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July 17, 2011


STEM education is probably the only kind of education remaining at universities that teaches people to be objective with reality (business and--in some places--economics are perhaps the only non-STEM fields where reality may have some impact). This is, for no other reason, one why I think we should support STEM education. (Although my guess is the left is so eager to introduce diversity here precisely to mitigate the dangerous effects of training people to think critically).

I agree with this post. Engineers tend to look down on software "engineers" and IT people, at least at the places I've seen. The funny thing is that even the "real" engineers spend a large chunk of their time writing code and developing software.

If you get a job as an engineer, my advice would be to downplay any programming experience you have so that you end up with interesting things to do, rather than mundane IT tasks.

There are way more jobs for programmers than there are for actual engineers, so for the average engineering student it would probably be a good idea to just switch to computer science.

From that link, I noticed the very cute Kate Briquelet. She wants to cover crime stories too:-)

"Kate is a graduate student in the Reporting New York master's program at New York University. Born and raised in Oshkosh, Wis., she left the dairyland with dreams of covering crime and city politics in the Big Apple."

If you are smart enough to major in STEM then you can probably handle any job, so there is nothing to lose in being a STEM major. Plus it develops a critical thinking capacity so sorely needed in today's culture.

[HS: If you think too well, you will conclude that HBD is true, and then you will tell someone and get fire. So it's better not to think so well.]

Anyone who understands algebra can learn to program computers.

Basic x + 2 = 4 alegbra or real algebra? I've forgotten most of the latter, and despite getting high grades in those classes in high school, I can't program my way out of a paper bag.

Did she actually catch any of the capuchin monkeys?

The whole "shortage" meme is but a ruse of chambers of commerce to bring in more H1Bs and flood the market with cheap labor.

Norman Matloff has discussed these issues at length:



Off topic: Half Sigma hurry up and buy the July 18th issue of the National Examiner supermarket tabloid because it relates to one of your favorite topics. I believe it contains a story about Sarah Palin not being the real mother of her last child; some professor claiming to have evidence she lied.

Here's another good one:

Tm Stephanini: "Indian H-1B Workers Incompetent Cheats and Frauds"


I really wish they'd stop spreading this lie about the supposed shortage.

Also, if there really is a shortage, it's because it's too easy to make bank in non-STEM fields.

Government jobs, finance, marketing, sales, law, compliance, etc allow one to make more than an average engineer and with half the effort/exertion and better working conditions.

If they want more STEM graduates they need to up the incentives to get into it. Our labor market rewards MBAs and the jos listed above while at the same time crapping on engineering by undercutting it with H1-Bs, offshoring/outsourcing it and usually not requiring licensing to practice it (like the BAR).

There is NO shortage of STEM workers. There seems to be a huge surplus, especially of people with PhDs. When jobs for professors in STEM fields are advertised there are hundreds and hundreds of applicants. Most of the applicants are lucky to part time adjunct work that pays next to nothing. But North American universities are still churning out many PhDs, many of them foreign students from China or India who don't want to go home.

An old high school friend from my science and tech magnet school had 1590/1600 SATs and was pretty bright. Asian, non-elite, and no big extracurricular so no Harvard. Went to some small school out in the midwest to study chemistry because they supposedly had a good program and he hates being anywhere near a city.

So where did he end up? Well he's 28, has a masters in Chemistry, and lives in his mom's basement playing warcraft and is marginally employed in some capacity. I've had some friends that attach "engineering" to the end of their science degrees and do better in the employment market, but its clear they all would have been better off studying CS (I'm assuming here that as non-elite Asians with the typical light aspergers that pressure cooker tiger cubs develop they would not have made it in law or finance).

Doug wrote:
Here's another good one:

Tm Stephanini: "Indian H-1B Workers Incompetent Cheats and Frauds"


This is not surprising. India is an extremely corrupt country. When Indians come here their corrupt world view is not going to magically change. The same can be said of people coming from other corrupt countries such as China. There seem to be less Chinese immigrants involved in corruption than Indians, maybe because they are a bit smarter on average (either smart enough not to take part in corruption, or not to get caught).

When we import people from corrupt countries we import corruption.

If I made a comment such as this at most blogs or forums I would be chased off with pitchforks. Apparently trying to stop your culture from being destroyed is "xenophobic"

Look at the map at Transparency International:


The unemployment rate for college graduates is somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-6% right now. That's not high.


Underemployment is also a factor, too.

The US unemployment rate for college graduates is much lower than in any country in Western Europe, where employment is somewhat discouraged for the young due to high income taxes and due to the fact that many Western European countries allow you to draw lavish unemployment benefits before you've ever actually had a job to pay into the unemployment fund.

"Shortage" always means "shortage of people willing to work for the shitty wages we want to pay them".

Never hurts to have a STEM degree. You can always put $ in your pocket.

