My first research project in academia, in 2005, was to research the graduation rates of engineers in the U.S. vs. India and China. My conclusion was that there was no shortage of engineers in the U.S., China had excess supply, and India was in serious trouble. My subsequent research contradicted these findings and I began to realize that the situation is far more nuanced. I have written several articles about these topics that you can find on this website  (I know that sections of this are hopelessly out of date–I just haven’t had time to update).

Today, almost every tech company and venture capitalist I meet says that it is very hard to find skilled tech talent. Yet, unemployment is at a record high and we read heart-wrenching stories of engineers who have decades of experience and who can’t find work. I have written about the age bias in Silicon Valley, but the problem is far bigger than this.

I am thinking of writing about this. But before I do, I want to get input from as many people as I can. I look forward to reading your comments.

  • Sarkar123

    Dear Vivek:nnI have seen a lot of material on this, as well as much good research you have done. But to me, the entire subject is a little off-base because why does it matter whether American businesses are outsourcing IT service to India for quality or cost savings (probably, both). The answer, if there is a clear one, is totally irrelevant and academics should stop wasting time and money probing for the right answer, which simply does not matter. They outsource because it makes business sense for them, period. Do NOT second guess. It is a bit like counting exact number of hair on your head, does it matter? BTW, why do you even waste time with blithering idiots like Lou Dobbs?nnThe key question is the following: Are we going to join the globalized economy (I don’t think Obama has a choice here) or become a protectionist country out of the loop, which would further decline economically? 10% unemployment rate has precious little to do with IT Service export by India (Are you aware that Indians are opening two more giant call centers employing thousands of Americans as they move up the value chain)? nRemember, in 1929 a cyclical depression became Great and devastating only because of crony capitalism and American protectionist policies causing a trade war to shrink world trade pie by 30%. Idiots of Beltway seem to be heading in that direction, with crony capitalism still in play.nnAlso, remember, manufacturing was globalized long ago and we lost 20 million jobs to a single country (China) very quickly but the unemployment rate never exceeded 6%. Have you guys learned anything from that? Now, post Internet revolution, nobody will be able to stop the powerful forces of globalization of IT enabled services where India has much competitive advantage (Note: a large part of Chinese advantage in manufacturing is artificial and/or illegal). The U.S. would be better off getting out of the way because globalization genie cannot be put back in the bottle.

  • Dave Chen

    From the perspective of a recent Duke Biomedical Engineering alum, I would say that incentives for pursuing a career in engineering after earning a degree from an elite school with a high price tag are incredibly small. The majority of my classmates in BME pursued medical school and a significant percentage went into management consulting or finance. It’s hard to hack away at arguably the most difficult major for four years and then pursue a career in engineering while you watch your peers move on to more lucrative positions that value the skills earned from an engineering degree. It’s even harder when you’re also carrying a substantial amount of debt. Unfortunately, the cream of the crop of engineering majors is funneled into other competitive professions. This position comes from personal experience and may only apply to a small segment, but I imagine the situation is similar at other comparable universities.

  • http://codeyman.blogspot.com Sridhar V Iyer

    There is a shortage of quality engineer.. when you are hiring someone, you ask if they can do the job and if they want to do the job. Sadly in countries like India and China, because of the rigorous schooling, they can do the job but if we for one second think that all half a million engg graduates (India/China) want to be an engineer.. we are kidding ourselves. They do it either for money, fame, social status or because their parents forced them to.. these guys tend to drag their feet at work and although they can be very productive as drone workers.. are not creative.nIn countries like US, the over glamorization of the proverbial wunderkind entrepreneur has the same effect.. nEngineers who genuinely like engineering are hard to come by..

  • Rahul Barwani

    I think the problem is not a shortage of engineers, but an increase in entrepreneurship and a disconnect in engineers desired. The best and brightest engineers in America have the ability to go out and join those start-ups or work on their own, which is an attractive option considered the freedom (but not necessarily the money). In addition, many companies are currently looking for Computer Scientists/Programmers (note the lack of the word “engineers” in this job title). With the country in a recession, older engineers are sticking with their jobs for longer periods of time and since these people (for the most part) are not educated in cutting technologies on the programming side, there is a necessity for companies to hire innovative programmers. So where does that leave the other engineers graduating with legitimate degrees from well-respected schools? Well a portion are able to pull jobs on the engineering side, another segment find the business sector more appealing (maybe because of the high salaries offered to incoming students in consulting and the quick turnover rate), and the remaining look for other professions, pursue personal passions, or are unemployed. As a new master’s student in Mechanical Engineering at UC Berkeley, I can genuinely say that many of my engineering colleagues who graduated with a B.S. last year (and are not pursuing graduate degrees) are at jobs that don’t match their skill set, jobs they don’t like, or still looking. So you might be able to see why I don’t think there are a shortage of engineers.

  • Edward Alden

    Vivek,nnI agree with you that this has long been a bit of a conundrum, but the answers are, I think, fairly apparent.nnFirst, before the current downturn, computer programmers and software engineers were two occupations that exhibited the characteristics of something pretty close to full employment. There was very strong wage growth during the tech boom (1999-2001), and then a leveling off but not a decline in wages from 2001-2007. The best work on this is, though pre-recession, is by Jacob Funk Kirkegaard at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, at http://bookstore.piie.com/book-store/4136.html. So at least prior to the recession, the claim that there was an abundance of engineers does not hold muster.nn2) The more puzzling thing is why the complaints of shortage have continued post-recession, when the unemployment rates of engineers are much higher. Here there appear to be two answers: a) Many companies are looking for very precise skill sets that are not readily available, either because of inadequacies in U.S. education and training, or because of insufficient mobility in the labor force. For companies, the obvious answer to this is to fish in a bigger pond, which means opening the door for immigrant engineers who have the right mixture of skills; b) The most successful companies want to hire “the best of the best”, and while the majority of these are still Americans, many are not. The companies see any restriction on their ability to identify and hire the best candidates from anywhere in the world as a competitive disadvantage.nnIt is a legitimate public policy question as to whether the government should encourage such global hiring, or try to restrict the pool in the hopes that the companies will hire slightly less qualified Americans. That question is especially difficult when unemployment is so high. The problem with restrictions is that there are many countries (ie. Singapore, Canada) that are happy to host R&D operations for the big tech companies and make it easy for them to import talent from anywhere in the world. And the larger consequences for the U.S. economy of losing those facilities are potentially very severe.nn

