U.S. Programmers: Shortage or Glut?


My recent post on Indian services providers establishing operations in the U.S. drew interesting comments from two IT pros, both of whom say they have worked for Indian companies and found them to be good employers.


While conceding my point that foreign investment won't be as good for the U.S. as domestic investment, the first commentator sees little difference between companies employing contractors to achieve added efficiencies and companies using machines for the same purpose. The commentator asks:

If a company decides to outsource its IT functions by 40 percent, is it not better that we capture some of that 40 percent domestically?

The second commentator makes the provocative point that much IT inefficiency is due to an oversupply of programmers. This flies in the face of lobbying by tech companies, which have been trying for several years now to get limits eased on H-1B visas.


A number of experts share the commentator's opinion, however. In March, I wrote about several studies that show little evidence of IT staff shortages. Duke University's Vivek Wadhwa, and Ron Hira, a fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, both note that IT salaries are not rising as steeply as might be expected in the event of a shortage. And Hal Salzman of the Urban Institute contends that the industry's "unrealistic expectations," rather an actual shortage of folks with IT skills, is making it difficult to fill job slots.


Earlier this year, I interviewed Norm Matloff, a professor at the University of California-Davis, who believes the tech industry is fabricatinga false talent shortage in order to push for more H-1B visas, which allow them to employ younger -- and far less expensive -- workers.


The reader who commented on my post about the activities of Indian companies in the U.S. suggests that growth in other kinds of jobs, rather than growing the ranks of IT workers, will drive demand for software. Making a case for broader immigration reform, the commentator writes:

The best way to create programming jobs is to bring in other workers. Factory workers create a demand for ERP software; lawyers create a demand for legal support software; truck drivers create a demand for logistics applications; retail clerks create a demand for point-of-sale systems.


Our current philosophy that the way to have a high-tech economy is to have an economy that consists of 100 percent programmers is faulty thinking. If the entire economy consisted of 100 percent programmers, they'd keep each other busy with design specifications, bug fixes, and test plans. There'd be no shortage of work -- but nothing would get done.

Of course, immigration is no easy fix. Sweeping legislation was shot down in the U.S. last summer, andother countries struggle nearly as much as we do with the hot-button issue.