The data on software jobs

Programmers, database administrators, going down. Everybody else, up.

Published February 24, 2006 12:39AM (EST)

Some interesting numbers can be found at the end of Chapter 1 of the Association of Computing Machinery's extensive investigation of the impact of offshoring on the information technology industry, "Globalization and the Offshoring of Software."

Drawing from research conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, two separate tables break down the raw numbers of IT jobs in various categories and their associated average wages from 1999-2004. In sum, the numbers indicate that in May 2004, there were 3,081,680 total IT jobs (not including computer hardware engineers) compared to 2,627,850 in 1999. Over the same period, mean annual wages grew by around 4 percent.

But although most categories of software jobs saw growth, two sub-specialties did not: The totals for computer programmers and database administrators are well off their dot-com boom peaks.

No matter whether you think the numbers are big or small, they do appear to fly in the face of reports of a wholesale collapse of the U.S. software industry in the face of rampant offshoring. And they are in sharp contrast to the comments of software engineers frequently posted on Salon. Does that explain the plaintiveness expressed by David Patterson, president of the ACM, in last September's Communications of the ACM when, commenting on the same numbers, he wrote, "Moreover, most of us believe things have gotten much better in the year since the [BLS] survey was completed. Does anyone besides me know that U.S. IT employment was 17 percent higher than in 1999 -- 5 percent higher than the bubble in 2000 and showing an 8 percent growth in the most recent year -- and that the compound annual growth rate of IT wages has been about 4 percent since 1999 while inflation has been just 2 percent per year? Such growth rates swamp predictions of the outsourcing job loss in the U.S., which most studies estimate to be 2 percent to 3 percent per year for the next decade."

The ACM report, which is by far the most exhaustive look at offshoring in the software industry that I have seen, is by no means complacent about these numbers. There are a vast number of disparate factors pushing the globalization of the software industry, and staying competitively afloat through the changes to come is going to take some nimble footwork. But at least judging by the raw numbers, globalization hasn't eviscerated the American software industry, yet.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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