  • http://blog.shedd.us Robert Shedd

    We moved our startup from Pennsylvania to Dublin, Ireland, this summer and had a tough time finding engineering talent. I also know of entrepreneurs back in the US who struggle to find engineering talent. From a startup perspective, it’s hard to find good engineers, despite what the stats may say.nnJust because engineers are graduating, or there are engineers on the bench with decades of experience, this doesn’t immediately solve the issue that a startup CTO faces in trying to staff their team. At the start, an entrepreneur is looking for a driven technologist who can come in and partner with them to translate their vision into reality. If you’re making hire #2 or beyond, you’re looking for specific needs – startups often don’t have the luxury to train someone into their technology stack and are looking for folks who can hit the ground running and get stuff done. As a result, simply having an engineering degree or decades of experience from BigCompany clearly does not make an engineer an immediate fit. nnTry to find an engineer with the right experience and the ability to get stuff done — this is what entrepreneurs are struggling with and is what drives the entrepreneurs and investors to complain that there isn’t enough talent in the market.nnIf you’re an engineer, what can you do about this, especially if you’re looking to make a career move or enter the market place? Update your skills yourself to the languages and frameworks that are in demand today. Show that you get stuff done (code on GitHub, contribute to open source, blog!). Make your decades of experience relevant when you talk to startups (and make it clear that after all your time in BigCompany, you’re still going to be able to make a difference in startup world). Get in touch – startups don’t have big recruitment search budgets (or a lot of time) – if we can’t find you easily, we can’t hire you.

  • NM

    I run an enterprise software startup in Silicon Valley. We bootstrapped it. We are profitable and growing rapidly with ~65 people in the US. I have also held senior positions at large software companies such as Oracle.nnMy perspective from these two very different vantage points is that the larger context absolutely matters when attempting to answer the question you pose, Vivek. For larger companies, there likely isn’t much of a shortage simply because a) they just don’t hire the same quality of folks across the board as a startup does or should and they can institute training programs like many firms in India and elsewhere do. Infosys, Wipro etc seem to hire ten of thousands of people and many of the folks we see here are just not very good.nnOn the other hand, for a startup, each person is critical and in some sense, these types of companies will always see shortages. So as a startup: I can’t find good engineers / product managers / architects. We are extremely picky and that exacerbates the challenge. nnSo if your question is: on the aggregate is there a shortage – I suspect if you took all engineers across all continents and largely ignored quality: no. On the other hand if you add the dimension of quality, then likely the answer is a resounding yes.

  • Arvind

    There is neither a shortage nor a glut- whatever the market determines by adjusting the prices/wages is the right thing. You do not need graduates to do the job. In fact, in any field, a degree is not required at all. You just need people who can learn on the job if they are young. Among older people, you just hire those with sufficient experience. nnAll of formal education is a hoax, more so in Humanities departments, especially in the US. You do not need anything more than common sense to be in a Humanities department. The fact that they have any degree program shows that they just perpetrate an elaborate hoax.n nThose who obtained certificates from NIIT (in India) and have been productive in the industry have proven my point. (Disclaimer: I never went to a trade school such as NIIT, but have come to appreciate them. Like graduates of so-called brand name universities, I used to look down on such institutes when I was a student. Now I know I was wrong. Their institutes are superior to the universities I attended. The universities I attended are like leeches that suck the blood of others.)

  • Kamal verma

    Is there really a shortage of engineers, or is it because engineers, after graduating, are choosing a different profession? I know of at least four youngmen in India, all 23-25 years old, who graduated from engineering schools with chemical (1), communicaions (2) and mechanical (1) degrees but have chosen not to pursue their field of training. Two of them are doing MBA while other two prefer to work in MNC call-centers in a semi-related filed while trying to chalk out a future course of action.

    • Kamal Verma

      Just got off the phone with an old high school friend who just turned 50 and is an engineer right here in the US but, for the past 3 years, has preferred to own and run a convenience store. He says the rewards, financial and family time, are much better and he also does not have to worry about keeping up with the technology. BTW, he is not the first one to say this.rnrnBetween cases such as these and the ones mentioned above of youngmen trying out other lines of work, it looks like the professional and successful time span on an engineer is about 15-20 years. So even if we have a lot of engineers around, they are not being active in their profession and, hence we feel there is a shortage. Don’t quite know what the answer is but will continue to follow this thread. Should be interesting.

  • bagdu

    As far as numbers go and India is concerned,the numbers are increasing by lakhs and intake has already crossed 1 Million per annum exclusing MCAs(equivalent of MS in Computer Programming) and Diploma. Still,the ignorance is so much that even top notch editors are stuck at the old statistic of about half a million. See details here: http://bagdu.blogspot.com/2010/04/total-engineering-seats-in-india-some.html

  • http://twitter.com/relawson Roy Lawson

    Another observation – I run a .Net user group in Florida. The members having the most challenging time finding jobs right now are recent college graduates. The recruiters tell me that the market is still robust for experienced developers with key skills, but I’ve not been able to connect a single RCG in the last year with a (development) job or even an interview. Many are going for advanced degrees since they can’t find jobs and most aren’t going for advanced degrees in IT/CS, rather MBAs or other non-technical areas. nnThere really is a crises right now – and we should be much more concerned about what to do with the people who fall into the “glut” category than how we should address the few shortages requiring niche skills. nnLet’s not lose site of the forest of “glut trees” because there are a few “shortage trees” out there. You really are barking up the wrong tree here, and are diverting attention away from the more serious problems that we currently face.

