Monthly Archives: May 2013

Our economies most lucrative profession…is free

Two articles ran today, one in the New York Times, one in the Wall Street Journal. The New York Times piece was about the effect that student debt has on the economy, where debt-laden graduates postpone consumption and major purchases, creating a drag on the economy. (Eerily similar to my piece about the same topic, I’m checking my Google Analytics now). The second piece from the Wall Street journal was an op-ed by an entrepreneur who says that his business, and the economy in general, can’t find qualified computer scientists fast enough to fill the job openings.
These two pieces are coincidentally recent, but the opportunity they describe is old news. The most common complaint I’ve heard from entrepreneurs is that they can’t find–no, can’t afford–good programming talent. When I was a business student at college, non-students would beg to get access to the tech groups at universities to pillage the talent. Google and Facebook are this countries most lavish employers for a reason. According to a very quick look on, computer scientists now make more money than financial analysts, which is where most of my finance friends are now.

The most surprising fact here is that computer science is very nearly a free degree. The web is full of free programming training, free user forums, open-source code. And proving one’s computer-programming proficiency is considerably simpler than proving one’s proficiency with more vague skills like marketing. This should make that brand value of a degree from a university less valuable. From an economic perspective any cost-benefit analysis where the cost is nearly free and the benefit is very great should be over-saturated with people.
So why the gap between the number of lucrative openings and the number of applicants, which Kirk McDonald from the Journal article puts at 3 to 1? First, I simply think that the expansion of computer-related needs is just that rapid. Sometimes I think we probably can barely produce enough graduates in general to keep up! (In fact, if we consider Americans, we can’t. We now borrow from every other country.) Second, I think it is the devilish economic problem of not-quite-free information. There is still the concept of doctor-lawyer-banker professions being the best. Doctors are still doing ok, but bankers are looking more plebian and lawyers can’t find jobs. More importantly, the free path to success as a computer scientist is more uncertain than the expensive college degree path. 
Dispelling that uncertainty and creating freer information is doable, especially in a field like computer science. Two things need to happen:
First, the free education that is available needs to be aggregated and sorted. A college education exists online, but it is probably on 12 different websites. 
Second, avenues need to be provided where competent programmers can prove their proficiency. A combination of a online certificate of achievement for the courses and some kind of proctored exam or interview to prove real knowledge, could tell an employer most of what they need to know. 
If these two things can happen, we could end up in a situation where a large portion of our workforce is placed into lucrative, high value jobs with little personal debt. 
If you want to be this person and build this for others at the same time, e-mail, write, call me collect.