WashTech News: Labor News
September 10, 2008
WashTech News

College Education and IT Unemployment

Priyanka Joshi

How important has your college degree been in your career growth? How actively do you use the knowledge you acquired in college at your present job? The answer, after talking to a variety of professionals, and educationists across the country, is "very little." American IT professionals today grapple with a job market saturated with candidates, most of whose trump card is not higher education, or deeper experience, but their pennies on the dollar value. Home grown IT professionals today fight outsourcing, and each other, as they vie for an increasingly smaller number of open positions. The situation repeats itself from Boston to the Silicon valley. In this global economy, having a college education is merely the first step towards gainful employment, and no longer any guarantee of work.

Rennie Sawade

Seattle-based computer programmer Rennie Sawade says, "College degrees aren't what they used to be. I have a Masters in Information Systems Management from Keller Graduate School of Management, and 22 years of IT experience. I have a spotless work history at companies like Oracle. But I have not had a full time position since 2005. I'm tired of working contract only gigs, some as short as 6 months! Life seems like a perennial interview cycle to me."

High student loans, and low wages at jobs that could evaporate within days, outsourced to a yet cheaper land, make for a bleak picture for IT as a career.

Doug Picirillo

Doug Picirillo, senior IT manager at a Chicago-based manufacturer and an IT professional since the 70s, says he's seen the whole spectrum of IT being king to now, where employees don't make as much a return on their college investment. "From the early 80s to the early 90s, there was such a rapidly growing demand for people with programming and other skills that employers often hired on aptitude and trained the skills. That doesn't happen anymore. Now employers cherry pick candidates, mostly those that fit their super specialized skill set requirement in a saturated market." Computer programmer David Schwartz knows the feeling. "I've got a BS in math/computer science, 30 years of experience, and while just about everybody says a college degree is a requirement, I can't even get an interview these days! Employers today are only looking for 3-5 years of immediate experience in specific programming tools."

This ultra focused thrust on negating one's general lifetime work experience in favor of short term technical qualifications has spawned hundreds of "guerrilla" IT schools across the country where, after putting their 9-8, H1-B visa holders are seen getting trained on technologies in demand. The trainer is, almost always, another employee of the same firm, working on the application during the day, holding their hand the first few times they go in front of the client. These candidates are then marketed to IT giants as "experts", with fudged resumes, while home grown candidates are disqualified for lack of experience. Thousands of such professionals across the country, however qualified, and hard working, are struggling to pay the bills, career satisfaction becoming a distant dream for them.

Marc Scheer, author of "No Sucker Left Behind: Avoiding the Great College Rip-Off", (Common Courage Press), holding a Ph.D. in psychology, points out that salaries for young college grads have dropped by 8.5% since 2000. "The average college student has $20,000 in student loans at the time of graduation. Studies show, on average, college students tend to over estimate by 45% how much they will earn when they graduate. Combine that with competition by pennies on the dollar global labor force, and life for them becomes very hard very soon."

Ramona Santa Maria

Ramona R. SantaMaria, MSEd., Computer Information Systems lecturer at Buffalo State College also blames market saturation for the decline in value of a college degree. "College is expensive. Our society puts too much emphasis on college education and not enough on certifications and trade schools as options. Many students think programming is easy just because they are so familiar with 'Facebook' ".

Bob Brumm

Bob Brumm- a Tampa based Sr. Senior Systems Programmer with 13 years of experience in IT and a Business degree (B.S., B.A.) with a discipline in accounting, says college degrees are critical if one wants to get into a management position, but suggests IT certifications as helpful for professionals to prove their competencies in their specific niches at a much lower cost than what a college degree costs. Schwartz is in agreement, and portends that as the aging workforce makes way for more "specific skills" oriented workers, their lack of fundamental skills will pose long term problems for industry. This begs the question which way our schools, reputed to be the best in the world, are heading and taking the country's prospective workforce with them? To go for a college degree and go into IT waiting for the job market to turn, or to say goodbye to IT as a career altogether? Which way will the pendulum swing?

Next Week: Part 2- Your Kids and an IT Career.