  • Vignesh

    Yes there is a shortage of good and skilled IT talent. Not many consultants have come in from India and other countries in the last few years and many existing have moved back because of visa and family reasons.nnThings have changed drastically in terms of infrastructure and growth in India, and potential/existing consultants like to take an advantage of the same.nnnnnn

  • http://suyashjoshi.myopenid.com/ suyash

    It’s sad that Course Work for CS is still lagging way behind where the industry is today, classes are still being taught mostly in C++ and Java where as the industry is moving with leaps and bounds towards newer open source and mobile technologies where there is huge demand in jobs. That is one reason I’ve personally experienced as a CS graduate this year.

    • http://twitter.com/relawson Roy Lawson

      “classes are still being taught mostly in C++ and Java “nnC++ and Java are both great languages to teach a foundation of software languages in; I would consider adding C#. That said, we should not expect students to leave college with an ability to be good software developers from day one. That is something you will learn on the job.nnCollege should primarily focus on higher level concepts such as software design and architecture – concepts that are pretty much language and platform agnostic. nnI can teach you to write code on the job better than your college professor ever can because I do it for a living. When you join my team I want your college professor to have given you a strong foundation in OO, software architecture, database design, and other fundamentals. nnI want you to understand software development methodologies, and most importantly have good communication and analytical skills. Business courses, such as accounting 101, marketing 101, management 101, etc – those would be very valuable to have. I would expect that you are good at mathematics also.nnMy business is developing line of business applications. So the skills described above would be great to have for that. If you are doing embedded software development or gaming, a different set of skills are required.

  • http://twitter.com/relawson Roy Lawson

    There is both a shortage and a glut. It depends on where you are looking and in what skill sets you are seeking. Also, it depends on how you define “shortage”. nnIf I am not able to find a developer with the skills I seek at the rate I am offering, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is a shortage – perhaps the rate offered isn’t competitive.nnThe next question is how to deal with “shortages” and how to deal with “gluts”. If we alleviate all claims of shortages by simply opening the jobs up for immigrants, the wages will remain artificially low and the incentive for students or people with other skills to gain IT skills will be reduced. I believe that immigration should not be used as a tool to alleviate shortages specific to any one industry. That amounts to a subsidy which become a crutch – so the problem is never truly resolved and the motive for many companies is primarily labor arbitrage. If we must have employer sponsored immigration, the motive must be about talent not about cost. The process should favor the most qualified person, and not be random or first come first serve.nnGluts on the other hand also currently exist primarily because of globalization trends. These surpluses of labor should be solved in a number of ways. nnFirst, we must demand fair trade agreements – not to be confused with protectionism, but rather mutually beneficial relationships with our trading partners. That means the monkey business surrounding currency valuation must come to an end and we should always strive towards balanced trade. Currently, we run trade deficits almost across the board.nnNext, I believe the government should stimulate science and technology. The government started the Internet, jump started computing, and has acted as a catalyst for innovation. I think the government should be more aggressive about this. Our nationalistic race to the moon against the Russians was a good thing. It inspired an entire generation of Americans (and Russians), and was a boost to science and technology. I suggest a global race to Mars. The US vs China vs India. Winning that race won’t be as important as being in the race.nnFinally, education in the US, especially in K-12, is shameful and does not prepare students for college. nnAlthough I have national pride, I don’t think we should allow national pride to become national foolishness. We should look at our competitors and see what they are doing right. India and China are both growing economies and they are doing many things right. Let’s make sure we are also.

  • http://twitter.com/jdrch Judah Richardson

    Characterizing the current talent landscape as “a shortage of engineers” is an oversimplification of a complex phenomenon.nnIn many cases, what is commonly called a shortage is actually an absence of candidates possessing the requisite skills *who are also* willing and able to relocate to the job location. Ironically, this situation has been worsened by the recession. Here’s how it comes about:nn1) Due to the recession and trendy “lean” initiatives, many organizations have severely cut back on or eliminated formal internal training, opting instead to hire people who already have the skills needed for the position in question. Unfortunately, the functions of many technical positions call on specialized skills, many of which are not only unique to the job position, but can be acquired only in situ. As such, hiring managers now find themselves in a difficult position: needing external candidates with specific skills only internal candidates are likely to possess, and being unable/unwilling to invest time and money getting new candidates without these skills up to speed. The result is a pool of educated candidates vying for jobs they have no hope of getting, and hiring managers looking for candidates they have no hope of finding.nnThis issue is exacerbated for startups, who have fewer, if any, support systems for new hires than larger organizations do.nn2) Even if a company does find the “perfect” candidate, said candidate must be willing and able to relocate to the job position. This leaves candidates with families and/or a home in a bind, especially in the current economy. A candidate’s spouse may be worried about being unable to find a job in the new location. The local real estate market may render it impossible or financially disastrous for the candidate to sell his home. There are also candidates who don’t want to move for personal reasons, including not liking the job’s location.nnGiven the above conundrum, it’s understandable how frustration among both organizations and candidates has resulted in a “shortage” perceived by the former and accusations of bias by the latter, among other effects.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1222306 Gagan Biyani

    Personally, I think the answer to the question is fairly obvious. Every single tech executive in Silicon Valley I talk to is hiring a developer. Furthermore, Facebook and Google are literally fighting over engineers – to the tune of millions of dollars in bonuses for non-defectors.nnIt’s important to realize that the problem with programming/development is that things change extremely quickly. I get dozens of resumes from developers with old school C and Java backgrounds, but that is almost useless to us since we’re in PHP and they usually have limited or no web background. In just the last 10 years, things have moved from PC application development to web application to mobile. Things change so fast and many people fail to keep up, meaning that there’s a shortage of programmers with “current” skills (though there may be plenty of them with out-of-date skill sets).nnFurthermore, the argument of “just hire from abroad” sounds great but its harder than it seems. So far all of our engineers are from abroad (Turkey, specifically). Even there, it is fairly challenging and every engineer we try to hire has a full-time job.nnUltimately, either engineers are impossible to find or there are not enough qualified engineers for today’s programming requirements. I think the latter is far more likely.

