You too can get a job as a developer!

If you have the right education and experience working on a platform a handful of people have heard of, that is. How do you close the skills gap on a moving target?

Last time I looked, the U.S. unemployment rate was 8.1 percent. Yet as InfoWorld's Andrew Oliver noted a couple of weeks ago in "Is a computer science degree worth the paper it's printed on?" the unemployment rate among developers is more like 5 percent -- which is considered pretty close to full employment.

My, how things have changed. What happened to the hue and cry of just a few years ago that offshoring would eventually gobble up every last U.S. programming job?

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Right here on the edge of Silicon Valley, there are way more open reqs for programmers, developers, and software engineers than there are people to fill them. Offshoring is still going strong (just ask the software giants IBM and Oracle), but regardless, plenty of positions in the United States go begging.

So how do you fill all those jobs? Or more to the point, how can unemployed or unhappily employed people learn the programming skills companies want?

At times like these, when talent is in short supply, opinion leaders like to blame the "skills gap" on limited access to higher education. But the main point Andrew Oliver made in his article is that the traditional higher education system in the United States does a poor job of teaching theory and programming -- with an emphasis on old languages like Java rather than popular newer ones like Ruby or Python -- and charges way too much money for the privilege. As an employer, he would actually prefer to hire self-taught technologists like himself who learned by doing.

But not everyone can bootstrap themselves to that degree. In his piece, Andrew noted a nimble training organization known as the Starter League in Chicago, which by his estimation does an excellent job training people to program in a matter of weeks rather than years.

Well, there's one. A casual Google search turns up hundreds if not thousands of others, including for-profit colleges that have come under investigation for charging exorbitant tuition and delivering poor education.

Fair evaluation of programming and computer science training programs and educational institutions is extraordinarily difficult. Teachers are obviously crucial -- and they change from year to year. Public institutions, such as city colleges, sometimes do a great job at minimal cost, but many now hang by a thread. Some for-profit organizations deliver the goods on some subjects and fail badly with others. Plus, many graduates believe they've been well taught, but their employers end up having a different opinion.

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