I keep coming across news media articles reporting a dearth of software developers and how US companies are struggling to find and retain them. The typical article usually quotes hiring managers claiming they receive few, if any, responses to their job postings. Also, there's the corporate executives bemoaning the talent "shortage" and how it is limiting their company's growth prospect. The article invariably ends with an industry "expert" making a doomsday prediction of how the "shortage" will decimate the economy and recommends more STEM funding and government intervention to open up barriers to obtaining technical talent.

As a .NET developer with over 20 years of software development who is actively looking for a gig in the Southern part of the US, I have a hard time believing there's a talent shortage. If there is one, it certainly doesn't appear that way given my experience or from what I hear from other job hunters. I have managed software teams and have worked on software titles you probably have used. Somehow, it seems like every employer is looking for the next Linus Torvalds. Before I even get a chance to speak to anyone, I'm asked to complete an online IQ test or programming test in which I get a rejection email an hour later. After taking these test, I was treated to a 3 hour whiteboard marathon where I had to solve classroom CS questions. I usually left feeling drained and frustrated.

In contrast, when I ventured into the workforce from college 20 years ago, there was no mention of a "talent" shortage, but it sure felt like there was one. Job postings were just as plentiful, but were more technically genralized. It was common for a C++ programmer to be chosen over a VB programmer for a VB position. Employers treated you the same way as they treated their lawyer or doctor. It was very disrespectful to waste someone's time and subject them to what amounts to a hazing ritual. They also wanted to get to know who you were as a person. Surprisingly, salaries, while slightly higher today, is actually lower when adjusted for inflation.

If there is indeed a shortage, why are employers behaving as if they can pick the cream of the crop?

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    The articles you read, are they talking about a worldwide shortage or within a specific area? I'm based in the UK and currently IMOE, any developer role my company advertises gets plenty of qualified applicants.
    – user34587
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 9:12
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    Your experience and viewpoint on the matter obviously is very highly-dependent on country and/or city. Can you specify where you live, to have more context? Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 9:12
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    Your final paragraph has 5 question marks and invites opinions. Are you interested in actual data? Then please edit your question and ask for it.
    – user8036
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 10:55
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    I think you’re asking the wrong questions if your goal is to find a job. When someone claims there’s a “shortage” of x, consider who they are, what motivates them and what, exactly, do they mean by “x”. Many job hunters think, incorrectly, that if they target the “most popular” skills, that it will increase their chances of finding a position. It won’t, it will just put you in a large pool of competition with a race to the bottom in terms of salary and talent.
    – teego1967
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 12:31
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    You might get a better answer to this question on Skeptics.SE than here. In fact...oh, look, there's already such a question there.
    – user1602
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 12:32

7 Answers 7


Bob Cringely did several articles on this topic.

See Here: https://www.cringely.com/2012/06/14/an-it-labor-economics-lesson-from-memphis-for-ibm/

And here: https://www.cringely.com/2015/06/15/the-h-1b-visa-program-is-a-scam/

And here: https://www.cringely.com/?s=H-1B

In short, it's a feint to drive wages down and give the jobs to H1Bs. Employers spec a job in such a way that it's impossible for an American dev to fulfill all the qualifications. Once they've rejected a few applicants, they have cover to offer the job to an H1B whose resume is all bull at a lower wage.

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    Wonderful! I will read all of the articles. I highly respect Cringely, since he tends to be a very rational level headed person who has quite a bit of integrity. Thank you.
    – ATL_DEV
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 17:48
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    BTW, have you noticed that it is harder to find articles from the point of view of developers regarding the talent "shortage?" Perhaps Google ranks them lower. Also, have you noticed many of those jobs postings are looking for front-end developers/developers? Perhaps they need people who understand the cultural nuances of UI design for their market.
    – ATL_DEV
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 18:00
  • No, no I really don't think it is, not for software developers. Wages are still being artificially depressed by the aforementioned dirty tricks
    – Rob K
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 18:31
  • Terrific answer that shines the light at the truth - the industry acts in ways to promote a higher supply of programmers so that their labor costs can go down. Unfortunately, the H-1B program gets abused. Commented Dec 17, 2018 at 3:15

There is a shortage of 25-years old developpers, more skilled than John Carmack(or Linus Torvald, or Grace Hopper, or whoever is your absolute reference), who accept to pay for working instead of getting a salary, have the best diplomas you can imagine, and have 50 years of experience in every possible domain of IT(including the ones that are not out yet), yes.

Budgets are limited, and positions open for mere human beings as us are therefore open in limited numbers, too. But Businesses that hire IT professionals like to communicate about the market being in shortage. It pushes more people to enter the market on the developper side, hence pulling salaires to the bottom(offer-and-demand law). It's a way to reduce costs, and a communication primary aimed towards political deciders who think "we need to train more IT workers!!! all the time!!!".

Shortage is also real in the sense that they are always hiring. But they are so picky in hiring that shortage has no meaning other than "I always want better than what I currently have".

