Duke professor Vivek Wadhwa has research that shows that there’s no shortage of IT skills on the job market, in spite of the assertions of executives and analysts. Some other researchers agree:

“No one who has come to the question with an open mind has been able to find any objective data suggesting general ‘shortages’ of scientists and engineers,” said Dr. Michael Teitelbaum, vice president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, in testimony to Congress last fall. “The RAND Corporation has conducted several studies of this subject; its conclusions go further than my summary above, saying that not only could they not find any evidence of shortages, but that instead the evidence is more suggestive of surpluses.”

Dr. Ron Hira agrees there is no shortage of skilled IT workers. In his capacity as a professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, a fellow at the Economic Policy Institute and co-author of the book Outsourcing America, he has pored through Bureau of Labor Statistics data and university graduation rates and found that the United States has consistently graduated more than enough computer scientists and engineers to fill the IT jobs available in the country. Similarly, there he has seen no in unemployment rates to indicate any kind of IT worker shortage

The researchers do have a point in saying that wages don’t appear to reflect a shortage:

“It doesn’t add up,” Wadhwa said. “We live in a free economy. If we were sitting in a government controlled economy it would be one thing, but in a free economy what happens is that when shortages begin to develop is that prices rise and the money compensates for the shortage.”

On the other hand, what I’ll say based on personal experience is that it is very difficult to find competent software developers. I have had the opportunity to participate in the hiring of a number of developers over the years, and it has never been easy to hire developers that I actually want to work with. In 2003, when I had a hard time finding a job and when a lot of people were out of work, it took a very long time to find a solid Java developer to join the team where I worked. We went through at least 100 applicants and interviewed 10 or 20 people before we found someone qualified to do the work — straightforward Java Web application development.

It hasn’t gotten any easier. So I’m not sure what to think about these kinds of articles. The market is complex, but from where I sit, there’s an acute shortage of really solid programmers. I’d say the same for software testers and systems administrators as well. There are a lot of people out there who claim to be able to do those jobs, and who have experience in those fields, but they’re not actually any good at what they do.

We live in this sort of bizarre world where the market looks very inefficient from up close. Salaries seem to indicate that there’s no shortage of talent, but at the same time it’s very difficult to find and hire talented people. Salaries do not tend to vary greatly based on talent, either. Theoretically the most talented programmers are working at companies with stock options that are increasing in value, but I’d be shocked to find that the best developers at Google or Apple make much more money than the worst developers, given equivalent experience. Maybe the academics need to do more research.