The Developer Shortage Crisis Could Devastate The Tech Workforce. Here's Why (and How) Leaders Should Act Now. The talent is out there, but it is on us to nurture it.
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If you work in technology, you've likely seen the headlines bemoaning the ongoing developer shortage. Demand for skilled developers has increased steadily over the last few years, but the supply has failed to keep up. The International Data Corporation (IDC) has predicted a global shortfall of four million developers by 2025. If we don't act now, the global talent shortage could result in approximately $8.5 trillion in unrealized annual revenues by 2030.
So what can we do about it?
Recently, I attended the SXSW festival in Austin and led a panel with industry leaders from Salesforce, Morgan Stanley and Estée Lauder to address this question. Throughout the conversation, it became clear that our solutions must go beyond establishing a more robust job fair at the top universities. To tackle the developer shortage, the entire industry must undergo a paradigm shift, prioritizing diversity, education and policy to realize change and secure the future of all tech-enabled businesses. ChatGPT will only take us so far.
Tap into new pools of talent
Tech has primarily pulled candidates from the same finite talent pool for decades. The problem is that this pool does not reflect the diversity of the world around us. 62% of all tech workers are white, and 75% are male. Relying on this extremely limited and homogenous source of talent has put the industry in a bind. Companies are unable to fill open positions, yet, there are large groups of people who have been shut out of the industry. What would the developer shortage look like if we enlarged our talent pools to better include women, people of color, global workers, people with disabilities and formerly incarcerated people?
We cannot continue returning to the same empty pot and expect gold to suddenly appear. We cannot expect to find 4 million new developers by 2025 from the same pool.
As leaders, we need to consider groups we may have dismissed due to old biases and ask ourselves, "How can we tap into new pools of talent?"
Related: 4 Reasons Low-Code Tools Will Never Replace Software Developers
Utilize non-traditional methods
Fostering a new generation of developers means organizations must implement non-traditional methods to identify and attract talent.
First, look at your job descriptions — are they accessible to those with unconventional backgrounds? Do away with degree requirements and develop job descriptions that focus less on credentials and more on the skills necessary to succeed in the role. Furthermore, train hiring managers and recruiters to untangle their biases and identify transferable skills in a candidate's application.
Skills can be taught, but passion and creativity are much harder to come by. One can typically upskill an employee in weeks or months, but changing someone's behavior will take years at best. Don't allow erroneous requirements like a four-year degree to get in the way of hiring someone who could bring a vital perspective to your team.
We should also consider how we can adapt our workflows to drive inclusion and belonging. For example, the prevalence of remote work has opened up many opportunities for those living with a physical disability. Pre-pandemic, many workplaces wouldn't consider an applicant if they couldn't come to the office. Moving forward, we must educate ourselves on other areas of our work that might be unwittingly exclusionary and adapt accordingly so all have the chance to contribute. It takes leadership and teams a lot of learning to properly include everyone.
Related: How Software Developer Freelancers are Filling the Skill Gap
Nurture the talent pool
If we only look for talent when we need them, we will likely default to old biases and hire the first developer that checks all our boxes. The onus is on organizations to actively build and nurture an expanded talent pool through education, training and support.
Organizations must invest in STEM education outside the traditional and expensive four-year degree. What can we be doing as companies to expand access to tech education and accreditation? At Salesforce, they partner with schools to provide access to computers and coding classes to bring tech to students early in their learning journey. There are also programs like Microsoft's Accelerate, which provides free courses and resources to underserved communities to equip them with the necessary skills to participate in the tech sector.
Still, education alone is not enough. My company recently partnered with a non-profit and a higher education institution in Brazil to help underserved communities access tech jobs. Although these students had completed their computer science degree — while holding a full-time job in another area —many still didn't feel confident applying for a job in tech or even creating a Linkedin profile. We quickly realized it was essential to build a bridge from the hard skills learned in class to the soft skills they need to get a job, including networking, interviewing and seeking out opportunities. Gaining the credential is one thing, but if a person doesn't know how to use it in the job market, they won't get far.
During the question portion of the panel, a student and young entrepreneur asked how companies can incentivize and publicize developer boot camps for young people. He suggested focusing on community-centered approaches — going into underserved communities and providing educational resources. We shouldn't expect people to come to us, we have to make the effort to reach out to them.
It's on us to create holistic solutions along every step of the pipeline, providing the necessary structure, support, and emotional safety for marginalized groups to confidently apply for tech jobs.
Related: Why Low-Code Platforms Are the Developer Shortage Solution People Aren't Talking About
Act as an ecosystem
There's a visibility gap, not a talent gap in the developer industry. Finding non-traditional and creative approaches to identify and evaluate talent is how we can help our companies see the talent they may think is lacking.
We must find solutions that help foster and develop talent from its earliest stages and connect more into initiatives with nonprofit organizations working with underserved communities to create solutions that work for them and with them.
Most importantly, we will all fail if we compete to develop talent. The challenge at hand requires us to scale and to scale properly. We must work together to build an ecosystem with partners across industries — even those we may consider competitors.