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 risky, but when it comes to forecasting the U.S. labor 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 previously, representing economic growth; and
  • Total Job Openings -- 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 2026 for side-by-side comparison. The left chart presents the US-BLS New Jobs projections and the right chart presents their Total Job Openings projections:

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the three fastest
              growing STEM jobs between now and 2026 are all in computing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the four
              STEM jobs with the most openings between now and 2026 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 three top STEM jobs in terms of growth will all be in computing.

By contrast, the US-BLS predicts there will be nearly 30,000 new software development jobs, over 8,000 new computing support jobs, and over 5,000 new systems analysts jobs. No other area is expected to generate even 4000 new jobs per year.

The chart on the right paints an even better the picture when retiree replacements are considered: the top four STEM careers with the most job opportunities are: software development, systems analysts, computing support, and network/systems administration.

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 2026, 
             the vast majority the new STEM jobs will be in computing

The U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts that between now and 2026, 
             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 2026, 
             almost 69% of the new STEM jobs will be computing jobs

The U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts that between now and 2026, 
             63% 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 than 3 out of 5 of the 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, four, and six 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 37.6% of the new STEM jobs will be in software development (aka software engineering) alone as compared to 17.4% in the combined branches of traditional engineering! With respect to total job openings, the chart on the right predicts that there will be more openings in software development than 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; this is 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.

The Competition

When you are trying to get a job, a major consideration is how much competition is there for the job? To provide some insight into this question, our final chart compares the US-BLS projects for Total Job Openings in the various STEM areas against the most recent (2015) National Science Foundation data for the number of bachelors degrees being awarded in those areas:

The U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts that between now and 2026, 
      computing and engineering are the only two STEM areas with more jobs than grads.

(Click on either chart for a larger image.)

As can readily be seen above, there are two STEM fields in which the market is badly skewed:

  • Computing, where there are far more job openings than college graduates to fill them. (The projected openings/grads ratio is 5.76!) So long as this demand continues to exceed the supply, the level of competition for computing jobs should be relatively low.
  • Life Sciences, where there are far more college graduates than there are job openings. (The projected openings/grads ratio is 0.09! Hopefully some of those students will end up in the health sector, where there are better job prospects.)

Preparing for a Career

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 predict 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 "people" 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 helping you develop these skills, specifically: writing, speaking, and giving presentations for non-technical audiences.

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's careers, 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.