The Biggest Tech Problem in US
Entry level positions, hiring practices, and so on and oh my! My take.
Table of Content
How do you write about something on a subject as big as the title might suggest? You might start with a quote: “I have a degree but I can’t find a job.”
Most of the times, new graduates face this struggle. With the contraction of the economy, even the older workforce is affected.
There are too many problems with this industry but this stands out the most. I want to expand on some reasons why it arose, which others have shared their opinions on.
I also suspect that people in other countries are facing similar problems to varying degrees. This is due to the fact that we live in a globalized environment. It doesn’t help that every company is trying to be the next Google.
There are numerous benefits to globalization but it requires us to shed our old ways of doing things. This is topic for another day.
At the time of the writing, there are about 7.8 billion people. [https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/] The US is the third most populous country in the world after China and India. There are about 330 million Americans. [https://www.census.gov/popclock/]
The amount of potential new graduates into the tech sector is difficult to properly calculate, given the lack of publicly available information. Some information available is in the form of projections and estimates.
One data suggests that even in 2029, the enrollment will be about the same. [https://www.statista.com/statistics/183995/us-college-enrollment-and-projections-in-public-and-private-institutions/]
Government data shows that we have about 20 million students planning to attend in the Fall of 2020. [https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372#College_enrollment]
In 2019, there were about 3.9 million new college graduates minted. [https://educationdata.org/number-of-college-graduates] Every year, there are new college graduates in the millions.
We all told about how degree holders earn more on average over their lifetime. Data shows that about 72% of college holders in 2018 have a job. [https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2019/72-point-3-percent-of-2018-bachelors-degree-recipients-were-employed-in-october-2018.htm]
Depending on year, you would be told to major in some form of STEM, usually Computer Science. [https://insights.dice.com/2019/06/12/computer-science-graduates-earnings/] The reasons are varied.
“We need to remain competitive in this globalized workforce!” “You make a lot of money if you have a degree in computer science!” “All the cool kids are doing it now.”
There are figures showing that more and more college students are majoring in Computer Science. [https://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2017/04/computer_science_numbers_degrees_new_peak.html] With the pandemic which sped things up, Computer Science is slowly becoming one of the most popular majors.
It is true that Business and Communications are still among the top ten most popular fields that kids go into. [https://www.niche.com/blog/the-most-popular-college-majors/] But with this heavy marketing push, Computer Science is climbing the ladder.
And you would feel left behind if you read articles that tell you that more and more jobs require a college degree. There aren’t a lot of statistics showing costs of degrees. The costs include time and money.
Often when you do see the horrible costs, the same article will usually try to tell you that you’ll pay it off. Eventually. The major exception is when it’s covering for-profit colleges.
In around 2013, one article states that around 65% of jobs will require a college degree in 2020. [https://all4ed.org/articles/future-shock-by-2020-65-percent-of-jobs-to-require-postsecondary-education-only-36-percent-of-jobs-expected-to-be-open-to-high-school-graduates-finds-new-report/]
Just last year (2019), the message hasn’t changed. [http://statchatva.org/2019/05/10/a-greater-number-of-jobs-require-more-education-leaving-middle-skill-workers-with-fewer-opportunities/]
Let’s consider the fact that I have not considered other technology related degrees (Software Engineering, Management Information Systems, Cybersecurity, etc.). If I had counted them as “Computer Science,” Computer Science would easily be among the top 10 or 20 most popular degree.
Or another fact that many non-technology majors also end up in a technology role. There are more articles on how to become a coder without a Computer Science degree than I can count. [https://www.geeksforgeeks.org/guide-non-cs-students-get-placed-software-companies/] [https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/03/21/if-i-dont-have-a-computer-science-degree-can-i-still-get-a-software-engineering-job-at-google/] [https://www.nocsdegree.com/from-tutus-to-tech-kara-luton-is-a-software-engineer-with-no-cs-degree/] [https://learntocodewith.me/posts/become-a-software-engineer/]
The point is, everybody seems to be trying to get into the tech industry.
