Is there a tech shortage?

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Is there a shortage of qualified technical people? Yes and no. Unemployment is low, so there's certainly a demand. But there's also a lot of qualified people looking that can't get hired or want to break into the field, and the number of Résumé's to job openings is still absurdly high, so let's not pretend that you can't find people -- companies just can't find people that meet their requirements (which are often stupid).


All the time I used to hear about the "huge shortages we have for computer people", and all the job openings for computer people. Newspapers are constantly running articles about how "in demand" computer people are. However, I'm a computer person, and I know better.

Don't get me wrong. There are a lot of job openings, and a lot of companies hunting at any time, but there are many people looking for work too -- and there are dozens of Resume's that come in for each job. While I believe that while demand is outpacing supply for computer people, I think there is a far bigger need for qualified Human Resources people, qualified management, and a larger demand for companies to change hiring practices.

I've been on both sides, hiring people, and looking for people.

When I want to find people, it is never very hard to find people that can do the job, it is only hard to find experts in a specific field. Management doesn't want people that will pick up the job in a couple of weeks or a month and be able to go from there, they want people that have been doing it for 10 years. Now THOSE people are harder to find. But getting more computer people won't fix that problem since most of them won't come with 10 years of experience in just the one area the companies are looking for either.

When I want to find a job, it can be a real pain. When I look, it can often take weeks or months to find a job - and I'm highly qualified, and I'm one of the few that companies will fight over if they ever figure out they want me in the first place. Even then it can be tough; sometimes dozens (or hundreds) of resume's can go unanswered, not because I can't do the job or wouldn't be a good person, or my Résumé is bad, but because the human resources people can't figure that out. More than that, I can price myself out of the market; they want people highly experienced and highly qualified but are often not willing to pay for them. I can only imagine what those less qualified go through (and since I talk with many of them, I actually have some idea). Then when companies figure out that I am what they want, they put a hiring freeze, decide I cost too much, reevaluate requirements of the project, or want to think about it (at least until I've found something else). Even when they are sure, the whole process of getting in a company can take many weeks (Resume, Phone Interview, First Interview, sometimes a second, them having to interview others for the job to cover their butts, then finally an offer). This is not anything new, I've been playing this game for decades. It drives my wife nuts, Companies calling and saying they're interested, then not making offers or having something in the mail "any day now". If computer people were really in that much demand, you'd think that companies would improve their hiring practices. All this is after you've dazzled them with your interview - getting your foot in the door in the first place can be even harder.

Inhuman Resources

Human Resources (HR) People (or Inhuman-Resources / Anti-Personnel) seem to be unable to do anything other than match bullet items with requirements on a job spec to keywords in a Resume. There are many cases where a computer person can be absolutely perfect for a job - but if they haven't used the exact same term, in the exact same way as the Job requirement, then Human Resources puts that Resume in the round-file (trash-can).

When I try to hire people I find people only when they get in contact with me directly or go through a headhunter. After they get a hold of me through other means, I usually find out that they had sent Resume's into the company, and HR has been sitting on it, or didn't think they were qualified. Worse, I've been wasting time with Bozo's who filled in the bullet items, but don't have a clue. It is almost impossible to get reasonable filtering done from HR. It isn't that they are bad people, they just don't know about computers or what it takes to do the jobs I need, so they either play it safe and I get no one, or when you finally throw a conniption fit they give me every Resume with the word "computer" in it.

It gets worse when I'm out looking for a job myself. I can put out dozens or hundreds of Resume's without a response. Now I have an impressive Resume and was more than qualified for the jobs - and I even tailor my Resume for the bullet points specifically (because I know Human Resources). Those ads continued to run for weeks after I sent mine in, I often called and asked if they got my Resume (which seems to annoy many HR departments) and I couldn't even get a response. On others I got pre-interviews, phone or otherwise, with the Human Resources people running interference. It gets so bad that most engineers I know do everything they can to get their resume in the back door and past HR, because sending them in the front door is a waste of time. Most engineers think of H.R. as a test put up by the company, "if you can't get around them, then you aren't worth hiring anyway".


I remember once, a company was looking for someone with about a dozen different requirements: C++, Mac, setup Quality Assurance Depts., been a team lead, internet related experience doing websites, excellent communication skills including technical and user documentation, User Interface experience, low-level graphics experience and UI, and a couple of other things thrown in. An all over the place mix of quirky and sometimes contradictory things. I laughed because I fit the magic glass slipper, but I knew there were probably on a handful of greater L.A. that did. So I sent my Resume, and eventually got an interview.

I normally interview well (confident but not cocky, and I communicate well and know how to tailor my experience to their requirements); as a consultant, I've done lots of interviews so I know the routine and how to respond. I've learned the art of interviewing. But remember, you're interviewing them as much as the other way around: "fit" cuts both ways.

