We’re All on the Strugglebus Here
2006: Zero iPhones in circulation.
2017: Nearly one billion iPhones in circulation.
When in history has a single device triggered the growth of an entirely new economy in such a short amount of time, to the tune of trillions of dollars?
The rapid proliferation of the iPhone, and mobile economy at large, have fundamentally changed how we do business. Digital deliverables that didn’t exist last decade are now table stakes for every enterprise corporation. Entirely new programming languages have emerged. (You could even argue that the iPhone’s growth is responsible for the rising demand for additional mobile platforms, most notably Android.)
But talent supply has struggled to keep up with demand. There just aren’t enough developers to build the apps that mobile users want. Developer education is lacking in K-12 and higher education institutions, and there’s still a sizable group of people who think coding is for “nerds” or “tech wizards.”
Apple and other mega-corporations are working hard to solve these and other issues, but many enterprise IT leaders are left spinning their wheels. They’re struggling to deliver mobile apps and mobile-responsive websites to engage prospects, customers, partners, and employees — on iPhones, and every other device.
You’re probably feeling the pain, too.
They’re Coming. Who Will Build it?
IDG’s 2017 State of the CIO survey revealed that, in 2017, 60% of CIOs (you know, the people who tend to hire developers) encountered a skill shortage (up from 49% in 2016). 17% specifically identified “application development” as a problem area.
In plainspeak? Corporations need apps. Corporations need people to build apps. Not enough people have the skills to do it.
It’s not like enterprises aren’t trying; 78% [rightly] believe that shifting to a software-driven business model will be a critical driver of competitive advantage. You get that there’s a mobile mandate.
Yet despite their best intentions, they are not successfully executing on plans to satisfy the worldwide appetite for all things mobile. In 2015, Gartner predicted that enterprise demand for mobile apps would fall short of capacity by a factor of 500%.
That means that for every five mobile apps audiences want, enterprises only have the organizational capacity to build one of them — due to the shortage of developer talent.
Smash cut to 2017, when Gartner reported that over one-quarter of enterprises haven’t built, customized, or virtualized a single app in the last 12 months. A top contributing factor? “Skill gap,” as cited in the research.
At meltmedia, we feel the problem acutely on two fronts: recruiting talent for our own organization, and working with enterprise corporations who lack the internal talent to develop mobile apps and enable mobile functionality for browser-based content.
Where Are All the Developers?
In terms of technical talent, traditional educational models are failing us. Four-year college and university programs can’t produce graduates with the skills to develop apps at the pace your enterprise demands.
Remember Bill Gates? Here’s what he had to say about it:
I am terrified for [the United States] workforce of tomorrow.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Innovative models are emerging to address the gap. Code camps, online educational resources, and technology-focused professional programs are cropping up everywhere; self-reported industry data indicates that code camp enrollment grew over 10x from 2013 to 2017.
Witness exhibit one: Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak recently announced the launch of WozU, a personalized approach to coding and tech education designed to get students through curriculum faster to accelerate their careers (based right here in our home state of Arizona).
David Dodge, another Arizona local, co-founded CodaKid, an online kids coding academy and tech camp, to help develop the workforce it will take to deliver on the demand for technical talent “More and more parents are realizing that coding is an essential 21st century literacy that will be as important as math and science in tomorrow’s world. At CodaKid, we are training a new generation of students who are coding their own games and apps using professional languages by the time they enter middle school. If they keep developing at this pace, many of them will become career-ready by the end of high school which will open up a range of options, including jumping directly into the labor force.”
Changing Things Swift-ly
Apple wants to accelerate the success that alternative educational models have started to gain.
Their Everyone Can Code initiative is a multi-pronged approach to solving the technology talent gap. Through apps, online courses, e-books, forums, educational partnerships, and more, they’re striving to bring today’s workforce up to speed on Swift (Apple’s proprietary programming language). People as young as five and into their 80s are utilizing Apple’s free materials to learn how to develop apps.
In May 2017, Apple launched a one-year app development curriculum at six community colleges in the United States. The first to offer credit for the program was Arizona’s own Maricopa Community Colleges, the country’s largest community college system. In November 2017, Apple announced the program's global expansion to more than 20 colleges and universities outside the United States.
