If Google Software Engineers Earn $250,000, Why Aren't More Students Learning Programming?

If we don't take steps to cultivate tech talent, students won't pursue the field.

Prominent technologist Jacques Mattheij recently blogged an eye-popping salary quote revealed to him by an under-30 programmer at Google: "I'm pushing $250K per year." So if software engineers at Google and other tech companies are raking in that kind of dough and are in such high demand, why is it so tough to get more students into programming?

The easy answer is that not everyone wants to be a software engineer, no matter what they earn. Mattheij makes no secret of the fact that he's not a fan of students going "hip-deep in debt" for a degree in "history, literature, art history or any one of a large number of other 'soft' subjects"—like many, he believes they should earn degrees that "make it easier to make some money." But some people actually want to be social workers or history teachers even though they'll never make Google-style cash. You can't knock the hustle of someone who decides to follow their dreams, especially when it's a public sector job. That said, many students never know whether a tech field could be their passion because they never have any exposure to it in elementary and high school.

President Obama is focused on boosting the number of students pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math degrees, but that doesn't change the fact that many schools don't even have enough computers for students to conduct simple Google searches, let alone learn the basics of programming. Even if tech companies wanted to start recruiting software engineers from high school, too few schools even offer classes in it—the talent simply isn't being cultivated. The lack of computer science for younger students isn't a U.S.-specific problem, either. There's such a dearth of computer science in the U.K. that tech-oriented parents there have started a campaign to ensure it's included in the curriculum.

Unfortunately, even if such efforts manage to build a love for programming in students, that enthusiasm could get stifled in the first years of college. The New York Times recently reported that many students who head to college eager to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math degrees are weeded out by the entry-level courses. A student is likely to turn away from computer science if she's struggling in it and her grade negatively impacts her GPA.

Where does that leave companies looking for software engineers? They'll continue either outsourcing jobs or hiring talent from abroad—ensuring that American students continue to miss out on tech job openings and those $250,000 salaries.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user millionmonkey

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