Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Developer?

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The U.S. unemployment rate is currently sitting at 7.8%. According to a report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the estimated rate among developers is around 3.5%. That is well below standard and nearly fully employed. The BLS shows a median pay (2010) of $90,530, or $43.52 per hour. The ten-year outlook (2010 to 2020) sees an estimated 30% increase in jobs. It also shows that the requirement for becoming a software engineer is a Bachelor’s degree.
Some in the industry, however, believe that traditional American Universities spend too much time teaching older languages like Java. Possibly teaching the programming and theory of newer languages like Python and Ruby would better prepare students for the ever-widening skill gap of newer technologies. Large amounts of data, Mobile Application development, R programming, Hadoop experience, APIs, expanding NoSQL choices – all areas where currently experience is more useful than a degree. Admittedly, a degree in software development is a good first step – but continuing education is going to keep developers employed.
A few years ago, the prospect of offshoring programming work had some people worrying that there wouldn’t be enough jobs to go around. Large companies (Oracle and IBM to name a couple) are still very much using overseas developers, but there are still plenty of open positions for developers in the USA. Unfortunately, having a degree doesn’t mean you’re going to get one of those jobs. Employers are increasing the amount of skills required to work for them, as well as the years of experience working on them. They are also being very specific about each and every skill they want their new employee to have – some believe these to be unrealistic expectations.
Choosing an educational institution is no easy thing, nor is comparing the differences between all the computer science and programming curricula. Course offerings change, teachers change, technology changes – and a great deal of money hangs in the mix. Some public institutions are a cheaper alternative, if you can find something that suits you. Online for-profit organizations have a reputation of being inconsistent and incredibly over-priced, with students sometimes not being who their employer thought they were hiring. Because of this, some employers actually prefer to hire self-taught employees, who have kept up with technology.
Continuing education can come in a couple of forms, just do a Google search and you will see thousands of options. Starter League (Chicago based) will train someone over weeks, rather than years, starting at $2,000 for one course. Obviously it varies depending on what the course covers, and can currently go up to $8,000. But if you’re looking for a free option, you will not be suffering for choice.
Non-profit teaching sites like Coursera and Alison offer numerous computer science courses at no charge. Coursera partners with Universities (currently 33) and as of this writing, offers 67 computer science courses, including Scala and Python. Alison has courses published by names like Harvard, Microsoft, and Google; ranging from complete basics to Python and iPhone App development. Some of the leading Universities in the field are now providing free education online via these sites.
Some non-profit organizations are also a really good way to gain work experience. Organizations like Code for America, which works with city governments to instigate positive change, allows young developers to gain vital experience coding. The Code for America website says that they are “Peace Corps for geeks”. They offer participants travel to the city they have been assigned to (expenses paid), healthcare, and a living-wage stipend.
Hopefully, through a combination of paid courses, work experience, and free online education, software developers will be able to keep on top of the changing face of technology. It seems unlikely that employers will start to become less demanding over time.

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Serge, the author is the post is the product lead and founder at Edictive, a filmmaking app and television press release company.