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The great software developer drought

In the aftermath of Silicon Milkroundabout, founder Pete Smith explains why we need more software engineers – and the opportunities of choosing a tech career

Right now, there aren’t enough software developers in Silicon Valley. That’s already happened. We’ll be in a similar situation in the UK within two years, because the amount of software that is being written – that will need to be maintained – is growing exponentially.

Software engineers are fast becoming some of the most sought-after people in our economy. They’ll be able to pick the best jobs for themselves, and be incredibly well paid to do that. Clearly that’s an amazing opportunity for people who are already software developers, but it has implications for all of us.

Everyone should know code

Given what the future holds, anyone who’s considering software engineering as a career should definitely give it a go. The UK’s current school IT curriculum is pathetic, but we have world-leading technical universities, and it’s easy to go abroad to EU universities.

Doing a software engineering degree can only have a positive effect; in fact, a lot of computer science students work for good money throughout their degrees – so they’re actually some of the people with the deepest pockets on campus, freelancing during the holidays and doing internships at banks.

We all need to be smart about what the future holds, and that means understanding how software works and how it will change your profession. Even learning about the layer of ‘front-end’ code which powers the content, look and feel of a basic website will put you at an advantage over someone who is completely non-technical.

It opens so many doors. If you’re responsible for marketing, for example, knowing how to make changes to a blog or integrating with APIs (application programming interfaces) like that of Twitter, even to a self-taught level, will accelerate your career hugely.

The importance of starting young

In my opinion, you can’t start soon enough. My nephew just turned three and it blows my tiny, twentieth-century mind that he can fire up an iPhone and play Fruit Ninja without adult-assistance. What are these kids going to be like in a few years’ time? Already, we live in a world where ten-year-olds can play around with code, while their parents can’t even navigate an Xbox.

Forward Internet Group hosts a free coding club every Saturday for eight to 16-year-olds, as part of Forward Foundation’s mission to help young people secure fulfilling and productive livelihoods. Codecademy.com also provides online tutorials for coding novices of all ages.

The next 15 years

Over the next 15 years it will be especially lucrative to understand software. I say 15 years because I hope we’ll start seeing a correction soon, where children’s education re-aligns around technical learning. For now we’re approaching this rocky patch where they’ll be more software to write and maintain than there are people qualified to work on it. Companies are already having a terrible time hiring.

Take the latest UK stats on graduate technical jobs, for example: there are 4,167 available this year, and 7,000 computer scientists due to graduate this summer. That means there will be less than two candidates for every job – in contrast with an average 50 applicants for other graduate vacancies.

That’s fantastic for these young developers, especially in an economy which is tough on many of their peers. However, I would argue that the opportunity to accelerate your career is extended to anyone willing to embrace code. When professional industries were staid and stable you had to work for 10 or 20 years to ‘earn your stripes’ and gain a position of influence (and fun!) Now you can shortcut your career by ‘skating to where the hockey puck is going to be, not where it is now.’

There may not be enough software developers in the UK right now, but I have faith that there soon will be. That movement needs to be led from the ground up: parents need to feel confident encouraging their children’s interest in technology and we can all kick up a fuss about the appalling school IT curriculum.

In the short term, start-ups will have to be savvier than ever to get tech talent on side – especially if they want to tempt graduates away from corporates like Google, Apple and Goldman Sachs. Silicon Milkroundabout is just one way to do that.

Pete Smith is the co-founder of Songkick , a start-up which helps music lovers keep track of their favourite bands. In May 2011 Songkick launched Silicon Milkroundabout - a sector-specific jobs fair which aims to showcase the advantages of working for a start-up , and connect tech start-ups with graduate talent

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