Not Sure I Buy Into Science and Engineering Jobs “Losing Ground”

I read an article today that was published in yesterday’s San Jose Mercury News Business Section written by columnist Chris O’Brien entitled, “Key Job Sector Losing Ground,” describing how growth in science and engineering jobs over the past decade has remained flat relative to previous decades, and kind of being a doomsayer in that that flatness may have an effect on innovation. He does quote a researcher that said that perhaps that flat growth means a lack of demand for science and engineering jobs. Being in software engineering, I would tend to agree with that assessment. But I disagree that that flatness may lead to the possible constriction of innovation.

I think that the flatness is actually a correction of the excesses of the dot-bomb era. Even in 2007, there was a minor uptick in the technology sector, and several companies, including my former company, SuccessFactors, added LOTS of engineers in a very short period of time. Unfortunately, during a boom period, especially in technology, the focus tends to be on putting “butts in seats” quickly as opposed to getting the right butts in the right seats. I saw that at SuccessFactors, where we added lots of really mediocre engineers to our software development team. Most of these “engineers” were the typical, “code-first-think-later” code-monkey types. As a result, in 2008 when the economy soured, the company had to shed that excess and frankly, unneeded baggage.

I’m probably sounding a bit crass and elitist, but honestly, I truly believe that what’s happening with the technology job growth, especially here in Silicon Valley has more to do with companies being careful about choosing the right people to fill their employment needs, and choosing only those whom they feel will take them to the next level.

People talk about jobs being shifted off-shore. To me, it’s natural that they’d go there. Think about the jobs being shifted off-shore. I don’t think I’d be too far off the mark in saying that those are jobs that tend to be more maintenance and production-level types of jobs. The real innovation stays here. Even with my previous company SuccessFactors, despite senior management constantly saying that our engineering group was “global,” and always tried to blur the lines between domestic and offshore development, in reality, all the innovative work took place here in the States; and even new product development offshore followed the models and innovation established domestically. Plus their designs were always subject to approval from the US-based team. So in consideration of that, to me, this “flatness” is not really flatness. I believe it’s shedding the production and maintenance workers, and distilling down to a workforce of innovators here in Silicon Valley.

Call me insensitive, but as opposed to Mr. O’Brien, I’m in the industry, and have experienced the growth and decline of job number from behind the lines. Yes, I realize that I’m opining, but it’s not uneducated and not without experience in the sector.


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