The Seattle area is home to more software development engineers than any metropolitan area in the country. More than Boston. More than New York. More than San Francisco.
When it comes to software, we are number one. Our deep talent pool in this field is one of the reasons why Apple, Google, Facebook, and so many other global tech powerhouse companies have opened large offices here.
The impact on our region has been extraordinary. Each software engineering job has led to seven other jobs in the wider economy. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created in a time when most communities across the nation have struggled to maintain jobs.
Thanks to our entrepreneurial vitality, we now create software engineering jobs about ten times faster than we produce grads qualified to take those positions. This makes us a top recruiter of software talent in the nation.
Our investment in public education, however, has not kept pace. As a result, we have an access dilemma.
One example of limited access is the University of Washington Computer Science program, one of the best in the world and the largest in our state by far. UW graduated less than 300 combined bachelors, masters and PhD students last year. Nearly 1000 students were interested and qualified to pursue a degree in Computer Science – but we did not have the classrooms or faculty available to teach them.
Another example of limited access is high school. Less than ten percent of Washington state’s high schools offer Computer Science – which means almost all of our kids grow up unacquainted with this career. They know how to use a smartphone, but know nothing about how to create the apps that make a smartphone smart.
The lack of access to Computer Science is even worse when we look deeper into the student statistics. Less than twenty percent of software engineers are women and less than one percent are Black or Hispanic.
This lack of diversity is not merely an issue of fairness or social equity. The lack of diversity is an Achilles heel that will cripple our growth if we do not solve it now.
This moment is a brilliant opportunity for Seattle – and the state of Washington – to shine on a global stage. Industry and government have an opportunity to collaborate and co-invest in our local talent pool.
Microsoft has been a leader of financial and volunteer support to education for decades. Amazon, Zillow, Expedia and many others are actively contributing today. Governor Jay Inslee and Mayor Ed Murray have each begun to engage with industry leaders and sponsor policies to improve access.
We need to build on this momentum.
Legislators must now fund additional computer science capacity. In the near term, the focus must be on doubling the University of Washington Computer Science program and sensible expansion at a few other universities. Next, we must make computer science available to all Washington public school students at least in high school if not before. And our job is not complete until our software engineering workforce reflects the diversity in our community.
The benefit of this investment accrues far beyond the tech industry.
A growing local software talent pool attracts private capital, brilliant entrepreneurs, and global tech companies. With a modest investment in education today and a sustained commitment to computer science for the next decade, we will create economic vitality for generations to come.
Michael Schutzler is an entrepreneur, engineer, science nerd, and first generation immigrant. He is currently the CEO of the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA).