The Market for Computing Careers

So you are a student interested in a career in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). What is the job market going to be like when you graduate?

Predicting the future is always challenging, but when it comes to forecasting the U.S. job market, most people look to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (US-BLS). Every two years, the US-BLS produces two sets of employment projections for the coming decade:

  • New Jobs -- jobs that did not exist before, representing economic growth; and
  • Total Jobs -- new jobs plus job openings to replace people who have retired.

By both of these US-BLS projections, computing will be the safest STEM career options for the foreseeable future. The following table presents two charts of these US-BLS projections through the year 2024 for side-by-side comparison. The left chart presents their New Jobs projections and the right chart presents their Total Jobs projections:

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the four fastest
              growing STEM jobs between now and 2024 are all in computing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the four
              STEM jobs with the most openings between now and 2024 are all in computing.

(Click on either chart for a larger image.)

As you can see from the chart on the left, the US government predicts that the four top STEM jobs with the most growth will all be in computing. No other area is expected to generate even 4000 new jobs per year.

By contrast, the US-BLS predicts there will be nearly 20,000 new software development jobs, nearly 12,000 new systems analysts jobs, over 8,000 new computing support jobs, and over 4,000 network/system administration jobs.

The chart on the right shows that even when retiree replacements are considered, the top four careers with the most job opportunities remain the same: software development, systems analysts, computing support, and network/systems administration. The chart on the right does indicate that there will be some jobs in non-computing STEM areas; most of those jobs will be replacing retiring baby boomers, not new jobs created by economic growth.

If we aggregate these US-BLS projections to see the number of jobs per year in each STEM area, we get the following charts:

The U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts that between now and 2024, 
             the vast majority the new STEM jobs will be in computing

The U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts that between now and 2024, 
             the vast majority of the total STEM jobs will be in computing

(Click on either chart for a larger image.)

If we take those numbers and represent them as percentages of all STEM job opportunities, we get the following two charts:

The U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts that between now and 2024, 
             76% of the new STEM jobs will be computing jobs

The U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts that between now and 2024, 
             58% of all STEM jobs will be computing jobs

(Click on either chart for a larger image.)

For the foreseeable future of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics jobs in the US, more 3 out of 4 new job openings and nearly 3 out of 5 total job openings are going to be in computing! It is worth mentioning that this is not a fluke -- all of these numbers are fairly consistent with those from two and four years ago.

What kind of "computing" careers are these? The bar-chart to the right of each pie-chart breaks down the "computing" job openings into the different career categories, and shows the variety of careers that are available for students who study computing. As can be seen in the chart on the left, the US-BLS is predicting that 31% of the new STEM jobs will be in software development (aka software engineering) alone as compared to 11% in the combined branches of traditional engineering! With respect to total jobs, the chart on the right predicts that there will be nearly as many openings in software development as there will be in all the branches of traditional engineering combined.

Why will there be so many software development/engineering jobs? We see two main reasons:

  • One reason is the mobile computing market. It used to be that every company wanted a website (and they still do), creating demand for web developers. But today, most companies also want native apps for the iPhone and iPad (which run Apple's iOS operating system) and for all the phones and tablets running Google's Android operating system, creating a huge demand for software developers.

  • Another reason is that manufacturers are increasingly embedding computers into appliances like refridgerators, ovens, water heaters, and so on; creating the so-called Internet of Things. All of these embedded computers will require software to do anything useful, creating even more demand for software developers. These computers will send data across the Internet, and this data will be stored in databases, creating demand for networking professionals and database administrators. When things go wrong, people will need technical support, creating demand for support specialists. Together, these are creating a huge demand for people with advanced computing skills, especially in software development.

Note that basic computer literacy (i.e., knowing your way around Microsoft Windows, Word, Excel, or Powerpoint) or CAD-design skills will not qualify you for one of these jobs. Most of these jobs require advanced computing skills that you will only gain by studying computer science, information systems, and/or software engineering.

In his 1993 book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell argued that anyone who practices a skill for 10,000 hours can master that skill. If that is true, then it follows that if (for example) you want to prepare yourself for one of those numerous careers in software development, your best strategy is to choose a college major that will give you lots of practice actually developing software.

More generally, the US-BLS projections tell us that most of the STEM careers are going to be in computing. If you want to maximize your chances of success in one of these careers, choose a computing-related major that provides lots of hands-on practice in that area.

However, employers also place high value on communication, collegiality, being able to work in groups, and other "soft" skills. To maximize your career opportunities, choose a college or university that will help you develop these skills. A liberal arts education is especially good at this.

The Takeaway

In the 21st century, computing technology (especially software) affects more and more of our day-to-day lives, and people are needed to create and maintain that technology.

If you want the best possible preparation for the vast majority of tomorrow's STEM careers, the smart move is to major in a computing-related discipline (computer science, information systems, and/or software engineering) at a college or university that will also help you develop your "people skills".


To prepare students for this century, Calvin's Department of Computer Science offers:

all in the context of a comprehensive liberal arts education.

If God has gifted you with creative, logical, and/or quantitative abilities, He may be calling you to a career in computing. We invite you to join us -- we will do everything we can to help you explore that calling and develop your gifts.