Why my company sponsors H-1Bs anyway
Here's the truth: Americans are not especially attracted to the field of computer science. While enrollment in computer science programs is up since bottoming out in 2007 or so, it is much lower than its peak before the dot-com bust. On the flip side, if you calculate the year-over-year growth in the number of jobs, demand is higher than it was during the dot-com boom.
Few of our more senior employees are on H-1B visas, green cards, or other visa programs. Many of our younger employees are. The reason is simple: When we recruit on college campuses or post jobs on Craigslist, on our website, or at meetups, most of the people who apply need sponsorship. If we want to hire enough people to build our business, we have to sponsor visas.
It's easy to say, "We'll hire older programmers and retrain them" -- except the numbers aren't there. Yes, a few highly motivated older developers have applied and were willing to take the job at their skill level; in some cases, they've been rapidly promoted after landing the job. Then what? Next, we hire less experienced developers and train them. The H-1B fees and hassle are nothing compared to the cost of our staff development program, which is responsible for helping each employee reach the next level in their career at our company through training, mentoring, and evaluations.
"The fastest way if you are in the 99 percent and want to join the 1 percent ... is to learn computer programming," said Hadi Partovi. This is hyperbole; most of us won't make over $506,000 per year without a lot of luck along the way. But it is relatively easy to end up in the upper 10 percent. I couldn't be happier about that for myself and for many of my friends.
Sadly, it isn't very logical or very good for the U.S. economy that software developers are closing the gap with the 1 percent. We can discuss whether the continued consolidation of wealth in the United States is a threat to our overall competitiveness, but I think it is less arguable that developers leaving the rest of the economy behind is good for anyone but developers. In fact, this has already entered the calculus of my business. We used to target small businesses as customers. Now our "target" deal size prices us above the reach of many small companies. Many factors went into the decision to raise that point, including -- to a large extent -- the cost of labor.
Not every company needs high-end scalability consulting, big data, or even its own custom mobile application. However, as the cost of developer labor goes up, the fruits of that will be less available to small businesses, which are the engine of the U.S. economy. Sure, the cloud will consolidate costs and automated "generators" will make at least some of this available, but in the end, the gap can't increase forever without pushing software technology out of reach.