Software engineers: the market

Excluding multimedia, what’s the market like for digital professionals at the moment? ‘It’s no secret that “data scientist” is one of the hottest job titles going,’ says Donald Fischer, writing in TechCrunch. Data science was once ‘a rarefied in-house role’ at major internet companies like PayPal and LinkedIn, but is now ‘a global phenomenon, impacting organizations of all sizes across many industries.’ More recently, for Fischer, ‘a buzzy new job title has emerged from the same group of companies: that of site reliability engineer, or SRE. Will SREs follow the same path of rapid growth that data scientists did before them?’

If so, then the reason this will happen is the rise of the stack. ‘Traditional corporate data center techniques simply would not efficiently scale up to the level that is required to run a global service like Google or Facebook. Instead, these companies have had to innovate at all layers of the technology stack, from hardware to networking to applications.’ This means site reliability becomes a critical link in your chain. ‘The SRE concept has been embraced by other major Internet companies, including Dropbox, Airbnb, Netflix and many more. Job listings site Indeed now lists hundreds of SRE positions. The SRE community now even has its own conference, dubbed SREcon,’ Fischer says. He quotes Andrew Widdowson, an SRE at Google, comparing the discipline with competitive auto sports. ‘Our work is like being a part of the world’s most intense pit crew. We change the tires of a race car as it’s going 100mph.’

Fischer offers the example of ‘a contemporary multi-channel ecommerce application. A typical modern system might be comprised of core business logic implemented in Scala, linked to a legacy off-the-shelf Java order management system, backed by multiple transactional databases (say, both MongoDB and Oracle), fronted by a Node.js API tier.’

Four steps forward

‘The first demand of colleges is getting their graduates job-ready,’ says David Pistner, Director of Energy Initiatives, Pennsylvania College of Technology. ‘Higher education institutions often… face a range of questions when it comes to student job placement: in what industrial sectors do we have a competitive advantage? In what areas do we want to promote growth? Is there a middle skills deficiency? What skills do we need to develop in order to realize these goals?’

Applied technology colleges can often answer these questions. So there is a call for traditional universities to address this. ‘The environment in which we live and work is rapidly changing, Pistner says. ‘Both employers and students are demanding greater flexibility from educational providers to accommodate often-conflicting influences on how we live and conduct business.’ The successful applied-technology college ‘stays relevant in this dynamic environment by evolving and reinventing how education is delivered.’

Pistner outlines four ways in which this can happen:

Innovative educational delivery methods. ‘Develop and embrace non-traditional methods to deliver material.’ Essentially, this is the blended approach we have been discussing: online, classroom and practical training, courses outside work hours, flexible options that suit the individual.

Workforce development board partnerships. ‘Actively engage and partner with […] local workforce development boards and one-stop career centers. These relationships will provide information about the skills needed by employers and aid in fulfilling the critical role of connecting employers with well-trained candidates.’

Strong employer relationships. ‘Develop healthy relationships with area employers.’ This means discussing future growth opportunities and asking the right questions — what new technology or service is needed to realise the growth? What skill sets are necessary to deliver the service? What skill sets are missing in candidates or the incumbent workforce, and how do we offer the right courses to fix that? ‘It is easy for these college-employer discussions to become routine exercises with little generation of innovative ideas,’ Pistner says. ‘Both parties need to energize these conversations, push topics, seek answers, and hold each other accountable to achieve their shared goals.’

Collaborative mindsets. ‘Come to the table with [your] economic partners to address the training and education needed to help that region attain its economic goals for retention, recruitment, incubation of jobs, and to show which existing industries have promise for cultivating growth and regionally diversifying the economic base.’

What’s the key out-take from this? For Robert McGuire, writing in The Evolllution, ‘the smarter play for universities may be to not respond to certain demands from their students. Since new aftermarket providers are doing what universities can’t, universities should refocus on what they do best and what no one else can.’ A progressive university offering blended solutions is unlikely to agree with this — surely universities should square up to what needs to be done, not hold their hands up and say, this isn’t our core business?

There are arguments in favour of both sides of the debate — leave bootcamps to do what they do best, and let universities focus on more traditionally academic approaches? The problem with this is that universities leave themselves open to dissatisfaction from students. And the likely conclusion is that the disruptive providers continue to erode territory that was once the exclusive preserve of universities. It will be fascinating to see how it turns out over the next three to five years.