Why do I bring up these statistics? Because this is about tech problems and our place in the world among all of these problems. As a newcomer, you often don’t think about the big picture.
These numbers don’t tell everything but they can be painted positively or negatively, depending on the narrative the person wants to tell.
Despite the positive picture being painted about degree holders having jobs, many people are working in jobs they did not study for. Many of these jobs do not provide dignity.
It is true that science and technology is the driving force behind economic growth. After all, who designs the latest toys that truly do improve our lives? If only they weren’t releasing these toys on an incremental basis. (sarcasm)
One thing is clear, more and more people are trying to get into college and there are businesses trying to solve this problem (Coursera, edX, etc.).
Barring any other extreme circumstances (another world war), human population will continue to grow. There will be more and more people attaining degrees.
The statistics are worse when you start considering the fact that you are not just competing locally or even regionally but globally. Think about how many Computer Science students there are in China and India.
Let’s use the perennial example, Apple and Google. Google has about 100,000 employees. [https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/29/tech/alphabet-q1-earnings/index.html] Apple is similar, if you look at their 2018 SEC filings. [https://investor.apple.com/investor-relations/sec-filings/sec-filings-details/default.aspx?FilingId=13040732] Their numbers fluctuate depending on projects, market, etc.
In general, it is agreed by most people that they are a large company. Now, let’s dig a bit deeper. The media tells you how amazing it is to major in Computer Science or how important college is.
But that’s assuming the stars align. College brochures often tell you how amazing the college life is but never tells you the reality of actually getting a job.
You would think that getting a job at Google or Apple is like winning the lotto. [https://qz.com/285001/heres-why-you-only-have-a-0-2-chance-of-getting-hired-at-google/] With a 0.2% chance, you might try to game the system. Why wouldn’t you? They regularly get millions of applications, how exactly would you stand out?
And that is exactly what one company did to capitalize on this demand. [https://www.businessinsider.com/rooftop-slushie-tech-workers-buying-job-referrals-2020-6]
All of the resume advice in the world would do you no good. You’d think that Google hires only the absolute best (they don’t) and they work on interesting projects (that often shuts down later on). [https://killedbygoogle.com]
The point is, with millions of starry-eyed students graduating and looking for a job, all of these companies (top ones especially) will get always get a huge pile of applications.
It doesn’t help that Google now considers one of their online program at Coursera just as good as a four year degree. [https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/13/google-announces-certificates-in-data-project-management-and-ux.html] It hurts too because it dismisses the hard work of blood, sweat and tears many of us put into our degree.
“The certificates are created and taught by Google employees, do not require a college degree, can be completed in three to six months and are offered through the online learning platform Coursera. Google says it will consider all of its certificates as the equivalent of a four-year college degree for related roles at the company.”
What you’ll notice is, I have not delved into the “Data Science” [https://www.northeastern.edu/graduate/blog/data-science-careers-shaping-our-future/] or “Cybersecurity” madness. [https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/tech-cybersecurity-zero-percent-unemployment-1016] You would think, all this marketing can’t be lying to you, can it?
Data science replaced software engineering as a hot job and cybersecurity is seen as always in-demand. “As long as I have a Computer Science degree, right?”
In light of these issues, it is unfortunate that life often falls short of the ideal work situation that I envision for myself and others. This disconnect is clearly seen on any major social media outlets where the same story plays out commonly about the struggle to find a job.
The leaders in our country did not plan for the future. They assumed that there will always be a growth in the stock market. It did for the past century, so who could blame them? We never knew how fragile our economy was.
They were so focused on return on capital or different economic thoughts. We never thought about resilience in any capacity. There are finally calls for resilience. [https://www.mckinsey.com/mgi/overview/in-the-news/reimagining-supply-chain-resilience] Remember the narratives?
