July 8, 2011
Talking code: Demand for programmers, software engineers outstrips supply
While the economy has made expansion difficult for many industries, Seattle-based technology companies have experienced expansion difficulty for a different reason: Namely, the pool of qualified candidates isn’t keeping up with demand.
A quick search on NWjobs.com’s technology section routinely yields hundreds of software-engineering jobs in the area, with employers ranging from Amazon to Zynga. One company, F5, is looking to fill more than 40 full-time programming-related positions.
“It isn’t an easy talent to fill,” says Ryan Kearny, vice president of product development. He says that for F5, a computer-science degree isn’t enough.
Kearny says the technology company, which specializes in application-delivery networking, looks for confident team players. Perhaps even more important, he says, “We weigh whether the candidate seems genuinely passionate about programming. Maybe they’ve created their own technical projects or simply read tech books that aren’t part of a school curriculum.”
According to the Washington State Employment Security Department, programmers are among the top five in-demand professionals in King County, and demand is expected to remain high in coming years.
But is a four-year computer-science degree required to get into the field? Not necessarily.
“Typically, we want a four-year degree,” says Jon Jenks-Bauer, a recruitment manager for RealNetworks. The Seattle technology and digital-media company is also hiring programmers and software developers.
“However, the bachelor of arts degree doesn’t have to be related to computer science,” he says. He recalls successful applicants who supplemented unrelated bachelor’s degrees with either a two-year community college degree or a certificate program.
Programming certificates can supplement unrelated four-year degrees and help tech-job seekers keep up with new languages. Here’s a sampling of programs around Seattle:
- The University of Washington has an extensive list of programming certificates, including C++, Java and emerging languages such as Python and Ruby. pce.uw.edu
- Bellevue College offers certificates in C programming and software testing. continuingeducation.bellevuecollege.edu
- Seattle Central Community College offers a focus in computer programming within its Information Technology certificate. seattlecentral.edu
The University of Washington offers more than 40 certificates related to programming and software development. Some require a bachelor’s degree, while others have no academic prerequisites.
“Our students have backgrounds that are somewhat all over the place,” says Erik Bansleben, program development director for UW Professional and Continuing Education. “In some cases, the student has a degree in computer science but doesn’t have much application experience. In other cases, the student has a different four-year degree but wants to switch careers.”
The UW adds certificate programs yearly in response to changing technology and new career paths that open as a result.
“We update courses and create new certificates based on feedback we get from an advisory board, which consists of faculty and industry professionals who see what current job openings require,” Bansleben says.
He adds that LangPop.com, a programming-language-popularity website, has proved to be a useful tool when looking for emerging trends in the field. “LangPop is great because it looks at all kinds of different sources, including Craigslist ads and Google searches, to assess which programming languages are currently most popular,” he says.
Bansleben and many in the tech industry agree that Java and C++ are solid foundations for anyone interested in becoming a programmer. “All languages are similar,” says Rich James, director of staffing at F5.
Kearny adds: “A background in C programming is critical, but if the applicant has additional languages like Python, that’s awesome. It’s definitely a big bonus.”
Just this year, the UW added a certificate in programming with Python. “We kept hearing requests for Python here and there, from past students to prospective students to industry leaders,” Bansleben says. “Adding a certificate in something like Python does seem to get applicants noticed.”
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