Get real, Bill -- we do need more H-1Bs for tech workers

Until we address underlying causes of developer shortage, we'll need all possible H-1B visas to keep the industry going

Recently InfoWorld's own Bill Snyder wrote about the efforts by companies to increase the number of H-1B visas. His article parroted what the headhunters say: There's no shortage of qualified developers -- you just need to pay market rates.

One problem with Snyder's article, and many others like it, is that it lumps system administrators (and everyone else) in with software developers. There is no shortage of system administrators -- certainly, there's a dearth of great ones, but no deficit as a whole. But there most definitely is a shortage of software developers.

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As president of a professional services firm, I can tell you from personal experience that software developer salaries are going up at a rate much faster than inflation or the cost of living. Sure, if you "pay market rates," you can find software developers, but that's true of anything. In a market economy, nearly anything that exists can be bought at the right price.

For love or money

The word "shortage" generally refers to an artificial situation where you cannot simply pay a higher price and be assured of obtaining a desirable object (such as a sound software developer). Nevertheless, some people can say with a straight face that there is no shortage of software developers, merely an abundance of employers unwilling to pay the right price. They say it the way a politician explains his support of family values while his mistress claps from the limo.

There are few genuine economic shortages. For instance, when an infestation destroyed much of the Kona crop in Hawaii, my favorite K-cup coffee was no longer produced. I can still buy Kona coffee, albeit in a different form and at a much higher price.

The same is true of software developers. In many areas of the country, developer salaries have risen dramatically, while salaries for other occupations (including skilled ones) have fallen. People may wish to confuse us by pointing out that in the most rural section of Nebraska, salaries have dipped, but that distorts the truth. Many developers idealize the notion of creating software in their living room and "telecommuting" to work while the baby crawls around on the floor and they sip cappuccino. While some software is created this way (indeed, I've done so), most software is created by teams in close collaboration.

Besides, most American software developers don't want to live in areas beyond the suburbs of denser population centers. Why? Because they can't get a decent Internet connection, and they're stuck with 7-11 cappuccino, which tastes like hot ash in a cup.

I can tell you that no matter how many skilled software developers I hire, there's always more than enough work to keep them busy, and it's been that way every year of the last five that my company has been in business. Our company is located in Durham, N.C., and Chicago, Ill. -- two areas that have suffered severe shortages of experienced software developers, yet we do our best to hire and train people at multiple levels.

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