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Posted: April 04, 2012

The coming coder wars: Part two

What we can learn from the NYSE

Thomas Frey

(Editor's note: This is the second of two parts. Read Part one.)

The anticipated retirement of in-house talent and the coming shortage Cobol programmers were a primary drivers behind NYSE Euronext’s decision to reengineer 1 million lines of Cobol on a mainframe that ran the stock exchange’s post-trade systems. While Cobol was dependable, it wasn’t viewed as maintainable in the long run.

According to ComputerWorld:

“Steven Hirsch, chief architect and chief data officer at NYSE Euronext, cites the need to make changes very rapidly as another key reason the stock exchange abandoned Cobol. “Ultimately, the code was not easily changeable in terms of what the business needed to move forward. We were pushing the envelope of what it took to scale the Cobol environment,” he said.”

In a recent survey, nearly half (49 percent) of survey respondents whose organizations don’t use Cobol say the reason is that the language is simply outdated.

The Coming Talent Wars

Several factors are converging that will make the decades ahead fertile territory for software engineers.

First, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting a 22 percent increase in available tech jobs nationally by 2020. The demand for software services is already growing at a healthy clip.

Complicating these projections, many of the large corporations are beginning to contend with a retiring talent pool. Programmers well versed in the old languages, far more than just COBOL, are about to leave. In many cases, the cost of replacing the code after the resident talent leaves can be exponentially greater than when the in-house IT experts are still around.

Virtually every major industry will be conducting a code assessment over the next 2-3 years to determine whether the old code is worth saving. Every time a decision is made to “re-do everything,” either the company or its IT arm, will undergo a massive hiring surge.

In addition to everything else, mobile apps and mobile startups are becoming the new gold rush. A high percentage of existing programmers are ready to jump ship and start their own business when the conditions are right.

Young people today have demonstrated time and again that they are far more interested in launching their own business than they are in buying a house. And the business of choice invariably will involve a web operation or two.

Every startup in the tech world only increases the demand for additional coders. This becomes an incessant driver, one without enough talent in the pipeline.

Some projections are showing that over half of all programming jobs in 2020 will go unfilled.

The Genesis of DaVinci Coders

In looking over the opportunity landscape, we found a dearth of beginner-based training. People wanting to enter the programming field are left with the options of either going to a traditional college or learning on their own.

Since most people don’t have 4-5 years and $80-$100K to make the transition, or even 2 years and less money in the case of technical schools, traditional education is not a viable option.

On the other end of the spectrum, self-study programs that have recently become widely available and free, only appeal to the narrow spectrum of extremely self-motivated individuals.

Neither of these options does a good job of integrating students into the working life of coders by networking them into local companies or communities.

The best example of doing it right was Code Academy in Chicago started by Neal Sales-Griffin and Mike McGee in 2011. Starting their first class in August of last year, Code Academy focused in on people who are passionate and driven. With three times the number of applicants as to what they could handle, they found they had drilled into a deep and untapped opportunity.

Patterning our curriculum closely after what Code Academy is doing in Chicago, DaVinci Coders will be offering a full-immersion program based on an 11-week course with 10-hours per week of actual classroom instruction with homework and group projects filling virtually all of the non-classroom time.

Each class will be limited to 16 students. When they’re not in class, students will have their own pass code to use the adjacent coworking facilities inside the DaVinci Institute 24/7.

Students will each be assigned an industry mentor who will meet one-on-one with the students to answer questions and help integrate them into and familiarize them with the programming world at large.

The cost of this full-immersion program is $6,000. The first set of classes will begin on June 4, 2012.

Final Thoughts

With over 2,500 existing computer languages competing for mind share, we will naturally see the vast majority of them go away over the coming decade, with little more than a footnote in the tech history books to note their existence. However, the coding debris left behind will have to be dealt with in some fashion.

While the owners of this code see it as a problem, many others see it as a golden opportunity. Stale operating systems that were painful at best to make changes to, can now be rewritten in a vibrant language with interactive feature that allow them to move into the mobile spaces and social networking environments.

The number of coders and IT professionals will have to grow dramatically to meet the demand over the coming years. Already one of the highest paid professions in the country, programmer salaries are destined to climb much higher as skilled talent will be in short supply for decades to come.

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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