U.S. Developers, Students Face Ever-Increasing Global Competition

A recent student programming contest shows U.S. students have to compete globally more than ever, while another study shows developer numbers growing more rapidly abroad.

As the software development trend continues to grow more rapidly outside the United States—in parts of Asia, Eastern Europe and other parts of the world—not only do professional developers have to think about global competition, but students do as well.

According to the results of a recent Association for Computing Machinery contest, only one U.S. team of student programmers ranked among the top five in the world.

The results of the 2007 ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest bear out the notion that software development is a worldwide phenomenon and that global competition is fierce. The only U.S. university to finish in the top 10 was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which placed fourth. The top five winners were Warsaw University (Poland); Tsinghua University (China); St. Petersburg University of IT, Mechanics and Optics (Russia); MIT (United States); and Novosibirsk State University (Russia).

Other top finishers from the United States were California Institute of Technology, at No. 12, and the University of Texas at Dallas, which was tied for 14th place with 12 other schools.

The international competition, which is in its 31st year, took place during the week of March 12 in Tokyo, with 88 teams competing in the final round. Earlier rounds of the competition featured more than 6,000 teams representing 1,765 universities from 82 countries, ACM officials said.

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"This contest is a concrete indicator of talent and future possibility," said ACM President Stuart Feldman, in a statement. "Students like these are tomorrows top prospects in the information technology and computing fields."

Added Feldman, who is also vice president, Computer Science Research, at IBMs T. J. Watson Research Center in Hawthorne, N.Y.: "With the growing worldwide demand for technology skills, companies large and small—including IBM—will be tapping todays winners as future employees."

Feldman called the competition "incredible" and said the contestants had to attack a wide variety of problems; the top 15 teams all performed "at a level that exceeds what it took to win the contest only 10 years ago."

Moreover, said Feldman, "A work force well-trained in the fundamentals of computing represents an incredible advantage for any country that wants to compete globally in almost any industry. Bringing the best and the brightest into computing and computer science is a great strategy for any country that hopes to succeed in the future. Almost every major challenge facing our world calls upon computing for a solution, from fighting disease to protecting the environment to improving education."

A recent study from Evans Data, of Santa Cruz, Calif., further bears out the idea that the focal point of software development—at least in terms of numbers—is shifting away from the United States.

At its Developer Relations Conference held March 12-13 in Redwood City, Calif., Evans Data released the results of its study that said the worldwide software developer population is expected to grow to 19.5 million by 2010, up from 14.5 million in 2007. However, North America will account for only 18 percent of those jobs in 2010, down from 23 percent today. And the rate of growth in some areas is projected to be four to five times that of the United States.

Indeed, according to Evans, while the North American share of the developer work force will shrink, the Asia-Pacific (APAC ) share will grow to close to 45 percent, up from 37 percent today. And the share of developers from Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) will slip to 30 percent from 35 percent today, the survey said. The share of the developer work force from Latin America will remain flat at 6 percent.

APAC, with India and China leading the way, has the highest projected growth rate, as well, according to the Evans survey. The growth rate for the developer population over the next three to five years is expected to be 15 percent in APAC, 8 to 10 percent in EMEA, and only 3 to 4 percent in North America.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the ACM recently launched efforts to help high school students, teachers and parents better understand the kinds of careers enabled by studying computer science. The ACMs "Computing Degrees & Careers" brochure describes job opportunities for students with computing degrees. The brochure is accessible in PDF format from the ACM Web site here. Full results of the ACM programming contest can found here.

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