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By Jack Ganssle

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Summary: It's nice to be a nerd, especially considering the job prospects.

The prospects for recent computer science graduates is quite rosy. An interesting article ("Career Opportunities") in the November issue of the Communications of the ACM claims new grads earn $61,112. The Census Bureau (http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/data/statemedian/index.html) pegs median family income nationwide at $51k, which astonishingly puts a freshly-minted 21 year old computer person hugely ahead of most families.

The same article cites a "coolness" factor attached to CS because of products from companies like Apple and Google. It quotes a professor who compares the coolness of doing iPhone development to that of building Apollo back in the 60s. The iPhone is indeed very cool, but it seems our sights have been set a bit lower than of yore.

The December issue of CACM notes that salaries for new CS grads are $50K. But that still massively trumps English majors' $34k.

Things are different in China, where computer folks are the among the least likely to get a job after graduation. In an ironic twist only English majors fare worse. I find that baffling considering the flaming economy and the explosive growth of electronics there. But it seems the university system is growing even faster than the market. In India jobs in the IT industry grew 16.5% in 2009 alone.

Back in the USA, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos303.htm) thinks CS jobs will increase 32% by 2018 which is "much faster than the average for all occupations." But computer hardware engineers (http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos027.htm) and electrical engineers are expected to see only 4% and 2% growth respectively during the same period.

So the money is good, and, at least for the CS types, employment prospects bright as well. What about the work?

Another study (http://www.careercast.com/jobs-rated/10-best-jobs-2011) found that software engineers have the very best jobs in 2011, when one considers the work environment, physical demands, outlook, income and stress. I'll be the first to admit there are few physical demands, but wonder about the stress. This survey puts average salaries for all software engineers (newbies and oldsters) at $87k, nearly twice the median family income in the USA.

An article in Network World (http://www.networkworld.com/news/2010/022210-computer-science.html) claims starting salaries for CS majors can be as high as $105k. Perhaps that's true in some limited areas, like finance, but surely isn't indicative of the industry as a whole. It goes on to say that University of Illinois grads received an average of 2.3 job offers with a mean starting salary of $72k.

While 98% of all processors are in embedded systems, embedded remains the ugly stepchild of the computer world. It's barely studied so it's hard to know how the numbers above relate to our industry. A survey I conduction in 2009 (http://www.ganssle.com/salsurv2009-pg1.htm) put starting salaries for embedded people in the USA at around $60k, topping out at $105k after 15-19 years of experience. More experience than that doesn't translate to increased wages.

All in all, in these troubled times, prospects for nerds greatly trumps most other professions.

Published January 24, 2011