I’ve heard and read a lot lately about the shortage of software developers in the Treasure Valley. This is not a local problem. There seems to be a shortage of talented software developers in almost every market across the country, so how can we compete locally against a limited national supply of talent? And why should we focus on this specialized segment of the workforce?
According to CNNMoney, software developers rank number one in a “Best Jobs for Fast Growth” annual survey. This job has a median annual income of $82,000 and tops out well into the six figures. In a 2011-2012 survey conducted by Dice, a technology job site, the top eight jobs paying over $100,000 salaries are all software development skilled positions. And signs show no slowing in the job market for the next decade or two.
It’s no secret that employees with paychecks like these tend to spend more. They buy more homes and more cars, spend more on education, and contribute in other ways that benefit the local community. The economic multiplier has a great impact on other local businesses, services and organizations.
What are businesses, state and local government, chambers of commerce, educators, and pro-business development organizations doing to promote this job segment? Not nearly enough.
Economic growth in our area will probably come from the technology sector in the next 10-20 years. We need to do a significantly better job at providing incentives and creating an environment where businesses can depend on a steady supply of quality software developers. We need to make Idaho a place where software developers can depend on a reliable number of quality employers to work for. You can’t have one without the other.
Here’s a three-phased approach for a long-term solution.
Phase I – Solve the immediate problem of the shortage of software developers.
Private and public sectors must work together for meaningful progress. Some reports show that as many as 400 software developer jobs remain unfilled in Idaho. If these numbers are accurate, that means the state of Idaho is missing out on millions of dollars of sorely needed annual tax revenue. Businesses are suffering from slower product development.
Phase II – Introduce software development earlier in the educational system.
It is tragic that legislators and school administrators remain deadlocked over how to get more technology into the classroom. Meanwhile, Idaho continues to fall behind neighboring states and the rest of the country in developing students’ IT skills.
Outside the classroom, kids have nearly unlimited access to technology including smart phones, social networks, online games, tablets, PCs, and website creation tools. Many of these kids show early signs of software development skills. The investment cost is minimal, with computer prices dropping well below $500 and many of the most popular development products open source and virtually free. There is almost nothing getting in the way of students learning more and expanding their development skills, except the educational system itself.
Phase III – Market Idaho as a national contender competing for workers and companies coming to the state.
From the outside, it looks like the Legislature is waiting for the economy to bounce back. Well, it’s not going to bounce back, not the way we saw it five or ten years ago. The economy has fundamentally changed, and we need to embrace the new technology-based economy.
There’s a national shortage of highly paid, skilled workers. Idaho is competing against every state in the union, and with countries like India. This, in a way, puts Idaho on equal footing in the market. Idaho has a chance to take the lead in creating an environment for this new economy. However, Idaho needs to update policies, incentives and create a mindset that provides initiatives and funding for taking a 21st century approach to a 21st century problem.
Next week I’ll discuss some ideas in each of these phases that may provide some direction and new thinking to accomplish the goal of growing Idaho’s economy and placing Idaho at the top of the new economy.
Don Bush is director of marketing at Kount, a leading provider of fraud prevention technology. Prior to joining Kount, Don was marketing director at CradlePoint, a manufacturer of wireless routing solutions in the mobile broadband industry. Don has worked in hardware and software management for more than 20 years and as a partner in two top technology marketing agencies.