    • DaveJ

      As an “old school” developer I would add another aspect of the skill set disconnect: the ability to work in an Agile environment with shared code ownership. I tried this for a while and found it challenging – I didn’t like other people changing “my” code and didn’t really want to spend a lot of time getting up to speed on the code of others. I’d like to think I could have adapted, but I’m not sure. In any case, this is presumably another area where those with skills developed 10 or more years ago are not considered viable candidates.

  • Steven

    I’ve said this many times before and I’ll say it again. The example I’ll use here refers to tech talent (specifically software) but can apply almost anywhere else.nnAlmost anyone can write code just as almost anyone is capable of writing in English. Not everyone can code in the sense that not every person can write a compelling novel. Knowing a programming language and knowing how to code certain programs and hack things together does not make for a great talent just as someone who is capable of writing in proper English (spelling and grammar) and in essay format does not make a great writer.nnThe problem is people fail to understand these basic things in themselves and even more so, they fell to see the obvious when it comes to their quality of work. They’re quick to judge their bosses, their co-workers, and their environment but how many people often just their own work and call it crap. The reality is people fail to see where they need to improve, they don’t improve fast enough, or at best they’re mediocre. Few try to innovate, think outside the box, or really strive for excellence. nnHaving said that, thinking outside the box (as simple and as cliche as that phrase has become) is a concept many do not fully grasp. They think they know, when in fact they don’t. The first problem is solving misconception, myths, etc… The second is getting these talent to recognize they need to improve in what they already do.nnThose who understand tech know what quality looks like. Those who can’t code, accept whatever they can get. There is hardly ever anything in between.

    • Code Monkey

      I don’t believe you’ve worked at a Fortune 500 company because the last thing managers want at those companies is disruption. They want long-term profit pools and drone engineers to tow the line. Why innovate when you can just buy the next startup? Microsoft, IBM, GE, Siemens, Intel, AMD, Google, etc., etc., etc. all do it. Granted some do more original engineering than others but most hit a profit curve that then prohibits them from taking risks. The only way to encourage such risk taking on a regular basis is to cap company sizes and force companies to break apart when they reach the cap. Take the example of Intel, little innovation comes from them anymore and why should they when they have most of the processor market nearly cornered (Desktop and Server). They are struggling in the embedded space but only because they didn’t lock that market out early enough in their existence to prohibit the likes of ARM from dominating. Most markets these days have one or two dominant companies. So talent shortage? Really? I doubt it. Profit shortage? Really? I doubt it. Risk tolerance shortage? You bet.

      • Steven

        I’m not entirely sure I can agree that all Fortune 500 companies are like this. I will agree a majority of them are but that’s a whole different problem of it’s own. It comes down to the people to make a choice. In at least one of your example, Google, they do offer 20% time. The problem is their tech team may not always be the most entrepreneurial. Those who are, would rather leave the company than innovate for their company. This probably holds true for most of the other juggernauts. Afterall, why bother building something for Google (or any other company) when you can built it yourself (at least that’s what they’re probably thinking).nnAnd improving on an existing technology the company already has is extremely difficult. I would presume Facebook is one of the few I’ve heard of that still allow engineers to make critical pivots as needed. But again, a rare thing among larger companies. But even if that freedom was given, sometimes you can’t save something already there. You merely have to build from scratch and that’s a huge risk for an establish company with an establish product even if it’s not the majority revenue driver

    • David

      Good points Steven. I feel the same way. Thinking outside the box doesn’t seem to be a valuable attribute that companies support and nurture therefore innovation is stiffed. nnI also feel that the industry (tech) is helping to preserve the problem when they make comments like “there is not enough talent available.” People see themselves as others see them. If you tell someone they aren’t good enough then they are going to meet your expectations and provide mediocre effort.

  • http://sammho.amplify.com Sam Ho

    Yes, there most certainly is. Fundamentally, we need more programmers and statisticians. Or even better yet, I would recommend a general shift where everyone can be able to program and is a bit more analytical.

    For programming, not only should they learn languages, but as computer scientists we should create tools to make this easier.

    Also, in the generation of “me”, we have seemed to lose collaboration and leadership skills. I think we need to not just wait for leaders to appear but mentor and teach more people about leadership (and management theory).

  • http://twitter.com/ArafathC Arafath

    We are absolutely generating engineers but having hard time to retain them in the same field. And another most important is the Quality in College. People just tend to ignore what is taught in college and run along to a coaching center which they think will give much fruitful coaching. That just takes more time after college to get into a job .So colleges must make sure that students get Quality Education with a Industry perspective.”Industry Perspective” is necessary for exact motivation for student in his college life .
    I hope that u sir read this comment and hope this may be useful with your article. I am very fond of your articles .they are inspiring. thank you

  • Björn

    I think it’s a little bit like asking if there’s a shortage or a surplus of authors; there will always be authors who can’t get published, but at the same time impossible to find one who can write the next Macbeth.

  • http://www.sparkplugpower.com Sean Becker

    Certainly there is a shortage of well trained, experienced in the particular field you are interested in and willing to relocate engineers who are bad enough at math to accept below market pay, but I imagine there always will be.
    I interviewed an engineer with a good academic record from a well regarded Boston area university (not MIT) who had not found an entry level position for all of 2009. He had been working at installing insulation a job he had done without a degree and unfortunately letting his skills atrophy. He didn’t interview well and there were other better candidates, but someone with a need for a mechanical engineer could have certainly developed him with little expense in the intervening year.
    I see the engineering shortage as similar to the nursing shortage: there is not an equal demand from engineers for low paid, highly skilled positions to fill the supply of such positions open at employers hoping to get a deal. Companies need to invest in their people and develop their talents even if they risk having them lured away by Google just when they get qualified (you can hire the back from Facebook when they no longer need the salary).

  • http://www.morewally.com Wally McClure

    Gotta agree with geekette. I get sick and tired of getting some type of insulting offer from someone that thinks I am suppossed to work for peanuts for them. I get these idiotic offers all the time. Just because they got some junior level person with no experience and no idea what they are doing to work for peanuts doesn’t mean that I will work there for the same stupid amount.

