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1998-01-23 08:57:21


700,000 Extra Programmers Needed in U.S.



Prof. Howard Rubin has estimated that the U.S. shortage is 700,000 programmers. Rubin is considered one of the best informed experts in the y2k field.

Where do we locate an extra 700,000 skilled programmers? We don't.

Every time this astronomical and unattainable figure is quoted, the journalist goes on to discuss organizations that recruit retired programmers or train new ones. The reporters rarely quote figures, i.e., the number of people available through such programs. The fact is, these programs are tiny: 30 or 40 people in a classroom, or 7,000 names in a data base. Experienced programmers do not want to move back to a large city, live in a hotel room, sit in a cubicle, and do the most boring work in the profession: repair code. They did that 30 years ago. They created the problem. Why should they bother to solve it? Golfing is more fun.

One person interviewed says that the programmers will have to learn to meet enployers half way. Oh, really? Why? It's a seller's market. These guys have almost no incentive to go back to work. They like their life style. They don't have to meet anyone half way -- until 2000, when there will not be a lot of extra capital or time for golf.

Meanwhile, large corporate firms whose survival is at stake do not like to hire older people who do not like to sit in cubicles. What is the incentive of some program director to change his entire management style? Just about zero. Behemoth organizations do not change. They die, but they do not change.

This is why all the media chatter about "big outfits will make it; small ones won't" is ridiculous. It is only the small outfits that are flexible enough to accommodate the old-timers. They may make it. But probably not. It's back to paper and ink, or compliant desktop compers, for managements that intend to survive. Most won't even attempt it.

No article ever quotes any recruiter who says, "The discrepancy between the number of programmers needed and the supply available is just too great. The goal cannot possibly be met."

That's what I'm saying, and have been saying for a year. The numbers reveal all. Rubin's study is a year old. We do not have three years. We have less than two. Anyone who thinks, "They'll fix it," lives in a fantasy world. Who will fix it? In the time remaining, how? At what price? Not for the wages that corporate managers are willing to pay -- salaries way above theirs.

And then there is the noncompliant embedded chip problem.

This article appeared in WIRED NEWS (Jan. 20).

* * * * * * * * *

A study published last year by Hunter College computer-science professor Howard Rubin predicted that up to 700,000 code-cutters will have to be spliced back into the workforce in the next three years, and callow Web-geeks schooled in C++ and Java just don't have the right stuff.

The problem? Getting the workers to the work. . . .

Don Heath, president of the Internet Society, thinks using the Net and the Web to coordinate Y2K problem-solving teams is a "great idea." But Heath, who sits on the board of a company that builds problem-prevention tools for IBM databases, also acknowledges that many of the older firms that will be slammed hardest by Y2K glitches -- like banks -- are the most skeptical of engaging the expertise of an off-site, online work pool.

"They're reluctant. For the larger data centers, it's an issue of style, methodology, operating procedure," Heath says. "It's ill-founded, but it's based on history as well as inertia."

Steven Laine of Systems Partners -- a solution provider with clients like Intel, Wells Fargo, and Charles Schwab -- agrees with Heath that the typical project manager "wants people who will be sitting there on site, where they can see them." As the supply of up-to-speed legacy-language specialists are snatched up, however, Laine says, "the clients are going to have to be more flexible." . . .

The elder programmers, however, may have to learn to be flexible too, she says. "Instead of living on the golf course and enjoying life, as we'd like them to, they're going to have to meet their employers halfway."


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