Software industry gives millennials economic hope

By Zach Armstrong

PETERSBURG, Va. -- One may find it hard to believe that Millenials are a positive or productive force in today’s economy.

According to Gallup research, 71% of millenials are either not engaged or actively disengaged in the workforce. Millennials also change jobs more often than other generations with their turnover rate costing the economy an estimated $30.5 billion annually.

Despite the bleak forecast and adverse societal situation many millennials are anticipating, there is one industry that is giving the youthful demographic hope: software developing.

With 18.2 million software developers worldwide and 3.6 million in the U.S., the average developer is 29.6 years old and the median age is 27. That is compared to the median age of 41.9 for the workforce nationwide.

Exposure to the latest developments in computers and software is credited to why the workforce behind the thriving industry is so youthful. Troy Viers is a network technician at Bedford Regional Water Authority who assists IT with backing up systems, end user support and device maintenance who credits exposure to technology for his career success.

“I definitely grew up experiencing the rise of information technology,” said Viers.“To me it was a fascination of what could we do with software that attracted me to learn more and I feel that is the same for so many others.”

The Commonwealth of Virginia is one of the top states for software jobs according to government data. The state is fourth in the country for wages in the field with a median salary of $102,430 and ranked second for concentration of computer jobs with 5.4% of workers in the field.

Justin Etheredge, born in 1981, co-founded a digital product consultancy based in Richmond and Charlottesville named Simple Thread that works with startups to create human-centered digital products.

“There is a huge number of talented software engineers in Virginia,” said Etheredge. “I would say a big part of what attracts software engineers to Virginia is the combination of solid wages and the low cost of living.”

“Virginia’s regulatory environment has worked well for our employees and the business,” said Henry Bass, president of Automation Creations Inc located in Blacksburg which provides custom software development for web and mobile applications. “The impacts of a right-to-work state influence intellectual property which is a huge influence on software development professionals.”

Although youth is currently a strongsuit in the software developing industry, there is one quality the field is lacking: diversity.

According to the 2018 survey, 74.2% of software developers were of White or European descent under the category of race and ethnicity. Only 11.5% of developers are South Asian, 6.7% are Hispanic, 4.1% are Middle-Eastern and 2.8% are African American.

The field is also overwhelmingly male. The survey from Stack Overflow reported 92.9% of developer respondents being male and 6.9% being female. The remaining 0.9% identified as non-binary, genderqueer or gender non-conforming.

One reason for this is the historical disparity in wealth between racial demographics in the United States giving many a disadvantage to become tech savvy.

“A lot of kids born in the 80s like me had to live in a family with a certain amount of income to have access to computers,” said Etheredge. “Kids that grew up with computers were more interested in them later in life and then turned that into a software career. The industry can improve by pushing younger children more aggressively toward careers involving computers.”

While the industry shows many optimistic signs, American software development may struggle to keep up with international competitors.

Software developers in other nations are younger and higher educated. While the average age of a U.S. developer is 32, that average is 29.8 in Germany, 29.1 in France, 26.6 in Russia and just 25.5 in India.

India has been projected to exceed the American industry in recent years. By 2018, India increased their software workforce by 90% having 5.2 million developers opposed to 4.5 million in America. India's growth is attributed to its population size of 1.2 billion and relative youth.

            Those in the industry aren’t so sure the American sector will be beat that easily. Many of the most astonishing innovations have come from American developers and software companies.

“I believe the US retains an advantage in creativity, versatility and the ability to innovate new software technology,” said Bass. “For example, we’re developing new applications in integrating sensors, motion, lighting and big data that blur the lines between software, hardware and cloud technologies.”

As technology becomes a larger part of the 21st century economy, the industry of software offers many promising opportunities for a generation believed to await a bleak future.

“The software industry is quite different because not only is there a stand-alone industry of companies that are dedicated to creating software, but we have reached a point where every company is producing software,” said Etheredge.