  • http://www.naveg.as Lutz

    I would say there is no shortage, but a lot of startups who can/want to hire. But if you (idea, product, team) are great, you have not a real problem. But still have to make great decisions. Best

  • Geekette

    The shortage is perceived, not real.

    Want a good engineer? Then offer market rates, plus stock otions if applicable. No, most experienced engineers are not interested in working at just another startup for miniscule wages and options that may turn out worthless.

    Can’t find any locally? Again, offer market rates, plus relocation costs to import one from other cities. There are equally talented engineers in other US cities. Much more cost effective than starting bidding wars for talent at other local companies in your city.

    And by the way, just because a person worked at google/whatever big firm doesn’t mean that person is necessarily smarter than other workers outside. Maybe he/she just knew how to game his/her way in. Besides, for every worker that a Google hires, there
    are probably 10-15 equally smart candidates that didn’t get the job, especially when there are stupid interview questions/procedures involved.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1222306 Gagan Biyani

      Dude almost every startup offers market rates and great stock options, and yet ask any Silicon Valley CEO: talent is their biggest challenge. Furthermore, we are trying to hire abroad (and are doing so successfully), but that is hardly easy. It costs an extra $5-10K to bring an engineer from another country and takes an additional 1.5-3 months of time until they start full-time work.

  • Thomas McEntee

    Today, in 2010, we are dealing with a world far different than what existed when an engineer or scientist could mature and acquire those on-the-job experiences–the successes and more importantly, the failures–that lead to working skills. Prior to the establishment of the internet and the ascendancy of the armies of MBAs who think only in terms of quarterly earnings, life proceeded at a slower pace. Companies had time to develop products and the market did not think in terms of the short product life cycles common to so much of commercial technology. Engineers and scientists would spend their entire careers with one employer.

    In 1961, when I entered college (US), the population of the world was about 3 billion. Today, it is nearly 7 billion! Couple this type of population growth with what the internet has meant to the world in terms of communication speed and then add in the pressure that comes from the financial side of the street and you might begin to understand the root causes for this situation of concern about quality vs. quantity. Parents want their children to succeed, universities want enrollment and grants to increase, and professors want to become tenured. In the US, that requires publications; publications require research; research requires funding and labor, etc., etc.

    We don’t really lack numbers of people who can become excellent engineers and scientists…what we lack is the time and stability to nurture them.

  • http://theideafactory.in/ Sridhar B

    There is shortage of quality engineers in India. But, quality engineers can be acquired – if the price is right.

    There are a lot of quality engineers (IIT grads) who are stuck doing menial jobs in US and other western markets. They are stuck in mid-level engineering positions because they don’t have the soft skills necessary to move up the ladder. And also, regardless of whatever anyone else says (mostly denial), there is a concrete ceiling on how far an Indian professional can proceed up the corporate ladder in US.

    They are stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place! They live utterly meaningless (robotic) lives in US. Which involves the 8-8 weekday work load, weekend dinners at local Indian joint and weekend temple Diwali celebrations – bursting fire crackers in presence of local fire department! They cannot move back to India because 1) they will lose their US pay packages and 2) their kids are in US schools and do not want to move back.

    Now this crowd can be persuaded to come back to India, provided that they are 1) given a pay package equivalent to US 2) the schools in India are not a problem anymore (because Indian standards – central board – has surpassed US), but persuading their kids to come back is another matter!

    These folks have smart ideas but are constricted by their environment. If they come back to India, they can bring with them some of their experiences here and implement a disciplined product/service strategy. Indian companies can get innovative (western) talent, provided they pay up and give up some control of operations to outsiders!

    • Ashish

      Yo are a delusional person. Life of typical of IT person in India is hell – he is office for atleast 12 hours and then stuck in traffic for 2-3 hours everyday. Add to this the stress and politics of job and getting anything done in India. If you think managing chaos and living is moving up the ladder then you need professional help. Life is much more than how many people you manage. A typical IT person in US is back home by 6 and has time for himself and family not to mention pursuing other interest … oh I’m sorry, you dont have any other interests – you have your ladder.

  • http://www.greytip.com Sayeed

    In my experience, the education system is not producing ready to hire engineers but youngsters who have learned to game the system with little practical knowledge. We end up sifting through 100 candidates to find those 2 or 3 acceptable ones.

    Moreover, it seems better to hire a fresher and train than hire from the ITS biggies who expect fatter pay packages but are not worth the 2 or 3 years of experience they have got at these prestigious companies.

  • http://none.com rk tumuluri

    Dear Vivek,

    Your articles/tweets/blogs have become mandatory reading for me. Much thanks and keep up the good work.

    In this thread many others have made interesting observations. I have read a few and hopefully, my observations are not redundant.

    An observation on the engineering scene in India is as follows. India’s greatest engineer to date is considered to be Visweswarayya. (Mysore dam etc). In fact Sept 15th is officially deemed to be engineer’s day in India. I cannot think of any “Indian” engg accomplishment of significance in the past 60-100 years. The only thing that is somewhat indigenous and close to world-class is perhaps our success in space. I cannot come up with substantial and seminal accomplishment in various engg disciplines. (automobiles, planes, software, chips, appliances, switchgear, construction etc ). I could be wrong and willing to be corrected. India’s record in “Science” seems better though.

    Personally, after earning an MS (USA) and 15 years of silicon-valley experience in engg and related areas, I feel I am barely becoming a creative, thoroughbred’ish engineer.

    IMHO to become really good at something, it still takes years of learning, dedication, benchmarking and experience. In Software, the pace of change also implies that the “bar” gets higher and higher. These factors combine to cause the pool of skilled, upto-date engineers to be quite small.

    Just my Rs0.02 worth. (Do paise.)

