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Opportunities in Software Engineering

New York City has an innovative idea for combatting the shortage of skilled software engineers. The city will open The Academy for Software Engineering in the fall of 2012. This school, with a capacity of 500 or so, is for high school students with a passion for code.

A 30% increase in demand for software developers through 2020. ~ BLS Projections

Why are school districts so interested in developing software engineering aptitudes? Those skills can help students build a solid career. Ultimately, they can earn the kind of income that will allow them to put money back into the community.

Even when the job market was the tightest, companies struggled to fill software engineering positions. Job prospects should be excellent for years to come. The Bureau of Labor Statistics released new ten year projections in March of 2012. The expectation? A 30% increase in demand for software developers over the course of the 2010 - 2020 decade: 28% in applications and 32% in systems.

In some ways, the BLS has painted an even rosier picture than they did last time around. They note that outsourcing will probably not be a significant limiting factor. Prospects should be best for candidates who are up on the latest languages and tools.

The field grew more than 25% between 2001 and 2009. However, few see the situation as a bubble. Software is embedded in an increasing number of devices. At times the potential can seem limitless – in a world where Microsoft can fund a smartphone app to diagnoses malaria.

Software is also used to engineer tangible objects that will exist out there in the physical world. When one considers the problems that software projects often run into, it’s no surprise that many companies are willing to pay for talent. Nationwide, software developers enjoy a mean salary of $90,530.

Breaking into the Software Engineering Field

Of course BLS figures tell a limited story. In some fields, it's difficult to land that first position, even when positions go unfilled. Not so in software engineering. It's true that the highest salaries go to those who have proven themselves out in the field. But a person doesn't necessarily have to have experience to be sought after.

Startups and giants alike have innovative ways of locating talent. USA Today recently reported on the recruiting activities of some ambitious startups. One Silicon Valley company offered cash prizes to those who could solve a routine engineering bug -- but solve it in sixty seconds. A number of people walked away with $100. After a round of interviews, three software engineers and three interns had found positions. This particular competition was designed to appeal to those with "gaming instincts"; the company wanted its name remembered by promising candidates who might find themselves weighing multiple job offers.

Software Developers earning a mean salary of $90,530! ~ BLS Data

Other companies take a traditional approach. Recruiters travel to other markets, enticing the best graduates with salaries and material perks.

Business and Education in Partnership

The recruitment process can feel rewarding to those who have the coveted skills, but it's hardly a long term hiring solution – not when so many geographic areas are experiencing shortages.

New York City isn't the only state where educational systems are changing to meet the demands of industry. Educational institutions are partnering with industries to give local workers needed skills. The changes don't always take place at the high school level. In some places the focus is on those who already hold a degree.

Austin is one city that has struggled to meet its tech demand. The Statesman reports that the Chamber of Commerce has entered in discussions with several schools. One solution is to develop new programs that focus on the latest high demand skills. These programs would be aimed at workers who already have a degree in some technical field.

In many places, it pays off for a software engineer to return to school for a master’s. This is not necessarily the case in hubs like Seattle, at least not for the most promising engineers. The director at Seattle University notes that many students in the master's program are back in school at the request of employers -- and on the employers' tab.

There's a push to attract bright young people from groups that have been underrepresented. Females are one pipeline focus. Microsoft is using sites like Digigirlz to show young girls that technological careers aren't at odds with their image; the company also offers scholarships to help the most able build their careers. Read more about Women in the Software Engineering field.

Some skills are more likely to translate into job offers. The Statesman notes that cloud computing, mobile apps, and user interface are among the most in-demand competencies.

A recent DICE Salary Survey analyzed skill sets for income and growth potential. Service Oriented Architecture, Extract Transform and Load, Unified Modeling Language, and WebSphere had all seen growth above 5% over the past year; with these specialties, professionals were seeing average salaries above $100,000.

Of course, with languages and platforms constantly evolving, there’s something to be said just for having technological smarts and people savvy.

Technology Hubs

Geography is another career consideration. Some of the "opportunity cities" are the long established technology hubs. Silicon Valley is one. In the years after the technology bust, schools turned out too few engineers, and now industry is paying the price. Seattle is a smaller market, but a perennial hub. Employers like Boeing have experienced some well-known setbacks and sent projects elsewhere. However, giants like Facebook and Google have set up offices. Facebook has only been in town for a short time, but it’s been a time of rapid expansion; about 90 Seattle workers are now on the Facebook payroll.

There are other cities that are worth keeping in mind. PC World lists the following among the best cities for IT: Houston, Washington DC, Columbus, Detroit, Philadelphia, Edison, NJ, and Boston. Each tends to have its own niche. Columbus, for example, has some premier health care institutions where software engineers have found work.

Prospective software engineering students may want to ask the schools they’re considering who the big local recruiters are. Still, a restless software engineer can expect to find more opportunity (quite literally) down the road.

 

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