Last week, I introduced a three-phase approach to solving the software developer shortage in Idaho. I said we should create a pathway for bringing more students into the computer sciences field and bring Idaho’s technology-based economy into the 21st century. Now, let’s look again at each phase and some ideas that may help move us to real solutions.
Phase I – Solve the immediate problem of the shortage of software developers.
Idea 1 – Public/private funded bonuses: Structured similarly to the way the military offers bonuses for new recruits who agree to pursue certain job fields, the state (working with employers) could offer a bonus of say, $20,000, for every new software developer transplanting from another state who takes a job in Idaho. The bonus could be based on skill level and paid in increments after 12 and 24 months. Corporations could match those funds, creating a large incentive for employees.
Idea 2 – Student loan payback assistance program: Student loans are common among today’s college grads and can take years to pay off. Creating an incentive that helps software developers pay those loans off faster could be a distinct benefit that makes a big difference. Again, state and employer cooperation can make this a fantastic deal.
Idea 3 – Create a specialized recruiter: Combine state funding with employer donations to create a job for a specialized recruiter or a team (maybe through the Idaho Technology Council) to travel to other states’ universities’ job recruiting fairs touting Idaho’s advantages, tech opportunities and vibrant communities. Recently, the ITC announced a program to bring software developers to the area and present opportunities to them directly. That’s a good start, if they can get it funded, but I think attracting them to the area through a contest/competition (see Phase II, Idea 2) and offering scholarships to the conference might be a better way to go, and in the long run cost less.
Phase II – Introduce software development earlier in the educational system.
Idea 1 – Software development scholarship program: Allow students, as early as junior high school, to apply for state-funded and business-supported scholarships that provide computers and access to open-source software development tools. Based on grades, application requirements and teacher recommendations, let’s find the students who are disposed to be good developers early on and help prepare them long before college.
Idea 2 – Developers conference/contest: Host a regional or state software developers conference that educates students in high school on the benefits of the profession. One element of the conference is a contest to show off the talents of these young developers, interacting with college students, professors and businesses. As this conference grows, it can easily be expanded to include one-hop regions like Salt Lake, Portland and Seattle. Eventually it can go to a national audience, making Idaho a leader in this segment of the market while showing off the state and the advantages of our business community.
Idea 3 – Software developers site: Create a website that challenges students to develop solutions to problems. Software developers are problem solvers. They want to fix things that are broken; the more challenging, the better. Make this a show-and-tell social networking site so students can collaborate like they will in the work world.
Phase III – Market Idaho as a national contender competing for workers and companies coming to the state.
Idea 1 – Rebrand Idaho: Idaho is mostly seen as an agricultural state. Wherever I travel people know Idaho for potatoes. That’s great, but that will not grow the economy here like technology can. We tax potato growers $15 million a year to promote potatoes. Maybe it’s time to look at the allocation of funds from the state to really promote our state in areas where large pools of software developers and other computer science specialists exist. Again, the state, partnering with organizations like the Boise Valley Economic Development group, the Idaho Technology Council, Boise State University and private business, could make a huge impact on the state’s brand within just a few years if there were a budget at least the size of the Idaho Potato Commission’s.
Idea 2 – Promote continued collaboration between businesses and universities: There have been some recent advancements in collaboration between public and private sectors. I suggest the formation of a special committee made up of public and university officials. They could partner with groups like BVEP and ITC and private-sector businesses that need software and computer science employees. This committee would be tasked with driving the strategy that moves our state forward in the new economy.
Some of these ideas may be longer shots, but others are completely doable. We have to change the perception of Idaho and gain traction in the market as a national technology leader.
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.