This week, ACT | The App Association member companies came to Washington, D.C. for AppCon – our annual conference on the app economy. For three days, attendees heard from Congressional leaders, the U.S. Trade Representative, and industry experts on the biggest issues impacting the internet economy. They shared their stories in over 125 meetings with their elected representatives in Congress and officials from federal agencies.

This diverse  group of attendees provide mobile solutions for consumers ranging from App Store customers to Fortune 500 companies. But no matter how varied the technologies they create, each face the same problem: finding qualified software developers in their communities.

The United States has long led the world in technology innovation. But, our industry is facing a talent shortage that is having a significant impact across the economy.

A Midwestern app maker described having a programming position open for more than two years. It has attracted 180 applications – none of which are qualified, and the majority of which came from overseas. The position remains unfilled. The same company posted 10 fellowships for college students majoring in computer science and got no interest within the state.

It seems perplexing, software development jobs are some of the most well-compensated – and most rewarding – positions, with a national mean salary of $102,160. Yet, there are more than a half-million unfilled computing jobs today, and that number is expected to eclipse one million by 2020.

We can trace the root of the problem to the absence of computer science in our schools. Even though 77 percent of jobs will require technology skills over the next decade, only one in four primary and secondary schools offer computer science classes today.

Universities and community colleges have made strides in recent years to build comprehensive computer science programs. But high school graduates aren’t prepared to take that path at the university level because they weren’t sufficiently exposed to programming during early education. With an inability to develop core coding skills before college, many find the demands of computer science coursework too challenging.

This is a problem that a 14-year-old AppCon attendee encountered at her high school in Ohio. She came to Washington with her father to tell her story.

From an early age, she has been inspired by the creative ingenuity of her parents. Her father, a software executive, and her mother, a yoga instructor, fused their passions to create a successful yoga app together. Now their daughter has an idea for an app of her own, one that focuses on musical theory.

The only problem? Her school doesn’t offer computer science courses – no coding, no graphic design, no general programming. She’s stuck. And even though her father worked with the school system to add computer science to their curriculum, the program was discontinued once he returned to his full-time job.

This is a common tale. No matter if it’s Oregon, Georgia, Massachusetts, or California, students in primary and secondary school don’t have access to basic skillsets needed to succeed in tech careers, and it causes a cascading problem.

Companies across the United States are eager to grow their teams, but have trouble finding candidates with the required skills. It’s especially challenging for our smaller companies. With fewer employees, a single programmer or software engineer can make a significant difference in a company’s success. If one departs, it can mean the end of a project and the other jobs associated with it.

One of our members from Illinois has biweekly mediation lunches with a key programmer that his company can’t afford to lose. He does everything he can to keep the programmer happy because he doesn’t want to reenter the dismal applicant field in search of a replacement. He, like all of the AppCon attendees, believes computer science skills should be on par with time tables in our education system.

As he puts it, “an entire country of people who can program, and can make a computer do anything, will be far better prepared to compete with other countries as we go forward.”

The tech industry has already made considerable investments to create programs to do just that. Extra curricular activities like coding camps and hackathons are having an impact – but it’s not enough.

Our member companies came to Washington to highlight the urgency we face. The message was clear: Computer science education for grades K through 12 must become a national priority. App companies want to grow and create more jobs in their communities, but our school systems must prepare students for these opportunities. With six-figure salaries the norm, it’s inconceivable why our children shouldn’t be in the best position to qualify for these lucrative careers.


See photos from AppCon here and check out our members’ tweets from the week here.
Image: U.S. Mission / license / no changes made