No Country for STEM Majors


In 2012, Microsoft launched an initiative for immigration reform to address the domestic STEM shortage. The company claimed to have 3,400 unfilled engineering positions. America isn’t producing enough engineering graduates, they said.

Microsoft was quickly joined by a coalition of 20 other organizations. Silicon Valley tech leaders joined hands to form for immigration reform.

Less than two years later, Microsoft laid off 18,000 of its employees. So much for those unfilled engineering positions.

The talent shortage hype remains. Kids are piling into 4-year STEM degrees. They leave with the ability to architect computer systems and optimize algorithms. But companies don’t need that en masse.

What employers really want are programmers. Not software engineers, not computer scientists. Low-level coders who can translate a checklist of product specs into a computer program.

Most engineers—and their software counterparts—still have their expertise in their fifties and sixties. But employers see no need to encourage longer periods of employment, since each year cheaper graduates, both American and foreign, arrive with their résumés.

What they’ll do as they reach, say, thirty-five years old is not the concern of an economy based on revolving cubicles, marginal salaries, and importing acquiescent labor.

America doesn’t have a STEM shortage, America has a programmer shortage. The assembly-line worker of the 21st century.

In The NY Review of Books, Andrew Hacker says that the average H-1B worker salary is only 57% the amount paid to Americans with comparable credentials. Tech companies can get immigrant workers at a 43% discount because, what else are these H-1B employees gonna do? Go back to India?

Engineering also illustrates how the economy mishandles the talent it has. At current rates, our universities will be awarding about 760,000 engineering degrees in the decade ahead. But that is over five times what the [Bureau of Labor Statistics] projects for the profession’s growth.

So go ahead and major in journalism or anthropology, kids. Or turn your engineering degree into a career as an overqualified line cook. You’re hosed no matter what.

See Also:
The Frenzy About High-Tech Talent –NY Review of Books

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