That’s Nice, Anthony. But What Can I Do?
You don’t need to be a Fortune 5 corporation to help address this issue.
Organizations large, medium, and small have begun to recognize the value of innovative talent development strategies to meet the demand for mobile apps — and the developers who can build them.
Aligning yourself to efforts like Everyone Can Code produces results surprisingly quickly. There are two ways that organizations are successfully getting involved:
1. Influence the Curriculum
Educational institutions are highly motivated to place graduates in jobs. Companies are desperate for qualified talent. Can you see where I’m going with this?
Community colleges and professional programs are eager for your input. After 3 years of involvement in these programs, we can attest to this.
There is a huge opportunity for you as a hiring organization to partner with these institutions to influence curriculum. The only investment required? Your time and expertise. Contributing as a guest speaker or strategic consultant to professors developing curricula puts your organization’s needs front and center when it comes to developing the talent you need to deliver mobile experiences.
Personally, functioning in this capacity has proven to be tremendously rewarding to me. In addition to joining the South Mountain Community College Board, I’ve had the privilege of serving as a speaker at Apple’s Everyone Can Code launch events, chairman of Arizona State University’s graphic information technology program industry advisory board, computer science curriculum advisor for University of Advancing Technology, and partner to Maricopa Corporate College’s web dev bootcamp.
I’m not alone. Justin Grossman, CEO of meltmedia, is currently working to develop a course on tech entrepreneurship and digital marketing at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business. And several of our meltmedia employees share the passion for involvement, participating in everything from code camps to professional education programs to student mentorship.
In addition to the organizational benefits of helping shape the talent we’ll be hiring in the short and long terms, employees at every level find it personally rewarding to build our networks and expand our thought leadership. If, like many senior leaders, you find yourself overcommitted, consider delegating to a more junior team member. They’ll benefit from building their influence in the industry, and you’ll benefit from having the ear of the institutions developing the talent you’ll need in short order to deliver on your mobile strategy.
Mere representation of your company at educational institutions can go a long way. If you’ve got the time to participate in an industry advisory board, that’s fantastic. If you don’t, there’s still plenty of opportunity to work with the staff in charge of keeping curricula relevant to where the industry is going. Remember that the job of a school is to prepare people for the market. You are part of the market. Use that leverage to shape the talent you need and get your brand in front of them.
2. Rethink Talent Acquisition Strategy
It’s truly amazing what people can learn on their own through self-guided education or 12-week boot camps, but without the right mentorship and meaningful exposure to relevant peripheral topics, you can end up hiring someone with deep technical knowledge in overly specific domains. By requiring elective topics alongside science and math prerequisites, we’ve found college graduates to have expertise across a broader range topics. Unfortunately, it’s a two-to-five-year process for graduation and getting to job-readiness.
That said, the urgency and pressure to execute digital priorities in support of this year’s organizational goals is real.
Sourcing talent from nontraditional programs might seem like a gamble, but with technology leaders helping shape curriculum (see: “Influence the Curriculum”), there are plenty of motivated, high-quality graduates on the market. With proper training and mentorship, they can quickly add value to your team’s efforts.
If you’re wondering whether focused, short-term courses are sufficient to developing the level of talent you need, keep in mind that many of these programs are ongoing; an 8-week course doesn’t position a student for senior-level work, but they’ll likely grow their skill set with continued enrollment. Those eight weeks are where the seeds of interest in software development are sown and you have an opportunity to hire someone at a low hourly rate, train them up, and turn them into a senior five years later. (At meltmedia, there are several developers who started out as $12/hour interns now leading teams in senior-level positions.)
Apple, for example, is planning to add additional courses to the Maricopa County program. A student who has completed the first portion of the program will likely remain enrolled and build their skill set alongside their contributions to your organization.
In Closing (the Talent Gap)
I don’t want to oversimplify the problem; there are no magic bullets to closing the talent gap.
There are, however, steps you can take today that will put your organization at a competitive advantage in terms of developing, sourcing, and growing your technical talent. Whether you’re $200-billion company or a $1 million company, your customers are hungry for a better digital experience. You’re hungry for the resources to deliver it.
What are you going to do about it?