    Cheers …
    /rk

  • Arul

    There is definitely no shortage of Engineers in India. Every parents in India now want their son/daughter to become an Engineer or Doctor. Since the number of colleges available on medicine side is very low, when compared to the engineers colleges. Everyone coming out of higher secondary school joins some Engineer College, without even considering the quality of education being provided there. Even the most reputed engineer colleges are losing their excellence. This can be verified by the number of patents and research papers being published from Indian Universities.There is nothing to blame from the individual side for not thinking before joining the college. The boom of IT industry in India made ppl think that Engineering is the only way for success. So the colleges in India started thinking how to bring the IT industries for placement rather than giving good education to the students.It is very clear that many industries are moving to India, which clearly states that there is no shortage of talent. But there is def a shortage on innovation side which was basically due to the education system being followed.

  • http://alagappan.co.in Alagappan

    As a fresh out-of-college engineer from India, all I say is that there is a glut of ‘engineers’. An overwhelming majority of these don’t have the necessary skills to be an excellent engineer. Schools don’t teach what students really need. They are caught in the make-money-and-reputation mode rather than teach what is necessary. I feel a student needs analytical skills and a good communication skills in order to distinguish himself from the crowd. It takes more than six months to one year for a engineering students to get into the groove.
    Another reason that many companies need extensive training programs for freshers is because, students don’t go into the fields which they specialize in. Students studying civil engineering or automobile engineering end up in IT jobs.

  • Rashmi

    Three problems I see in a lot of Engineers graduating from schools in India:
    1. Lack of communication skills.
    2. (This one applies to US Engg grads too): Big gap in what is taught in schools and what the on-job requirements are. The school may teach Operating system courses, in reality the task at hand will be to write a program that for example creates an order.
    3. Students are not taught the importance of standards/documentation and it takes them a while to get used to using proper naming conventions and SDLC etc. Students take pride in writing complicated code to prove their academic excellence, rather than write easily decipherable code for future maintainence. It takes a while for freshers to overcome this.

    Services companies like TCS, Infosys, Wipro have intense 3 to 6 months training programs for freshers where the real world programming skills are taught. Infact the engineers working at these organizations have to constantly upgrade their skill-set by keeping up with certifications – there is a minimum set of trainings/certifications that each engineer has to take every year to ensure that they keep up with technology changes. There arent that many US corporates that invest this kind of resources in keeping their employees skills updated. Hence the percieved lack of skilled resources.

    I am a believer that if an Engineer has good logical thinking skills, then technology doesnt matter that much – they can pick it up in a few weeks time.

    Also all this talk about people buying education – I dont think a good GPA and a degree for a pedigreed college are pre-requisites to be a good engineer, these only help to get your foot in the door. People go after these as HR depts in most companies get impresed with these credentials and you have a better chance at getting hired. But in reality, a medium GPA person from an average institution could actually be a better engineer if he has better analytical skills and better on job training, better mentoring from start of career.

  • http://www.thejuliagroup.com/blog/ ANNMARIA

    As others have said, there is a distinction between excellent engineers and people with engineering degrees. At one point I was completely baffled as to how some of these people even got degrees. Then, I was recruited (and declined) to teach at a for-profit institution where the basic requirement for getting a degree seemed to be the ability to borrow enough on student loans to pay tuition.

    I completely agree with Nathan, also, that some employers ask for experience in 100 different areas, many of which someone with ability and experience in a related area could pick pick up in a few weeks. I’ve laughed at some of the position announcements that want someone with the breadth of experience that would require at least ten years in the workforce but wants to pay an entry-level salary.

    The biggest problem I see is with managers who want to believe that all engineers are interchangeable. Early in my career, I had an interview where the hiring manager said, “Young lady, I can go out on the street and hire someone for $20,000 a year less than you’re asking.” I told him that might be true, but he couldn’t get me for that. I did get a position at the salary I expected and stayed at the company through a couple of promotions before moving on. The people I have heard screaming the loudest about the engineering shortage are managers who cannot get anyone to work at the salaries they are offering and want an excuse to hire someone on an H1B visa. Often those hires do not work out very well and often this is due to the language barrier. While my hat is off to the difficulties my colleagues face – I am sure I would have a hell of a time working in an office environment in Urdu or Chinese – for many it is certainly a barrier.

  • Nathan D. Ryan

    I agree with the above sentiment regarding the dichotomy of the abundance of engineers and the dearth of skilled engineers. I would like to address the issue of “skilled”, however. The perception of skill seems to have shifted away from a notion of ability to a notion purely of experience. I would instead say that there is a dearth of experienced engineers.
    20 years ago, with a significantly smaller set of available technologies, it was much easier to find an engineer who was already versed in the requisite tech. As the number of technologies increases, the number of combinations increases exponentially, and the likelihood of finding someone who can perform from Day One approaches zero.
    The reality is that the arrangement of technologies employed by any given organization is likely unique, and finding people with significant relevant experience is going to become rarer. Employers need to stop imagining the existence of some pool of unicorn engineers who are experts in 100 different technologies, and recognize the fact that there are many *capable* engineers who lack precise experience. You want skilled engineers? Then make them. This is not the sole purview of bachelor’s programs. Put together an on-the-job training program that goes beyond the shameful two-day orientation. Stop pretending that lower- and mid-level hires can produce miracles after being pointed to the git homepage and the company wiki. Yes, training costs resources. Yes, it carries the risk of your people taking their new skills elsewhere. But it also allows quality to emerge rather than remain dormant in the absence of direction.

  • Alex Salkever

    From my travels in Silicon Valley I hear from every non-technical founder how hard it is to find good engineers to partner with on startups. I think there are actually very few engineers for fast growing areas and perhaps too many for areas where there is less demand. I know this, though. If you are decent at Python, Rails, or Objective C you can pretty easily pick up a $100k job in Silicon Valley.

  • http://girishmahadevan.blogspot.com Girish Mahadevan

    I believe, we have a lot of engineers in India. But, that does not suffice, because all the real learning we do is on the job.
    If we improve on:

    1. Internships – A student needs to be exposed to corporates before he reads about how JAVA or .NET works in his courses. This also gives them an opportunity to identify their real interest.
    2. Relevant training after graduating – A lot of engineers in India have a distinction in engineering with no job in hand, it’s because they do not have the relevant talent for the kind of jobs they are looking for.

