Critical Path:

Jeff Gainer - Backlash...

Jeff Gainer

(Author's note: This article appeared in the November 1998 edition of the itmWEB IT Report.

 Surely you remember this one:

What do you call a thousand lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?

A good start.

IT professionals and lawyers have a lot in common:

These are indeed heady times for information technology professionals. Depending on which statistics you believe, there are 250,000 to 375,000 unfilled IT positions. Salaries are up 11% or 20%, again, depending on whose statistics you believe. Demand for new information systems continues to spiral upward. Internet use increases exponentially. Fixing the Year 2000 problem exacerbates the programmer shortage. These are heady times indeed.

But still, we have an image problem. College enrollments in computer science are declining and the central reason, it seems, it that it is viewed as distinctly uncool to be a computer scientist.

The supply is down and dwindling, and the demand is up and rising. Could it get any better than the present situation? It sure could get a lot worse. Here are some possible scenarios of the near future:

  1. The programmer shortage eventually cripples the US economy.
  2. The economic crisis in Asia and Russia finally, inevitably, affects North America.
  3. The Year 2000 bug causes a recession.
  4. All of the above.

The economic boom in the United States is now in its 90th month, the third-longest expansion on record. Yet the stock market has stumbled--not because of domestic news, but because of events abroad. The southeast Asian economies are in crisis, the "Japanese Miracle" has paused for a well-deserved breath, and the Russian economy imploded long, long ago.

The United States simply cannot, to paraphrase Dr. Greenspan, remain an oasis of prosperity in a desert of economic drought. Further, even though the US and Canada are certainly better prepared than Europe or South America for January 1st, 2000, the chance of the Millennium Bug causing a recession, even a mild one, remains at an estimated 100%.

Our image problem is bad enough now. But remember the backlash on lawyers, investment bankers, stockbrokers, and other recipients of the largess of the Reagan years after that economic boom ended? When the Y2K problem, the programmer shortage, or a combination of the two, or other factors, results in a recession, we may face a far more serious image problem that merely being viewed as propellerheads or nerds. We may well take the blame for the whole mess.

Now: what do you call a thousand IT professionals at the bottom of the ocean?


Manhattan Beach, California

September 1998


Copyright 1998, by Jeff Gainer

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