There are some problems with cheating overseas on the tests we give for my industry, but I'm no expert on it. There was some cheating scandal with one of the Korean kids in my magnet school too.

White kids cheat too, but I think its a lot more frequent in China and India. Its a cutthroat world, very corrupt, and everyone just looking out for #1. Yeah, that's true to an extent here, but its all a matter of degrees.

"If you are smart enough to major in STEM then you can probably handle any job, so there is nothing to lose in being a STEM major."

I wish this were true, but I have a PhD in a STEM and am pretty incompetent at a large number of valuable skills. Don't let me fix your car, edit your book or play in your band. Which is to say, while STEM majors are g-loaded, individual talent sets can be skewed one way or the other.

I can't believe you can really create a system which simultaneously fills industry and academic need for scientific experts and engineers while not creating a huge surplus of underemployed and unemployed scientists.

The need for scientific expertise is too widely varying to be able to be able to anticipate the demand while you are still doing school work. I'm sure the same is true for lawyers and doctors and other high educational fields.

I love people who say they love science and then go and do something completely different. Get in the lab and make something work and then tell me how much you love it.

PhD's, at least in STEM fields, are nothing but a giant Ponzi scheme. The PhD is a mere by-product of the research done by academics.

1. when I was working at google, I was doing a fair number of interviewing (around 2 per week). It's amazing how incompetent most people are, including new computer science PhD graduates and the ones with experience. People come out of school unprepared and in many jobs they don't get much valuable experience. When Lehman collapsed, a lot of people were applying for SWE jobs at Google, and I haven't seen a single one go through the hiring process successfully. Simply put there aren't enough good people, and that's for something that I would consider a low level job.

2. Now I'm in a much more specialized job, which requires a PhD in math, good research and good programming skills at the minimum. It's extremely hard to find qualified people. According to Notices of Mathematical Society there are about 950 PhD's in math every year. (btw, compare that to the 156250 MBA graduates per year, according to NCES) Throw in physics and theoretical computer science PhD's and you have less than 2000 graduates per year. Out of these, 100 would have ok research (just list number of papers at top journals/conferences), out of which 10-20 would have ok programming skills. Half will go to academia, so the search is for the 5-10 who are qualified. Hope that you find them before places like rentec which can afford to throw a lot of money at the problem.

@TC: Ha ha, like any of the idiots (who think of themselves as "high IQ") on this blog know what rentec is ...

@technologist Even rentec can't find the ideal candidates. They have people in the production group rewriting the research group code.

I'm just trying to make a point. Hiring is hard. Good people are scarce. Intelligence is not enough. A successful science/math student will not make it without being highly motivated, very creative and a bit lucky in choosing the right problem to work on. In a world in which you can live a good life by doing a lot less, it's normal that there are few of these people. Add to that a culture that's highly anti-science/math majors. (hopefully this is self-correcting as the MBA, JD and MD tracks seem to produce more and more people for less and less returns)

If people are wondering why you need highly skilled people, it's very simple. In hedge funds, it's about generating alpha, one person may do better that 10, or even worse, 10 people may generate negative returns... In tech, with all the modern tools, one person can be several times more productive than average, or even worse can do stuff than others can't. (this is why you have "talent acquisitions" which is basically buying tiny companies not because of their product or client base but because of their team)

For MBA you need to be able to drink, for JD to argue and for MD to function without sleep, while for math/science you need to be able to solve puzzles. In a more and more complex world, which one do you think it'll be the most useful? Unfortunately it's very hard to predict the answer, so if you're a high school or college student trying to figure out what to do, I'd say just play to your strengths. Don't study a subject that you hate. (btw, most lawyers I know hate their life, MBA consultants too but to less extent)


I got 8 people jobs at rentc, and I'm unemployed right now. Can somebody give ME a break.

It's kind of surprising given that the USA tests pretty well in STEM stuff according to PISA and the TIMSS, once you break out the racial subgroups.

From Wikipedia on the TIMSS:

"Broken down by race, US Asians scored comparably to Asian nations, white Americans scored comparably to the best European nations, Hispanic Americans averaged 475, comparable to students in Malaysia , while African Americans at 457 were comparable to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Lebanon.[2]"

Although this kind of elides over the fact that the Asian and European Americans scored more similarly to one another than either did to European or Asian nations (and none had a higher standard deviation than the other). I had a go at editing the article to put this in actually, but some wiki editor really seems into the angle of suggesting that Asian Americans and Euro Americans have a similar 80 point math gap to European and North East Asian countries, rather than the 16-20 point gap they have and reverted it.

MIT physics PhDs had a pretty good channel into Renaissance, but in my opinion, they were second tier students. In particular, they tended to absorb the Chinese students who couldn't master English well enough to work in academia.

I went to a conference recently where a DoE lab guy complained that weren't enough engineers graduating who could code in Fortran or C++ (schools use MATLAB apparently).