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    My guess is that the upvotes to this are people who agree with the opinion. Actual data would've been a better answer.
    – user8036
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 10:52
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    @JanDoggen you can't really have accurate data, as the needs in such a fluid discipline are never clear as crystal. There is nothing like "5350 .NET developpers on the market, 7228 .NET developpers needed". There is a vague field of needs, and countless people that would fit more or less some of those jobs. Some businesses need kickass developpers, most need only good ones. Shortage has a very different meaning depending on who you ask. Which means that "actual data" would be mostly meaningless.
    – gazzz0x2z
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 11:02
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    I guess it really depends where you work. I work in COBOL and there is definitely a shortage. There isn't a shortage of bodies, there is a shortage of people willing to do the work. For every programming job that someone applies to, there is probably 3 nobody looked at because "they don't want to work in that technology". Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 11:40
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    I agree with @JanDoggen. If this actually can't be corroborated solidly, maybe the question itself is purely opinion-dependant and should be closed.
    – Thern
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 13:31
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    @JanDoggen, I don't know what kind of data you're thinking about. It would very difficult to obtain usable data on this topic, yet it is something that impacts many people. FEW employers will EVER directly reveal their actual rationale for hiring decisions. The best we can expect in something like this are reasoned arguments, anecdotes, and observations. That's OK, not everything has reams of data ripe and available for the picking.
    – teego1967
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 21:20

Back in the day, you might have hired a developer with these criteria:

  • Linux server experience
  • CVS or SVN experience
  • Java, preferably up to 1.3, including experience with Swing

There wasn't much variation on the above. Replace Linux with Windows occasionally, Java with a small handful of other widely used languages at the time, and that was about it.

These days, the language, framework and tool pool developers are expected to know has skyrocketed, as has the complexity of those languages. Companies these days don't just need someone who has a basic knowledge of SVN and Java 1.3, they want:

  • Java 8, including all the latest stream developments
  • Spring, specifically with Spring boot
  • Play framework, because we also have a solo project someone started once that uses that
  • Tomcat/Glassfish/Undertow experience
  • CI experience, particularly using Jenkins
  • Git, including how to use it properly (not just checkout, push and re-download the repo if anything goes wrong)
  • 5 years experience of the latest specific "in fashion this second" JS framework that's only existed for 2 years in a stable state
  • AWS (hey, we don't use our own servers anymore! You need to know about EC2, Lambda, Cloudfront, Cloudformation at a a minimum)
  • DynamoDB (hey, we use AWS, why would we use SQL? That's old!)
  • Rockstar developer status (whatever the hell that means)

So yes, when every company has a list of skills this specific and transient, they're always going to find a shortage of developers that match what they need.

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    ...and yet, the amount of (currently unemployed) people who'd do the job properly, given some time, is impressive.
    – gazzz0x2z
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 15:26
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    also, don't forget they offer below-market pay, sub standard health insurance and expect regular 80 hour workweeks. But they'll happily tell you all about their ping-pong tables and adult tricycles!
    – Eric J
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 15:56
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    Yeah. I actually had a hiring managers start off by telling me about all the wonderful food they have for their developers. Who cares about their cafeteria? If I get paid enough I can buy my own lunch, thank you,
    – ATL_DEV
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 17:44
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    That list is way too short you forget at least a point about "Big Data", another one about mobile development another about "security" (yes with the double quote, not the real one ofc) a last about agile, extremme programming, TDD
    – Walfrat
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 9:55
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    @Walfrat Oh I agree. I could have gone on for much longer, but think I made my point ;)
    – berry120
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 11:18

It is a real problem, but perhaps not exactly how you think.

There is a huge shortage of motivated developers with a good work ethic. These are the ones that employers are trying to find and retain.

There is no shortage of developers (however brilliant) with a mediocre or feel-entitled work ethic.

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    This! I have been mentoring and training people for about 5 years now. This is very true. Most new developers don't understand what the job is before they start and are unmotivated when they realize most development jobs aren't glamourous (or game design) Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 11:20
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    I feel like this curmudgeonly answer could be applied to any field of work. Is there ever any company owner who feels like his/her applicants and employees have enough work ethic?
    – user1602
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 12:30
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    Then how do you know that what you assert above is true?
    – user1602
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 12:37
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    @SaggingRufus that might be selection bias accountable to the fact that 50+% of companies seem to be more interested in hiring spare-time hobbyists than professionals with separate personal lives...
    – Ant P
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 12:43
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    @Kilisi, If what you're saying is true, then the interview process is seriously broken. If the "millennial" stereotype is of concern, then they would jump all over someone like me who has kept a job for at least a decade. Moreover, why spent most, if not all of the vetting on "technicalities" instead of callinh references or just learning about candidates personality?
    – ATL_DEV
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 22:23

Around here in Finland, the case is a bit different. At first, we had a massive oversupply of developers after Nokia/Microsoft went birds-up, and the secondary damage was to small IT shops that had Nokia as their major client. When that bubble burst, we suddenly had more than ten thousand unemployed professionals (roughly 20 % of the IT workforce!) - some with Master's/PhD's - and no place to go. So the salaries plummeted and the famous 2000 EUR / month (= just barely above half of the national average salary of ANY profession - plumbers could earn more!) engineer was born.

