ACT’s membership has over 5,000 small business app companies who are active advocates expressing concerns felt within the industry. They regularly come to Washington to meet with lawmakers and regulators to convey these views. Although the issues change over time there is one concern that remains constant. The lack of well-trained software developers.
Traveling to developer conferences around the country, the refrain we always hear is “we’re hiring.” There is a shortage of developers in America and companies are having to go to great lengths to find people to fill these high paying jobs.
Take mobile gaming company GREE. TechCrunch posted this photo of a billboard (one of three) they posted advertising jobs alongside a highway in California. They seeking to hire 100 new developers by the end of the year.
Our members come to Washington to seek help finding new talent. The problem is our nation’s education system isn’t producing enough students with the necessary math and science skills to pursue engineering degrees. We also aren’t educating students in computer programming skills.
The answer has been a renewed focus on STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math). Advocates have been seeking more resources for training teachers to bring these skills to young students. The president announced an initiative two years ago enlisting the support of CEOs and sought help from the media to create content to make math and science appealing.
Unfortunately, Washington has been unable to get this train started. Last week, the House vote on STEM education failed. It attracted a large majority, but two-thirds support was needed for passage. Scores of other proposals have emerged in the aftermath, but we are still waiting for results.
Enter Ryan Seashore. While efforts at the federal level have sputtered or stalled over the past two years, he has made it his personal crusade to tackle this issue. With a degree in communications and marketing, Ryan was on a career path to promote brands and services, but he became fascinated with the online economy. He believed those who could program possessed the power to affect great change.
After an exhaustive search, Ryan couldn’t find any suitable places to learn these skills. Frustrated, he reached out to teachers and students at area schools he found they and didn’t have these opportunities either.
Clearly there was an unmet need and in February 2011, Ryan founded a nonprofit called CodeNow to change that. Through tireless networking and pitches to VCs, CEOs, and small foundations, he was able to raise enough funds to launch a program that provides computer programming training for public schoolchildren whose schools don’t offer these classes.
Ryan likes to say that through CodeNow’s efforts, “We’re encouraging kids to look under the hood of technology to show that they can be builders.”
CodeNow programs provide applicants weekend training in basic programming, assigns online homework, and then hosts a boot camp for those who complete the coursework. Students receive a netbook upon completion of all their training and coursework. The program operates in Washington, DC and serves as a reminder to legislators what more investment can achieve.
Big companies are also making contributions. Microsoft last week launched its YouthSpark initiative, committing over $500 million to programs seeking to bridge the youth opportunity gap of which access to programming education is a big part. The company’s general counsel, Brad Smith, will speaking in Washington about STEM education and the opportunities this new project will bring at a Brookings Institution briefing this afternoon.
We are seeing industry and nonprofits make solid contributions to improve programming opportunities for schoolchildren. These are the future developers and entrepreneurs our country needs to stay competitive. Hopefully, Congress will soon respond to the call and make STEM funding a priority.