Yo ho, mateys. This be a fairly long article from the weekend, but considerin' that it be about Seattle's smartness 'n high tech jobs, I be findin' it worthy of postin' here.</pirate>
A once-proud hub of innovation left to languish as brilliant people, new ideas and dazzling products bubble up elsewhere. An urban wasteland that's left wondering — as Detroit was with cars — how it lost its mojo with software and the Internet.I found the assertion at the end of the article to be somewhat dubious. Where does that 4,000 per year number come from? Reporter Nick Perry doesn't say. Did he pull it out of his... hat? Who knows?
That's the dire message Microsoft's top executives are sending to legislators, educators and anyone else who will listen. And nobody is arguing with this simple truth: The state is doing a terrible job producing computer scientists. Those whiz kids who will make computers smarter, faster and more useful for everyone.
"At a certain level, it's simply a tragedy," says Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel. "It's a lost opportunity for the next generation of people growing up in Washington state."
Microsoft's warning may sound strange in a region that has thrived from the technology boom of the past 15 years. But Smith says there's no such thing as stability in his business: You're either innovating or falling behind. The industry can turn faster than a Detroit SUV.
The sometimes-bumpy boom has created more than 300,000 high-tech jobs statewide, and the big money flowing from those jobs employs hundreds of thousands more in traditional industries. The state estimates there will be nearly 30,000 openings for computer specialists in the next decade, and the technology they create is needed in every industry from fishing to aircraft manufacture.
Yet consider this: Just 160 seniors graduate in computer science or computer engineering each year from the University of Washington, home to the state's most respected program. Another 90 finish graduate degrees.
By contrast, Seattle has, almost by accident, become the most educated city in the U.S. Engineers and computer specialists make up a higher proportion of the workforce here than just about anywhere else.
That's because fresh graduates are flooding into Microsoft, Amazon.com, Google and other companies with operations here. But they're not from Magnolia or Mukilteo. They're coming from Boston, California, India.
But the fact that the state is not coming close to producing even its fair share of computer scientists has many worried.
With other states and countries — think India and China — leaping ahead in the technology race, Seattle may find it harder to continue luring top talent here, and companies may decide to take their toys elsewhere. Seattle's boom-and-bust history could repeat itself.
The shortcomings of public schools and universities here may already be discouraging some talented people from coming, Smith argues, because smart people want to live somewhere they can send their kids to great schools. There may be an unfounded complacency that Seattle's natural assets will continue to draw people.
Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to add workers locally at the rate of 4,000 a year.
In this year's record class of 5,400 UW freshmen, 300 say they're hoping to graduate in computer science or engineering. Even if none dropped out or changed majors, the class of 2010 wouldn't amount to a month's supply of new workers needed just at Microsoft's Redmond campus.
You may recall that back in May I looked at the subject of how many jobs Microsoft is really adding to the Puget Sound. Taking the statements of official company spokesman Lou Gellos and applying some relatively generous assumptions, I came to the conclusion that Microsoft is adding roughly 1,350 new jobs per year to the Puget Sound.
Furthermore, if you take a look at the official State labor data for employment totals in the "Software Publishers" industry, you can see that state-wide, the number of employees is not even growing at 4,000 jobs per year. The numbers are more like 2,500 to 3,500, across all "Software Publishers" in the state (xls).
So what's the deal, Mr. Perry? Do you care to back up that 4,000 per year figure?
[Update: I located this article in the Seattle P-I that sort-of confirms Mr. Perry's claim. Microsoft did indeed "boost its employee ranks by 3,938" in the Puget Sound during their previous fiscal year. I stand corrected on that.
I say "sort-of" because it should be noted that: "Explaining the increase, Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray cited factors including upcoming product launches." So it definitely seems like a stretch to say that "Microsoft continues to add workers locally at the rate of 4,000 a year." "Continues" implies something that has happened in the past, and will keep happening in the future. From '04 to '05 they added just 1,388 jobs to the Seattle area, and judging by the statements of the company spokesman, last year's jump is just a spike due to the imminent launch of upcoming products. Mr. Perry is using a single accurate statistic to paint an inaccurate complete picture.]
Leaving aside the possibly bogus Microsoft growth data, basically the jist of the article seems to be that thanks to a few high-tech companies (Microsoft, Amazon, and—to a lesser extent—Google), Seattle is drawing in far more smart workers than it produces, but unless we shape up, we could easily lose that draw, and be left behind in the high-tech industry.
Although these companies are big, and they may be paying handsomely to attract talent from around the country & world, I still don't personally think that will be enough to keep Seattle's outrageous home prices afloat. Honestly, you're talking about tens of thousands of jobs—maybe a few hundred thousand—in a region of over 3.4 million people. If you think Microsoft and kin are enough to keep Seattle's bubble from bursting, I think you may be in for a bit of a letdown.
(Nick Perry, Seattle Times, 09.17.2006)