Talkback on Article
Sep 12, 2008, 10:13 am
My personal experience on projects has always been that the most the valuable contributions come from people with the deepest and broadest background in the relevant fundamentals, and an ability to apply them to the problem at hand, and not necessarily those with the most recent experience with the particular tools that happen to be chosen to be used. Today, if you are homegrown and ask an employer who has been ignoring your letters and resume sent in response to his announcements of open positions, what you could do by way of retraining or up-dating your skills that might increase his interest in you, he'll say ``nothing''. Hiring is always strictly on the basis of HANDS ON experience, only. The presidential candidates' promises to retrain displaced manufacturing sector workers in IT are empty, naive, and probably disingenuous. The WIA, and before it the JTPA, have been around for some time and already provide funding for all kinds of retraining---which is largely wasted. ``Engineers are like lemons: you squeeze them once, and then you throw them away.''

     William Spence, Santa Cruz, CA
Sep 12, 2008, 10:06 am
Dear Priyanka Joshi, I’d like to share another two aspects in addition to your viewpoints: a) The billions invested in colleges and universities by federal and state governments (and private charity) basically are lost when jobs go to H1-B visa holders and people in other countries. b) Then there’s the question of how companies in India are able to be profitable by charging so little for their services. For example, don't companies in India have to pay taxes to improve education, housing, protection against tsunamis, etc? Sincerely, RS

     Robert Silverman,
Sep 11, 2008, 2:39 pm
I could not help but notice how many posts from seeker.dice.com forums are of the same nature. Below are just a few recent examples: > "I let my now ex-wife talk me into going to UoP for my BS in IT (circa 2002/2004). What a waste. $20k of debt and the degree is virtually worthless. Dumbest thing I've ever done!” http://seeker.dice.com/olc/thread.jspa?threadID=9209&tstart=0 > "B.S. Electrical Engineering, M.S. EE, and M.S. Applied Math(currently attending),last two form US University. GPA 3.55. > "I came to US in 1998 , and I have been looking for the job 10 years,as you can see! Live in South New Jersey, where you cannot get a job without connection, even it is $9. Third shifts,$7-$9 they want to hire you, don't ask many questions but for everything else, it is a rocket science to get hired!!” http://seeker.dice.com/olc/thread.jspa?threadID=8949&tstart=0 > "He's a pretty sharp kid, just graduated from a small liberal-arts school that has a computing program. He just got a job in Chicago, $12/hr, no benefits . . . ” http://seeker.dice.com/olc/thread.jspa?threadID=8649&tstart=0 > "I have been looking for a full time job for about a year since I graduated from my college with a B.E. in computer engineering.” http://seeker.dice.com/olc/thread.jspa?threadID=8302&tstart=0 > "I graduated with a B.S. in Computer Science from New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) back in January 2005. After I graduated, I was unable to find a job . . . so in order to pay bills and student loans, I had to get a temp job doing customer service, making $12 an hour” http://seeker.dice.com/olc/thread.jspa?threadID=6562&tstart=0 > "I have bachelors degree in computer science. I have 10yrs of experience in software and 5yrs in .net. But now i have been laid of and out of job for past 4 months.” http://seeker.dice.com/olc/thread.jspa?threadID=7151&tstart=0 > "I am a cliche . . . I am 24 year old, B.Sc. Computer Science grad from an above average state school, and I'm unemployed.” http://seeker.dice.com/olc/thread.jspa?threadID=4896&start=0&tstart=0 > "I graduated with a B.S in Computer Science last year May 2007. Though after applying to hundreds of places I've only gotten a handful of interviews and no IT job as of yet! All my other friends who majored in business or accounting managed to get jobs fairly easily.” http://seeker.dice.com/olc/thread.jspa?threadID=6875&tstart=0 > "Soooo. I graduate May of 07, with a 3.3 and a BSIT but no experience in IT Security . . . And I am soo out of luck” http://seeker.dice.com/olc/thread.jspa?messageID=42472ꗨ > "I finished my Associates degree in IT back in December and I still haven't found employment in the IT field.” http://seeker.dice.com/olc/thread.jspa?messageID=42320ꕐ > "In 2004, took the school Valedictorian of my college class– 1 year to find a job in IT. ”

     walter, Denver, USA