I, and we compared notes on our new colleagues. They all struck us as less experienced. We also note that they are not really making much progress. They started developing the next generation platform for their system a few years ago, and they have already made some rather bizarre choices and accumulated enough technical debt so the phrase "complete rewrite" has started to surface.

            Recently they hired an agile coach. The poor woman seems completely out of place. My colleague asked our new supervisor why he hired this girl and apparently she was the best qualified. This is a person who several times now have mailbombes us with invites for the stupid daily standup meetings. (every time she gets the meeting room wrong or anything -- there is another avalanche of invites)

            My hypothesis is that they refuse to pay decent salaries, so they consistently get the bottom pick. Add to this that they introduced the weirdest approach to scrum ever witnessed by man, and whatever talent they had seem to be heading towards the door. (only three people have resigned so far, but I suspect more will follow once COVID-19 clears up)

            And yes, maybe the availability of open source libraries helps fuel this sort of strategy. Would be interesting to hear others' take on that.

      2. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: 500,000 computing-related jobs open in the US that were not filled

        >Not everybody has positions for someone who wishes just to fill 30% of it.

        I think it is more of a mindset thing. Until Lockdown, few companies had positions for home-based working...

        I suspect once companies fully work through home-based working - which they will need to in order to mitigate the effects of local lockdowns, they will also start to embrace different engagement models which don't revolve around people being at a desk 9-5.

        It's a bit funny how thinkers like Charles Handy were writing about this back in the late 1980's, expecting things to change at a much faster rate than they actually have...

    2. avakum.zahov

      Re: 500,000 computing-related jobs open in the US that were not filled

      "500,000 computing-related jobs" could be anything, from the precious few true hardware and software engineers to multitudes of hel(l/p) desk agents, project managers and data entry clerks.

      Read my lips - there is not shortage of skilled IT labor! There is abundance of incompetent IT managers who are squandering the resources they have!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    especially when it's very homogeneous, like just a bunch of white dudes that are already friends with one another and I'm the outsider, everybody is knowledgeable about the thing that they're working on and they can converse very concisely. Then I come in asking extra questions. It can go two ways. Either there's pushback and 'How dare you not know X.' That causes me to close down and I don't get so much done. Or I get a response like, 'OK, I will stop and explain'. Then I learn more and they learn more and I am being pulled into the design discussion."

    Shoehorning race and gender into this is just the wrong approach. A bunch of people who all know each other and what they're doing will react to a new person in those ways as well.

    The emphasis on "white dudes" is bad as well generally. It's a pretense at diversity. No one would mind (including the white dudes) if a team were all black women - in fact that would be celebrated and elevated. Even though it wouldn't be diverse.

    1. katrinab Silver badge
      Megaphone

      NASA did all black women for the team that wrote the software for the Apollo moon landings. May I tentatively suggest that they did a lot better than typical government IT projects today?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Exactly. Picking people because they're the best, instead of because they're black or white or male or female, generally leads to the best results, as your non-diverse example illustrates.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      We all know what it's about, but we're all supposed to pretend like it's reasonable. Well, it's not reasonable. I remember growing up, we were taught to not focus on skin colour. These days, it seems like the only thing people concentrate on is skin colour. Big steps backwards.

  5. cschneid

    Have we learned nothing in the last 40 years?

    Application development seems to have devolved into the artifice of mercilessly stitching together tools and libraries into frankenmodules to be tortured into a lurching semblance of functionality.

    This isn't computer science, and it isn't really application development either. It shares lineage with overloaded, multi-sheet, macro-laden Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets occasionally shelling out to DOS to execute the odd GW-BASIC program or some utility downloaded from PC Magazine. Brittle superstructure resting on shaky ground.

    1. RM Myers Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Have we learned nothing in the last 40 years?

      Hey now, don't knock utility programs downloaded from PC Magazine. I was able to modify several of these to help build an automated workflow to screenscrape mainframe data into excel spreadsheets for financial analysis in the day. When a multiyear, multi-million dollar project developed a replacement using a Sun server and workstations, our group ended up using the screenscraping flow instead because it was easier to use and more flexible, besides being cheaper to maintain. The other analysts (actuaries) used the Sun system, and even minor updates took months or years.

      It was cool having both a Sun "pizza box" and a PC on my desk at the same time, though.

  6. Andrew Williams

    The magic 500,000 jobs...

    That are pretty much not going to be filled by Americans. Largely because they do know who they want, and it’s not Americans.

    There’s also the collateral damage of this approach. Salaries offered are low (H1b targeted) so a lot of stupid HR think that that is the “going rate” for such a job. Add to that the ludicrous cost of living anywhere near the USA tech hubs, and you’re not going to get these jobs filled.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The magic 500,000 jobs...

      Add to that the ludicrous cost of living anywhere near the USA tech hubs, and you’re not going to get these jobs filled.

      I thought COVID was supposed to have killed off office work?

      Most of the big names in the industry have said home working can become permanent, so I really don't see the point of flocking to an overpriced tech hub.

      1. katrinab Silver badge

        Re: The magic 500,000 jobs...

        And it means they no longer need to worry about stuff like H11B visas.

  7. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    Computing-related jobs

    How many of the 500 thousand are in software development, as opposed to tech support, network administration, etc.?

  8. Wily Veteran
    FAIL

    Is HR still the real issue?

    Before I retired several years ago, I was a software development supervisor in Corporate IT at a very large auto manufacturer. HR was very plain on new hires (even contractors): they shall have a CS degree from one of a small number of "approved" universities. Period. I couldn't even have hired myself since I don't have a CS degree. Skill didn't matter, experience didn't matter, track record didn't matter, problem-solving ability didn't matter. No CS degree from one of the "approved" universities, no interview.

    Granted, it wasn't a tech company, but from what I could see, the attitude of tech-company HR departtments didn't differ much.

    Still true?

  9. martinusher Silver badge

    Software development often doesn't involve software

    I don't work with applications development per se, its more embedded development, but the fundamental idea's the same -- you have a set of requirements, a problem to solve, resources to solve it with and you have to weave the bits together. The problem is, though, that knowing a computer language -- or two, or three -- is a bit like having English language skills; they're important for many jobs (in English speaking countries, obviously) but they by themselves won't actually solve anything. Its all the other bits of knowledge that you need to know in order to know what code to write.

    I have described this problem as being a bit like building a bridge. At its simplest level its a log or plank spanning a ditch. No math or experience required. Bridges get more complex as they get larger -- some are over the counter structures but most are custom designs and depending on what they're spanning they may become major engineering projects. A big part of bridge building is knowing when a plank will do and when you need to talk to structural engineers. A programmer straight out of college is really at the plank across ditch stage. They might get by with OTC components but when you've got to design then there will be a problem. Since software systems don't fail spectaularly -- you just keep piling up the code and ad hoc bug fixing until the budget dries up and the customer loses patience -- you may never realize that the fundamental problem was that you were out of your depth and you never knew it.

  10. boltar Silver badge

    IT is already diverse

    The amount of south asians working in it is testament to that and its about as meritocratic industry as you can find so any more calls for diversity is just virtue signalling gesture politics. Sure, there aren't many women in it and do you know why? Because it doesn't interest many of them despite them having just the same access to dev equipment and training as the boys at school and college. Some people just wont accept that men and women diverge in what they find most interesting and what they want to do as a career but keep pushing a sexism agenda for their own cynical purposes.

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