The meaning behind the number depends on who is telling you the agenda. For example, this article says that economy is doing just fine. After all, the stock market is stronger than ever. [https://www.forbes.com/sites/gadlevanon/2020/08/27/reports-of-us-decline-are-greatly-exaggerated/]
Another one says that, for example, the tech industry alone is worth more than European stock markets. [https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/us-tech-stocks-worth-more-european-stock-market-apple-microsoft-2020-8-1029545001] If you choose to fixate on this, then yes, the economy is doing just fine.
You can ignore other sectors that have been destroyed. [https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/11/coronavirus-lockdowns-how-covid-19-decimated-the-restaurant-industry.html] And it’s exactly the same problem young people are going through, their experience with job hunting is a different reality than the one sold to them by their college.
The cognitive dissonance is strong. Unfortunately, the narrative we need the least is the ones most sold to us. There were people who knew that the next virus attack would take us down. We weren’t completely in the dark.
In Bill Gates’ TED talk 5 years ago, it was literally titled that we were not ready. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Af6b_wyiwI “The next outbreak? We’re not ready | Bill Gates”] The leaders didn’t take it serious. It was just another TED talk.
How about the surplus in STEM degrees? [https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2015/article/stem-crisis-or-stem-surplus-yes-and-yes.htm] Instead of letting the market play itself out, we are seeing that there were clear indicators of more STEM degree holders than actual jobs.
In fact, this paper was one of my favorite to read. The reason is because it goes into the nuance not often see in narratives by major outlets. For example, it says:
“Some occupations have a shortage of qualified talent, such as nuclear and electrical engineering Ph.D.’s who are U.S. citizens; in other areas, such as biology Ph.D.’s aiming to become professors, there is a surplus.”
Notice, it is very specific. There are still needs for biology Ph.D. We still need more minds on stem cell research, cancer treatments, etc. The problem is that the reward isn’t there compared to the risk.
For biology, you could make around $100,000 as a professor. [https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Degree=Doctorate_(PhD)%2C_Biology/Salary] That is far more stable of a job compared to doing research with no guarantee of success. It is more stressful and likely less rewarding.
I love the fact that the paper admits the subtle differences that are hard to address. This is extremely important.
“The ongoing STEM debate. Depending on the definition, the size of the STEM workforce can range from 5 percent to 20 percent of all U.S. workers. Although fields such as computer programming and mechanical engineering are generally considered STEM fields, there is less consensus on areas such as medicine, architecture, science education, social sciences, and blue-collar manufacturing work.”
There is one specific paragraph that I think is particularly important:
“Although foreign nationals can generally be brought in to bridge skill gaps in academia and the private sector, that is currently not an option in many areas for government workers and contractors, including defense-related contractors.”
Ideally, I and many others should have a job lined up, right? After all, I am about to finish my Master’s in Cybersecurity. I have a decent background and many with better.
The problem is, the reason for these narrative is often more malicious. The more there are, the less they can pay. They simply have to hold out on the hire, wait for there to be a surplus, then pay the lowest they can for the position they need filled.
This market strategy was first used on Software Engineering positions, then Data Science and Cybersecurity. As a business owner, you simply claim you cannot find the talents needed to do the job and you need an increase in what’s called H1B so you can bring in foreign workers.
H1B is a source of controversy among those who knows about it. Companies often pay foreign workers lower than they would have to pay if it were an American. [https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2018/02/07/companies-say-they-want-more-h-1b-foreign-workers/] Many saw through this, including Michio Kaku who mentions that this is one of our biggest weakness. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NK0Y9j_CGgM “Dr. Michio Kaku America Has A Secret Weapon”]
The challenge is to find trustworthy people that you can pay the lowest amount for cybersecurity positions. There are all kinds of stories being sold. “Cybersecurity isn’t for entry level, it requires you to already be an expert in the domain you want to secure.”
It’s a lie. How successful this lie can be sold remains to be seen. Ideally, I should probably be able to at least land an interview. I and many of us who are American citizens should not have to be sending out thousands of applications. Job hunting should not be a war of attrition.
Many of us grew up loving technology. The idea that we somehow know about packet analyzers but don’t know what a router is just ridiculous. This sort of gating is killing America.