    I have read computer science engineering, but if u dismantle a computer, I wont be able to fix it and make it work. Its because my courses were only about software, no hardware. So for guys who want to go to hardware field, they need further training after graduating.

  • http://www.twitter.com/athahar athahar

    There goes a saying “I was born brilliant, education ruined me”. Its the style of teaching, grading which has to do with the lack of quality engineer output., rather than conveying that we didn’t have quality engineers. Same goes for entrepreneurs. If the environment in which they grew didn’t support the culture, it tough for someone than the folks who have been in such a house-hold before.

    Just like we have support groups for entrepreneurs at each level, we need to have support groups in colleges for folks to become better engineers in the area of their interest.

  • http://www.twitter.com/renesugar Rene Sugar

    There is plenty of underutilized talent in large software companies like Microsoft.

    For example, when I worked at Microsoft, we had a team of nuclear physicists employed as software testers doing performance testing of our product. The hiring manager in charge of performance testing was a nuclear physicist and those are the people he hired.

    Some “competitive hires” are made so a person cannot work for the competition on a competing product. They are not necessarily utilized to the fullest extent possible once hired.

    If more people could learn how to make the transition from employee to entrepreneur, there would be less unemployment.

    It is a difficult transition especially if you are older and have always worked in a large company.

    The training for the transition of employee to entrepreneur needs to be in the form of ‘on the job’ ‘learn as you go’ training.

    For the entertainment industry, there are sites like Massify.com for organizing independent film projects and sites like Kickstarter.com and Indiegogo.com for funding. I haven’t seen anything similar for organizing software startups.

    Dell has Ideastorm.com for consumers to submit product suggestions and collaborate on ideas. If you had a site like that where companies could post what costs them the most money in their IT departments, software developers would not have any problem coming up with solutions that would save them money and writing the software to do it. The software solution could be made available online for purchase and the proceeds of any purchases distributed to the team that created it.

    There is not any equivalent of Khanacademy.org (math education) for the purposes of teaching someone how to run a business. When there is, interesting things could happen.

  • rl

    Vivek, I am long out of this field, but once did long-term highly innovative programs in it, later moving to international interventionist consulting.

    There are two most-harmful motifs I am reading here in the comments:

    — hiring companies not _planning_ that designers will need to constantly learn new techniques, languages, patterns, approaches all along their career. What else could possibly work than that, if you understand technology?

    – the songs and dances which hr departments perform, who are uniformly not qualified to select, judge, or prepare persons of knowledge they do not possess, which prevent actually imaginative persons who could learn any new thing needed. Tests, scorings, grades — these are of little use. A capable designer can select resumes for potential, and can interview to understand current capability, in all the forms it can take.

    Design is a truly human developmental activity. Who treats it so will get somewhere.

    rl

  • RogerTheGeek

    I would agree with Linda above about the narrowness of hiring. It is broader than just engineering though, it extends to almost all job areas. There are extremely high entry points that limits the recruits to a very small number. No wonder there is an appearance of a shortage. There is no shortage of mid to high quality candidates in the US in almost any field. The problem is the scope of the requirements that is imagined by the companies.

    Post degree training has also taken a huge hit over the past decade. Few companies are willing to train people even if the employees are motivated to take part in it. The companies want to go to the market and hire in the skills they need rather than train people they already have. Once they look at the market, they feel there is a lack of trained workers. It feeds back in this unfortunate concept of a dearth of available talent.

    The education issue is another subject entirely. Our (US) problem is that we sacrifice the highly motivated, bright students so we can carry along the mid level to low performing students. High performing students are ignored so the institutions can get the proper percentages of lower performing students to pass tests. We should be spending much more time and money on the best and brightest and less on those who do not want to learn or can’t do the work. We need to track students. This is a political issue that will not be solved easily and perhaps is unsolvable.

  • http://www.twitter.com/ldhamija Lalit K. Dhamija

    There is glut of engineers, yet shortage of talented ones.
    Graduating Engineers are hardly trained on how to innovate, put research to practical real world use to or set up enterprises. It all depends on where they get ultimately employed ( if they are fortunate to get employment) and how much the employer spends on their professional development.
    There is also tremendous untapped potential of benefits to be derived from Education Business links.
    http://www.twitter.com/ldhamija

  • Srinivas Gogineni

    Adding to the discussion:

    There is a work environment difference in working with a startup and a mid-sized company.

    1) In a startup it is hard to pay employee for his training especially when companies are small and where cash is King.

    2) Also its often less expensive to work with consultants and in the world of out sourcing there is an increasing scenario to opt out of having an in house expert.

    3) when it comes to consultant network they are changing the dynamics of labour pool. These consultant networks hire bunch of people with under valued degrees and train them often provide them technical support and place them.

    Unless companies interact with campuses and develop a workforce relationship with them and keep the third parties away this problem is not going to be solved.

  • http://twitter.com/deepakprab Deepak Prabhakara

    I did my schooling in India, bachelors degree in Singapore and masters degree in Scandinavia. So I can only speak from my experience at these places. I dont know how much of this is applicable to the US education system but there might be a similarity or two.

    I dont know the statistics but in my opinion there are three categories of engineers – 1) Good engineers 2) Engineers who lack certain skill-sets but can be trained to become better engineers and 3) Unskilled engineers. There is also probably a large mismatch in the skill-sets that companies look for and actual skill-sets of the engineers. Add to this the wacky interview processes (The big and famous ones can afford to do this. Do we have any studies or statistics on how effective these are?). The Industry needs to involve itself more in education so that this mismatch can be reduced. More internships, workshops, creative courses (which allow students to apply concepts they have learnt and see how it works in the real world).

    The problem is worse in schools (I studied in India) because there is absolutely no scope for creativity. I dont remember having anyone around to talk to about career choices, selection of University, field of study etc. And my school is well reputed, so you can imagine the situation in less fortunate schools. I completely agree with Daoud Clarke, Maths and Science need to be taught as creative subjects. I remember that some of my friends dreaded the Maths teacher more than Maths ;).

