Give Me Your Techies

In this world of low inflation, deregulation, and global competition, there are no shortages of natural resources. Except one that's generally overlooked: computer-programming brainpower. As the Information Revolution unfolds in the U.S. and around the globe, its most vital resource is surprisingly scarce. In the U.S. alone, some 190,000 high-tech jobs are unfilled. Most of them are for programmers--those folks who laboriously write code for everything from computer software to cellular phones.

It once seemed as though India, which graduates 50,000 programmers a year from technical schools and universities--twice the U.S. total--would fill the global gap. But the labor supply isn't large enough. Other countries known for high-tech talent, such as Israel, Ireland, and Sri Lanka, can provide only scant relief. Still other possible sources are problematic: Few of Russia's programmers speak English or understand business applications, while China's programmers are expected to stay put and work on their country's massive development projects over the next decade.

There's a competitive opportunity here for companies, schools, and indeed for nations, if they are quick to recognize the problem. Giant corporations such as Microsoft Corp. are already busy training truckloads of programmers and developing curriculums for 350 schools and colleges to train programmers. In Europe and Asia, schools and governments could devote more financial resources to training people in computer science, with an eye toward not only enhancing local industry's prospects, but making their labor pools more attractive to multinationals.

Is anything apt to slow demand? Well, it's possible that after programmers help corporations and government prepare for the year 2000, their services will be less in demand. And it's also possible that one day there will be an industry-shaking breakthrough, such as a development in object-oriented programming that may create replicable chunks of software and so reduce the need for new brainpower. But odds are that it will be a long time before there's a global oversupply of this most vital of resources of the information age.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.