A Shortage of Programmers?

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An interesting article appeared in today's (June 14)ComputerWorld. Reference is:


Just a few quotes:


Given the progress so far in assigning information technology professionals to fix those pesky date codes, a little levity seems in order. It may be the last time anyone feels like laughing about the year 2000. The reason: No one, anywhere, can find people skilled in the ancient art of Cobol programming.

That isn't an overstatement. Last year, for example, CSC Consulting, Inc. in Lexington, Mass., and three other companies placed a full-page, $70,000 ad in The Boston Globe looking for IT professionals.

The total number of resumes received listing Cobol skills?

Zero. And the recruiting scenario goes downhill from there. "The chances of getting new people for year 2000 work are very slender," says Paul Miller, a contract technical recruiter in Billerica, Mass. Miller has spent much of his 20-year recruiting career searching for Cobol talent. "There simply aren't that many Cobol people out there anymore," he says.

..........Not surprisingly, Bert Russo, CSC's vice president of legacy management services, predicts that "most corporations are not going to fix all of their mission-critical work in time."

The result? All assumptions are now off. Forget about hiring external providers to take on your remediation work. It's already too late to hire for that work. There's a record supply-and-demand gap in IT skills and labor.


This, of course had been predicted many times. Cory Hamasaki


has devoted website space to outlining the job situation in DC, noting a steady rise in rates. Other sources, as well, have indicated that experienced programmers are now hitting the $100 per hour rate in some places.

My question for this forum: Does your own experience support this trend toward a shortage of people? (Do we have evidence that this is happening, are programmers beginning to leave government jobs for higher paying private sector jobs?)

-- Rocky Knolls (rknolls@hotmail.com), July 14, 1998


Um, I have five years experience in COBOL and nobody seems to care. Currently I am being trained in web technologies, or to quote Ed "rearranging deck furniture on the Titanic".

-- Amy Leone (aleone@amp.com), July 14, 1998.

About 3 months ago I was looking for Y2K work, thinking it would be lucrative but also because I wanted to get an inside view of how it was progressing.

There was some around, but not as much as I expected. A lot of people seemed to be looking for cheap labor - substantially less than I was already making. One company scheduled a phone interview, then called me back the day of the interview to say the manager didn't want to talk to me after all because I had no Y2K experience. Other people said they didn't want to interview me because most of my mainframe experience was more than 5 years ago - although I have 16 years of COBOL.

So go figure. Maybe I should try again - although in the meantime I lost interest.

-- Deborah Barr (debbarr@concentric.net), July 14, 1998.

A postscript to the previous: the day after they canceled my phone interview at the last minute because I had no Y2K experience, the same company sent me some e-mail. It contained instructions on how to rewrite my resume to their specifications, and then they would reconsider interviewing me. I laughed a lot.

-- Deborah Barr (debbarr@concentric.net), July 14, 1998.

There's a fellow who did a study on the alleged programmer shortage and concluded that what it amounted to was a shortage of programmers willing to work for $40,000 a year. As far as Y2k, from what I can see, the mission critical programs have already been fixed and the ones that aren't mission critical can afford to be out of commission for a period of time. Trying to find this problem is like looking for a needle in a haystack, and it is more cost effective to only examine programs that you know are mission critical.

-- Amy Leone (aleone@amp.com), July 15, 1998.

I try to only post when I have new content to share, but if this thread is being used as a survey, then...


I've done mainframe COBOL, and could be convinced to do it again for money or a good cause, but it would have to be a pretty high salary to pry me away from my fun web/interactive/multimedia/etc development job. However, so far nobody has even asked me, which is fine by me...

-- Mark Zieg (mzieg@orlandosentinel.com), July 17, 1998.

I've been a COBOL programmer for over 20 years. I have not been offered enough money to make it worth my while to quit my job, have my wife quit her job, sell our home, and move to another town. Oh, the head hunters want us so badly, but the offers are from $30 to $65 per hour with no benefits. Or there are offers of full time employment w/ benefits for $55-$70K. But again, this is not enough compensation to move to another city. And what happens to COBOL programmers after the Y2K crunch and they no longer need you? Out the door on your ass is my guess. Not one of my fellow COBOL programming friends have quit to take employment making the big money (ha-ha) doing Y2K work. These offers being made may be great for young programmers just starting out or older retired COBOL'ers who want to make a extra few bucks and would enjoy living for awhile in the town where contract work is being offered, but for us middle aged guys and gals who are in the glidepath toward retirement 5 to 15 years down the road, there's just no way we're going to move for the money being offered.

One more thought. Wall street has just completed tests on Y2K and apparently passed with flying colors. The stock market has more tests scheduled. Nobody knows what's going to happen come 1/3/2000 for sure, but I'm not quite ready to buy into the end of Western Civilization scenario. Some companies will go bankrupt, there will be a lot of pain, and perhaps temporary interuption of services like electrical power. But how many of you other programmers have headed for the hills or at least have bought China diesels to generate electrical power? So where are the rest of you on the disaster scale of 1 to 10? 1 being a speed bump, and 10 being a literal return to the 19th century. Right now my best guess is about a 5 for the United States. This is a great time to balance your portfolio with some U.S. T-Bills. And have some cash on hand come 1/1/2000. And emergency supplies for a week. Europe better wise up quick and delay conversion to the Euro dollar. Asia, Africa, and South America are asleep. Those poor people. Thanks for this forum to share. Also greatly enjoy Ed and Jennifer Yourdon's book, "Time Bomb 2000". Also enjoy Money Talk's Bob Brinker's perspective on all this, although I'm not as bullish as he is.

-- Ed Lupien (edlupien@msn.com), July 20, 1998.

As a senior CS student in the College of Engineering, we have only talked about cobol in the Design and Implementation of Languages class. Our department does not teach it anymore. The only dpartment that does it the CIS department in Business. That could be another reason....

-- Carlos A. Andrade (candrade@elp.rr.com), August 21, 1998.

I have been a consultant for a number of years and my expertise is in client-server. I have never been called for Y2k work although many (most) systems I have worked on in the past are not Y2k compliant and are still in use today. Here in the midwest companies do not want to pay salaried programmers what they are worth much less pay for consultants.

I would have to disagree with Amy's statement that the mission critical work is done - in many cases they still haven't defined what is mission critical, much less started the work. I am hearing too much "fix on failure" talk from the companies I deal with. I think we are in for a rough ride.

-- beckie (sunshine_horses@yahoo.com), August 22, 1998.

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