    My third observation has been on the job. I have worked for a venture-funded Startup and a fairly large Organization (500 – 1000 employees). My learning on the job at the large company hasnt been satisfactory, a lot can be done in-house to train employees better. I didnt feel the need for formal training at the startup since I got to go beyond the scope of my job profile.

    So to summarize – a combination of 1) Creative teaching at Schools/Universities 2) better liaison between Industry and Schools/Universities 3) Better training on the job, should help address this issue.

  • Swamy DKV

    Hey Vivek,

    A nice topic to discuss.

    This is true that excess Engineers are there and they lack the necessary company profile requirements. I say the n number of engineers can creates n number of innovations ( n may be any integer), but they should be trained properly. The syllabus prepared by the universities are outdated every minute as there will be something new coming by that minute. I prefer to say that excess engineers is not a concern, the company’s should help the universities to upgrade the syllabus and knowledge so that the engineers coming out will be of the company requirement and standard.

  • Linda Adduci

    I agree about some of the points made already, especially regarding newly graduated engineers and quality of some schools. However regarding more experienced engineers, my experience has been that recruiting criteria has become very narrow in the last years. What has happened is that some industries are shedding excess capacity (in terms of number of engineers) but these people even though they are very often skilled, with many years of experience, and willing to retrain are not given the chance to. Employers don’t want to invest even the minimum amount of time/money needed to retrain someone and look for someone that already has all the needed skills. Well sometimes they don’t find it …but at least in Europe I have not seen any effort to look for someone experience in a similar field to retrain, not even in this case.

  • Srinivas Gogineni

    You raised a very interesting issue Vivek

    I see engineers are divided into two segments

    1) engineers who drive innovation, develop novel ideas, products.
    2) Work force people who join company and execute the thoughts.

    A combination of these two categories will make a efficient work force for any company.

    Two simplify it further category (1) is like fuel in automobile and category (2) is like engine.

    The first category people come from universities which raise their admissions bars so high that only talented people get in and walk away with degree. Schools like MIT, UCB and other schools are doing fantastic Job.

    But the problem lies with the 2nd category of engineers these engineers come from schools where the ideology of school management is to survive. All they care is a recruit student who can pay tuition and they don’t care what they learn.

    A simple example is an international student can get into a US university with a GRE score of 800 and still manage to get Masters degree in computer science degree. Imagine what can this engineer deliver to workforce.

    There are at least 100K students from countries like India coming to USA, The question is are they really worth having a degree, My answer is “NO”. The scenario has shifted in such a way that a student can earn a degree if he/she can afford it intellectual capability is totally ignored. There are hundreds of schools which are doing this kind of activity.

    Right now parents are buying degrees for their children. Unless this scenario changes its hard to fix the problem.

    People of category 1 cannot drive growth of company alone, They need the support and this has to come from some where

  • http://www.brianmokeefe.com Brian O’Keefe

    I think there is a shortage of strong engineers and a glut of less qualified or capable engineers. This was extremely visible in the US during the Dot Com Bubble and is currently visible in India, where the environment strongly reminds me of the Dot Com Bubble. I see 3 categories of engineers: (1) very capable to exceptional, (2) capable but possibly in engineering over another better fitting field because of the demand, and (3) people who are borderline but employed due to demand (regardless whether capability is demand or ability driven).

    Due to offshoring and H1-B abuse (mostly Indian engineers understated to their actual job to skew salary reporting, e.g., person with architect experience doing architect job paid a junior engineer salary and reported being junior engineer level), this is eliminating entry-level and junior level positions and will lead to a shortage of capable US engineers, if it hasn’t already.

    My suspicion is that this shortage is (a) somewhat engineered by corporations to keep a supply of less expensive H1-B engineers available, and (b) caused by corporations who want to be able to hire a specialized skill set they need instead of retraining current engineers or hiring solid generalized engineers and training them on required skills.

    I don’t have enough information on forming an opinion about it being “laziness” by Americans or hunger in other countries to get ahead as a generalization, but I have heard those theories.

  • http://twitter.com/daarkecloud Daoud Clarke

    Where I worked previously (Birmingham, UK), it was very hard for them to find talented engineers. Their strategy was to recruit talented physics/maths graduates after giving them a programming aptitude test. They would typically have 20 people take the test, and then interview one or two people who did sufficiently well at the test. The number they had to interview to hire someone would be much higher, perhaps in the hundreds.

    I think part of the problem (in the UK at least) has been the sudden rise in people attending university. Many people are getting computer science degrees, but I would question how recruitable they are. I taught computer science at a reasonable quality UK university, and I found the number of very talented students in the classes I taught to be low. I’m not saying these people shouldn’t be doing computer science degrees, just that I don’t believe that companies looking for real talent would want to recruit them. My personal opinion is that the underlying problem is the way maths and science are taught at school. Maths is still stuck in the “learn by rote” methods of the last century and needs to be taught as a creative subject.

  • twitter.com/a4ashu

    Hi Vivek,

    I think the requirement for an Engineer has gone up , he is not just required to do his menial software baby sitting work but also has to come forth and contribute to the innovation engine of the company, that can be contributed even by opining on the change in the technology which may affect the final performance or even the efficiency of the system and affect cost of deliverable to the client.

  • gregorylent

    needs to be a six year program everywhere, what with the computer science knowledge needed in every engineering discipline. and social management is needed to herd the best students into engineering. for-profit schools, ala india, are not the answer, not enough teachers of course. china is looking good, just based on discipline and competitiveness, minus residue of rote-learning habits. usa, too much partying, frankly.

    world as whole-system, looked at from that pov it is easier to analyze, btw.

  • http://ashitvora.com Ashit Vora

    IMO, what every tech companies and VCs are saying is 100% true. I agree, there’s no shortage of engineers. Thousands of engineers graduate every year in US, China and India but it is difficult to find quality engineers. All fresh graduate engineers who get hired in big corporations get very little to do or learn there. So no matter how many years of experience they have on their resume, quality is still the same.

    GPA of a fresh graduate or number of years of experience of an experienced engineer has nothing to do with quality / talent.