Now little by little, the situation has started to improve and today the market is again turning normal in certain regions (Capital area and three hot-spot cities). Because the market is very healthy in the Capital region, we are now in the situation where employees have so much choice that they don't need to take up just any kind offer. They can choose. And because of that, employers that have a bad reputation will have a really hard time to get half-decent employees to consider them. And the majority of those bad employers are fairly large companies, even international ones. So they create a lot of noise in the news along the lines of: boo-hoo, we cannot find developers, there is a shortage! all the while people are happily employed at good companies.

I think that is the main source of the false appearance of a shortage. Basically, there is a shortage of the good, cheap, and immediately available developers that are willing to work for questionable employers.

  • Wow! This appears to be a worldwide phenomenon! Thanks for sharing this valuable information.
    – ATL_DEV
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 17:52

In the large picture and not undergoing what every specialty might be like, yes, there is shortage. One out of five position get filled. According to the same source, 44% of developers have no related academic qualifications for being a developer. And it's getting worse year over year, with schools teaching computer science at a regular pace while the market demand is rapidly growing.

You even witness it yourself :

I certainly see new .NET postings almost daily.

Now to come to your questions :

why are employers behaving as if they can pick the cream of the crop?

Employers like to think they are offering exceptional conditions that can justify them being picky. Also, I wouldn't be surprise some companies put in place a vetting process just for the sake of valuing the employee and keep them in longer. Or perhaps you took employers that have very high expectations : I know I haven't been through heavy processes myself.

Is my age a barrier?

Yes and no, there is in industry an unhealthy younthism but it's not shared everywhere, and it's also a result of many younger people getting away from industry at some age. Because there is shortage though, you should still be able to get many jobs, but perhaps not where you used to look. Don't get discouraged !

  • 1
    "44% of developers have no related academic qualifications for being a developer." And why would anyone need academic qualifications? Developers are, by-and-large, self-taught, as the technology is constantly changing. Industry certifications are much more valuable than diplomas. The best developer I ever worked with never even finished high school. Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 17:53
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    @WesleyLong This is another debate but academic background is not completely irrelevant, and my point is being not irrelevant it means the market is tensed enough to accept people without academic asset.
    – Diane M
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 8:17
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    Just to be fair, that stackoverflow jobs article you've cited is sloppy with its claims. They say there's a 5:1 gap of jobs:developers. Their source claims it is 4.59:1 and it is for jobs where developers are skilled in agile (not all developer roles). Moreover the data is from 2012 and the article was updated in 2017. I could see that within seconds, who knows where else they've skidded into incorrectness?
    – teego1967
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 11:37
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    " the market is tensed enough to accept people without academic asset." - As though they were somehow less skilled / valuable. Your elitism is showing, there. There are a great many of us out there that realized long ago that you don't need to pay hippies to read books to you. Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 13:00
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    @WesleyLong I think you misunderstood what I meant with "without academic asset". Having relevant academic background to an occupation makes you a more likely hire even by a tiny margin. I'm well aware this is no perfect measure of someone value in the job - not that an interview does much better
    – Diane M
    Commented Dec 12, 2018 at 9:06

The question is a very localised one because the market tends to be, and as such is probably unanswerable in general.

It also suffers severely from bundling a whole pile of very different skills under one title.

For example, to be useful to my team you need to do C and assembler on bare metal for hard realtime and be comfortable debugging with a 'scope and (sometimes) something like chipscope or a logic analyser, broadcast video experience is highly valued, as is being able to at least read a schematic. That skillset probably eliminates at least 9 out of every 10 Software Engineers, and often an EE who has fallen to the dark side is actually the best candidate.

We may well see a shortage where the company down the road who value HTML5 and react.js plus whatever E commerce framework is cool this month may have no particular problem hiring. Both are software engineering jobs, but only one of them is seeing a shortage.

The same thing applies if you are hiring folk to for example write an accounts package, if you are smart you are interviewing at least as much for task domain knowledge as for software library dejour, someone who spent a few years as an accountant or bookkeeper before getting into development is going to be gold to that team, even if there coding is only so-so.

Generic software developers may or may not be readily hireable (Everyone claims a shortage because nobody likes paying, but that is a separate issue), but developers with task domain knowledge (for whatever the task is) are often in short supply (Because they are VERY much less interchangeable).

Unfortunately saying 'There is a shortage of developers with skills in complicated thing X' is a more nuanced message then saying 'there is a shortage of developers', so guess which one plays better politically? Even if it results in training that turns out folk who have no task domain skills in anything but javascript itself and also not enough real CS to understand what I mean by "deadlock due to lock ordering" or "race condition due to a missing memory barrier", or for whom my muttering about "split brains" and "byzantine generals" brings to mind a historical zombie flick.
Such may be somewhat useful members of the typing pool but bring no real value add to the business, and punching in code is not the hard thing about bringing a product to market.

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