The Blue Collar Coder may be Stuck in the Shallow End
Anil Dash’s call for “Blue Collar Coders” reminds me of the lessons of Jane Margolis et al.’s book “Stuck in the Shallow End.” It turns out that there are lots of African-American students in computing, just few in Universities and traditional CS programs. DeVry, University of Phoenix, and a variety of community colleges and technical schools have much more diversity in their IT and Computing programs than we see in University CS programs. But those graduates may not get the same opportunities, the same salaries, the same advancement path as the students from the University CS programs. They remain stuck in the shallow end of the economic pool. Are “Blue Collar Coders” stuck there, too?
The comments to the blog post reflect a lot of the assumptions about the IT industry that keep us from creating more opportunities for others. “Most of the best software developers I know did not have formal CS degrees for the bulk of their careers.” That may be true, but the assumption that students will teach themselves is often used as an excuse for not creating opportunities in schools for those students who don’t see a path to computing, who don’t live in a place with examples and role models available to guide them into the economic opportunities of a computing career.
Put another way, our industry can grow in a very meaningful way by giving lots of young people at a high school level the knowledge they need to learn jQuery straight out of high school, or teaching maintenance on a MySQL database at a trade school without having to get a graduate degree in computer science. That’s not to say that CS students aren’t also important — we’ll need the breakthroughs and innovations they discover. But someone has to run that intranet app at an insurance company, and somebody has to maintain the internal iOS app at a law firm, and those are solid, respectable jobs that are as key to our economy as a 22-year-old trying to pivot and iterate their way into an acqu-hire.