Programming Jobs are Still here

News | Thursday, July 01,2010

By Michael Wells

There is

a local, regional, and national misconception of the computer programming industry. The mistaken conclusion is that the majority of computer programming jobs are being sent offshore and are no longer being performed in the U.S. and, more specifically, within our region.

This is a misconception. Offshore outsourcing once was used to enhance an organization’s staffing by hiring low-cost resources in India, Canada, Ireland, China and Russia. Language, time zone, and offshore staff turnover have been impediments to this strategy.

The evolution of offshoring strategies has continued as larger organizations have tried hiring their own staffs in some of these countries, hoping to reduce staff turnover. This worked for a period of time when the global economy was slow and job opportunities were reduced. However, as economic conditions improve, it has and will become increasingly difficult to maintain staff in these countries.

As a result, most U.S. programming jobs have remained, and new, cutting-edge programming jobs are being created locally, regionally and nationally every day. There is relatively low unemployment within this industry. (The rate peaked at around 4 percent; overall unemployment rates are more than double that.)

Unfortunately, the public misconception of offshoring reduces the interest in math and science among high school and university students. It is imperative to avoid this perception, lest it become a self-fulfilling prophesy. This industry is alive and growing in our region and country — a fact supported by the Bureau of Labor’s projection of 286,600 new jobs and faster-than-average job growth in this industry from 2008-2018.

However, for students looking to pursue a degree allowing them to enter the workplace as computer programmers, the mantra should be “buyer beware.” Don’t look for graduation rates. A good program will have high placement rates, industry partners that regularly recruit on campus, internship opportunities, and a combination of individual and group work throughout the curriculum. The curriculum should stress programming, database and security fundamentals.

Fortunately for our region, Minnesota State University’s Information Systems & Technology Department offers two programs with all of these characteristics. Even with budget cuts eliminating the computer science department and suspending College of Business MIS programs, information systems and information technology degrees continue to prepare students to go to work as computer programmers.

Last year,

placement rates were near 100 percent; more than 50 percent of scholarship applicants received at least a $750 award; and graduates received full-time salaries in the $50,000 range. Many regional employers such as FPX, Federated Insurance, Brown Printing, Taylor Corp. and IBM-Rochester continue to hire graduates. They are supplemented by a large number of Twin Cities employers (General Mills, Thomson Reuters, 3M) who are regular recruiters.

Our department is bringing jobs back to U.S. soil while providing a unique opportunity for students to gain real-world experience. Maverick Software Consulting — a business founded and headquartered in Mankato — partners with IS&T to employ 20 student interns who perform computer programming and software testing tasks previously sent offshore by Thomson Reuters. Students receive invaluable real-world experience while applying concepts learned in the classroom. Maverick Software Consulting has similar programs at three other universities in the region.

All of these factors indicate that offshore outsourcing has not become a trend, and Minnesota State continues to produce extremely high-quality, sought-after graduates in technology.

Michael Wells is professor of Information Systems & Technology at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and director of Project Maverick.