If you are looking for a job, and you are not very experienced, or out of practice in interviewing, I recommend that you read up on interviewing. This is a specialty skill that is very important. Talk to your headhunters, practice interview with friends, go on interviews for jobs that you aren't too interested in (just to practice). There are a few different attitudes about interviewing, but you need to learn this skill to get the jobs you want.

I had a few warning signs:

  1. The first interview was canceled last minute on their side. Then they set up another one.
  2. When I went up there for my interview and was on time, the HR person made me wait in the lobby for about 20 minutes. Those are two ways for a company to fail to impress me.
  3. Then I had to do a 2-hour interview with the Human Resources person as a pre-screen and they wouldn't even schedule a meeting with the technical people until I got past the HR roadblock first. They were going to make me come back on another occasion. I was going to have to make another 2-hour drive, and take off time for the second interview. I was already mentally making notes about how that company operated and whether I would be interested in working for a company that made things this painful. They were a fairly small company and behaved like they could afford to treat candidates like their time was worthless.
  4. The HR Person started her grilling, which is unusual. Usually, there are a few questions to see if you have any social skills and experience at interviewing then they get the basics of who you are, goals and interest, and they ask you about specifics that you may have left off the Resume. At first, I was impressed with an HR person doing their job and all that... but after an hour of asking me specifics about each of my jobs, in detail beyond what she should care about. I was growing a little weary. I know if I'm technically qualified, and if you can't figure it out in 15-20 minutes, you're not a competent interviewer.
  5. After a couple hours, it seemed to end well enough, they'd go through their candidates and see who made it to round #2. But I've gotten better about sensing stuff, something felt off. I was on all her technical questions, and background ones -- but she was trying to hard to find an excuse not to want to hire me.

Later, I found out through the recruiter that this HR person found some reason to blow me off; I'd left my previous position after only 3 1/2 years, so i was a flight risk. This was in California where some people jump tech jobs every 6 months. And at that particular job I'd outlasted 3 whole teams that had either quit (out of frustration) or been laid off as the company destroyed products (and their teams). The technical people never got to talk to me to see if I was qualified for the job because I'd been screened out. This was a position that they were looking to fill for months, and were looking for many months later (based on ads that kept running). I'm sure they were whining about "not enough qualified candidates"... and I agree. Only I think it was the HR person (or their policies) that was the candidate in question.

That is just one horror story or extreme example, but I've seen this a lot in my industry -- engineers talk and joke about bad human resources experiences. So it isn't like this experience is rare. Of course, not all HR (Talent) people are bad. But just like HR has a lot of horror stories about bad candidates, tech employees can tell you ones about bad HR/Talent folks or their moronic hiring policies. Both on the trying to get hired stage, or you're the technical manager wondering how the hell this unqualified, asocial waste-of-time got passed HR's screening.

Remember, you are interviewing a company as much as they are interviewing you. Think about whether you really want to work for this company -- even if you do need the job. Make sure that you are going to enjoy working for the company and are going to get along with the people (that is one of the most important things I look for). You can learn a lot about a company from the interview.


The point of all this is not to just rag on Human Resources - they have many jobs to do, and they try to do them well. I know their hearts are in the right place, but their heads just usually aren't up to the demands of finding qualified computer people, mainly because they aren't qualified computer people. I'm pretty convinced that most HR should have nothing to do with hiring other than explaining benefits - and we should put the responsibilities back on the hiring managers (where it belongs). Until that day (and when pigs fly), you should probably consider HR an obstacle to get around, and use headhunters, network with a lot of people in your industry, and learn how to become a Jr. Private investigator to get your Resume into the hands of the people that care.

Technical managers (low level management) seem to be not so bad, in many companies, but often high level management is doing stupid things like pushing schedules so aggressive that low-level managers can't afford to hire the many qualified candidates with a normal learning curve. Instead some will decide to hire no one, and use that as an excuse to cover their butts ("no one was qualified to do the job, so we missed our deadline"), or they will only hire the perfect person (which usually means consultant, who will tell you the same thing as the employees were telling you, for twice as much money). It is kind of sad, but Dilbert is life (in most companies).

The whole point is that there are plenty of qualified people out there, if companies think smart. I talk to plenty of people who know what they are doing, and could do a task if companies would give them a chance. Usually companies are more interested in filtering them out of the running because they don't have a piece of paper (degree), don't have enough experience (at that specific super narrow sub-niche), or they are too young, too old, too expensive, don't want to relocate them, and so on. The reason that companies have made up the "tech shortage" is so they have an excuse to outsource to foreign companies where they will work for food, or they can have an excuse to import people from those countries to work for food. I hope this makes you think next time you hear "there just aren't enough qualified technology people"

Written 1998.11.21