There aren’t enough companies being created to accommodate the need for jobs. It doesn’t help that there are many who are hostile to some kind of universal basic income.
Do we want to live in a world where basically only the top 1% or 10% of people succeed?
The problem that I hear from the other side is that recruiting is hard because they are running a business and businesses don’t care if the world is burning. The sole goal is profit.
Here is a list of things I have heard consistently from recruiters, hiring managers, etc. on why they don’t hire junior or entry level people.
- Professionally Inexperienced
Here is a famous quote (author unknown): “Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement.” What this is saying is that it costs companies money to allow you to make mistakes. Most companies do not want to do this.
- Stepping Stone
Most people do not stay at their first job for life. Most upper management knows that if this is your first job, you’re likely to quit to a better opportunity as soon as one comes along.
- Resource Allocation
Most upper management see people are another object to be managed. In order to improve you, they need to assign someone to teach you the ropes. That time and cost to teach you the ropes could’ve been used on something else.
Incorrect expectations. College students often come out thinking they’ll change the world. Real world companies deal with boring stuff all the time. This is obviously because of lack of experience. This problem is made worse when many candidates may not be able to handle the actual job.
Each of these points can be expanded. For example, fresh hires may not know the difference between constructive critique and harsh opinions. Each of these is also weak.
There is a counterpoint for each of these.
- Senior people make mistakes too. The difference is, people with experience make a different kind of mistake. There is also a bias involved. The difference is, as long as the hiring pipeline is done correctly, you can prevent costly mistakes while allowing juniors to grow.
- It is true that many people will use their first company as a stepping stone. What can be done is to give the best experience possible so that the inexperienced have a reason to stay. Many people do not mind their first job being at any of the FANG and staying for as long as possible.
- One of the challenges from HR is innovation in the HR industry. They acknowledge this as a problem and wish to see people as people and not as object. Companies often do not share loyalty that they expect from their employees. It should be a two way street, not one way express.
- College should adjust its marketing. Somehow college claims to be a job training center but its training does not match the actual job it is training for. Companies can do more to work with HR on their needs to make the company a better place to work at. Organizations should find a way to shed that “evil HR” stereotype.
Every company wants that unicorn employee and every employee wants to do their best to be that unicorn. It’s impossible to be the best you can be when you aren’t even given that chance.
An industry that is well done would not produce the kind of mess it has now. YouTubers would have a much harder time getting in front of camera and ridicule job postings. [https://www.youtube.com/c/JoshuaFluke1]
One such YouTuber would go on to show people live job postings that are too dumb to be real. Unreasonable requirements, stupid company policies, demoralizing management practices, etc.
Another famous site showcase this industry problem clearly. [https://rejected.us] Here is an example:
“Before cofounding GitHub I applied for an engineering job at Yahoo and didn’t get it. Don’t let other people discourage you.” Chris Wanstrath
While encouraging, it’s not going to help when millions of people take the common advices that we’re all given and attempt to cram through the tiny gate.
Millions of people follow the advice of resume, cover letter, personal website, projects for GitHub, etc. How do you stand out when your competitor has the same?
Some things require money that many people can’t afford. Which makes it even more exclusive. It’s already bad enough with diversity. [https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-22/everyone-knows-tech-workers-are-mostly-white-men-except-tech-workers]
There are relatively new advice that says to create communities, network, etc. It’s hard to be a part of the community when nearly everyone is in the same boat and often sees one another as competitor.
At this point, a community is not that different from a get-rich-scheme conference. I wish the status quo would change.
The situation seems to be getting worse and with the election ending in hours, many are left guessing and hoping.
When AI improves and replaces jobs, folks like Andrew Yang are left out wondering if there was something else they could’ve done to avoid this predicament we’re in.
Andrew Yang once said this and I’ll end it with this: [https://www.foxbusiness.com/economy/jobs-automation-andrew-yang]
“You can’t turn truck drivers into coders, Andrew Yang says of job retraining”