Are Software Developer Salaries Going to Decline In the Future?

Almost everywhere will you either find people stating how there will be this many software engineer job openings in the future or talking about the high salaries computer science majors can take home after graduating. However, for how long is this trend going to continue?

Some context

In a country with a high population like India, some insinuations of this can already be seen.

In 2017, there were 100,000 jobs created in the entire IT industry of India (Quartz). However, in 2013 (four years from that year), there were already 150,000 people graduating with a computer science degree (India Today).

Don’t be alarmed, though. This data is for a high populated country. Countries that are hubs for software companies, like the USA, will not experience such disparities any time soon. In fact, most data suggests that there is — and there will be — more jobs being created in America than there are people entering it.

The number of people going into the job

To be clear, the projected estimates of future jobs in computer science found everywhere are indeed accurate. There is no doubt about the the growing computer hardware and software industries: this is not the point of contention.

The problem is that there may be too many capable people entering these fields.

Once upon a time, if you, during high school, were able to write a simple text program that asked you for your name and then logged you into an ASCII interface, or if you were able to make a simple space shooter game, then you would be considered a “prodigy”, a “master of computer science”, etc.

Nowadays, even naive middle schoolers are able to do these things. In fact, they do not have to be interested in computer science in the first place to be able to do these things — it may be part of a course offered in school that they might have taken.

With experts pushing for computer science to be made an essential part of school, perhaps, at this rate, the high schoolers of the future would possess the same knowledge as today’s college third years majoring in computer science.

As an example, just look at the syllabus of a rigorous high school computer science course part of the IB Diploma program. In fact, one of the graded assessments of the course is to build a full software solution for a client. And this is a two year course that starts in 11th grade.

What this really means is that you need to build an entire feasible computer system with the corresponding software for a client

And, if a high school teenager can whip up a software solution for your small business as part of their internship, then why should you pay top dollar to hire a dedicated software engineer? Fortunately, however, this situation has not become commonplace yet, but you get the idea where the trend is going.

There is another phenomenon that comes in into play here. If you go mingle with a random sample of high school students and then ask them what they plan to major in college, you will find a good number that will tell you “Computer Science”.

There are many reasons why computer science is becoming such a popular major, but that would require an entire article of its own. One concrete reason you can probably discern from the situation above is that if a student in high school is already capable of creating effective software, they can just go to college with this as their major. They already possess the fundamental principles and are fairly familiar with what the career will entail, so why should they experiment with other majors that they haven’t been wholly exposed to before?

Although there will also be a large number of job openings in the field in the future, there is also a large number of people going into this field as well. Thus, this raises the question of whether there will be more people entering the field than there will be jobs available.

If there are more people entering than there are requirements, the competition increases, and, inversely, the salary decreases.

But why is this happening?

Believe it or not, computers only started to become commonplace in the 1980s. As they diffused throughout the world and as big corporations were formed, a need for not only the people who understood the hardware was created, but also a need for those able to build useful programs that can run on these computer systems.

The result? Software engineers.

During that time, due to the novelty of the field, the knowledge was not that commonplace; the terms used were esoteric. Businessmen with no clue as how to even set up a development environment were not at all reluctant to pay a hefty salary to someone that could construct a full-scale program for them. People were just pioneering the field at that time though it soon became evident how profitable it was for a business to harness the power of computers.

And thus, you can see how this relates to our current situation. With the development of this field, the ‘knowledge’ related with it has spread throughout the world. Recruiting managers have a greater picture of the exact technical expertise skills required for the job compared with the recruiters (if there were any) of the 1980s.

However, rest assured, it has been only 30 years (approximately) since computers started to first become popular. It will probably take a few more decades, give or take, before the effects of this pattern become palpable with regards to the salaries of the people working in this field.

Just in case, is there a way to ‘dodge’ this?

Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.’ 

Sorry for the history quote, but it actually applies quite well here.

If you are someone who hasn’t chosen their major yet, think about the new, emerging fields in computer science in which you can jump into. For example, the fields of the internet of things (IOT), artificial intelligence (AI), and robotics are predicted to be the potent fields of the future.

They are new fields, and the knowledge (and jargon) associated with these fields will not become commonplace anytime soon. In simple terms, there will be a lot of demand for computer scientists specialized in these fields but not enough supply. What does that mean? A hefty salary for you.

The conclusion

Definitely not all software engineer salaries are going to decline, but the salaries of certain types are sure to in the future.

For example, simple programmers that just write code and are not involved in any other process (i.e. management, innovating, etc) will unfortunately start experiencing this downtrend soon (though it is pretty rare to find such a simple job in the first place). Similarly, you can also see how large companies with “drag and drop” website creators, such as Wix and WordPress, are competing with freelance website designers.

With the influx of people from developing countries (India and China, for example), companies now have access to people willing to do basic programming for them for a nominal price through outsourcing their work to other firms in these countries.

If you have already graduated and are employed, you probably do not need to worry too much, but it is always wise to be up to date with the latest trends within your field. As I said, it will take a long time before as potent of a field as computer science will start to become significantly affected, but you can still see the small effects of it (i.e, the increased competition for jobs).

Well, that wraps it up for this article. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them down below.

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