"It has been my impression that a lot of people who major in STEM fields in college can’t find jobs in what they majored in and wind up working in computer programming"

Is it possible that's an artifact of your personal experience? I've come across a lot of engineers (and college graduates in general) who could be a lot more successful but are doggedly insistent on living in one particular location, which can have very high costs professionally. I get the impression that's how you feel about living in NYC.

"Shortage" always means "shortage of people willing to work for the shitty wages we want to pay them"

Not always; sometimes it means shortage of people willing to live where the jobs are.


What I have seen in the tech world is that employers are looking for what I call ringers. They are wanting someone who has the exact skills to meet a need today.

Employers had rather let a position set empty than give someone any time to learn a new position or to develop any skills while in the position.

When employers say that they need skilled people what they are usually saying is that they need people will a very particular skill to meet an immediate need.

""Not always; sometimes it means shortage of people willing to live where the jobs are."""

This is just another reason why the "shortage" of engineers exists: you have to basically drop everything and relocate to get a job, which more often than not, is just for a specific project's duration. After that, you're laid off by a non-STEM manager when the company switches projects.

Any experience you gained from that specialized project is not likely to carry over into useful experience for any other local engineering job. So you need to relocate and the cycle continues.

Engineers have gotten wise to this pattern and are telling their kids to major in business so they can get the cushy management jobs that pay better and require less work, or to go and get government work.

100% bullshit.

There are no jobs for maths majors.

There are jobs for some natural science majors with PhDs and for geology masters, but basically none for anyone else unless they go to medical, dental, pharmacy school.

There are jobs for engineers especially computer science graduates.

Generally lib arts types, like American politicians, do not distinguish between math, natural science, and engineering. It's annoying.

"PhD's, at least in STEM fields, are nothing but a giant Ponzi scheme. The PhD is a mere by-product of the research done by academics."

Absolutely. Another example of the value destroying, value transfering parasite that is formal education.

"It's amazing how incompetent most people are"

When you are looking for very specific competence and your interviewee doesn't have it he's "incompetent". It's amazing how stupid you are.

"I went to a conference recently where a DoE lab guy complained that weren't enough engineers graduating who could code in Fortran or C++"

Another example of how the free market in labor isn't efficient, but how employers expect it to be. If an employer needs this this and this he assumes there's somebody out there who has this this and this. Take your head out of your butt.

"@TC: Ha ha, like any of the idiots (who think of themselves as "high IQ") on this blog know what rentec is ..."

I'm ashamed to say I know what rentec is. It's a gay porn studio specializing in tossed salad videos, excuse me I mean, HFT hedge fund more successful than any other headed by Jim Simmons former redoubtable mathematcician. But what's the diferrence?

"There is NO shortage of STEM workers. There seems to be a huge surplus, especially of people with PhDs."

Companies want engineers with B.S. degrees that they can train, not PhDs whom they have to overpay for and who are past their prime productive years even though they have no real world experience.

Whenever it's "There aren't enough Americans to do X" it's always "More Immigration of people skilled in X, and Expand Education in X!", but whenever "There are too many Americans trying to do Y" (Or unemployed, which is equivalent), it's never, "Less Immigration of people who do Y, and Contract Education in Y".

A Lack of Symmetry is the best evidence of hypocrisy and thus bullshit.

At the oil company that rhymes with "ET", they only hire engineers at the Big 10 schools, especially Michigan. It is kind of funny that HS is obsessed with Harvard and Yale, but he could take that obsession and transfer it to Michigan for engineering grads.

It is funny, in my school district, the Director of Curriculum has heard this "shortage of STEM majors" loud and clear. Despite being self described as "math-challenged" (typical female teacher, from my experience), she has bought a curriculum that is multimedia/ digitally based (forcing parents to buy a $1000 laptop for every kid in the district). It digitally coaches the kids in math and science.

She says that the goal of the curriculum is to get the kids to "think like scientists", whatever that means. The engineers and IT guys in the audience where she was explaining all this were incredulous. It got a big laugh. I'm pretty sure that the first step in thinking like a scientists is to have the basic facts of science drilled into you. The curriculum that she talked about was more about group project, touchy feely BS than drills.

The many Indians in the audience were also shaking their heads. They are old school, literally, and would like the drills rather than the touchy feely stuff.

Of course, the white moms were eating this stuff up. When the teachers got up to speak about what they wanted to do with the laptops (touchy feely BS), you could hear the white moms swoon.

And a masters in education is required for a public school job. Credentialism.

It's possible to be formally qualified in something and yet much much less qualified to do that something than someone smarter than you who doesn't do it.

I'm basically with JP. It's kind of like dating. When girls talk about a "man shortage," they mean that there aren't enough tall handsome rich marriage-minded men who will be faithful to a dumpy, aging harpy.

So too with the job market. Companies wish that there were more smart educated people willing to work for peanuts.

[HS: Yes, numerically there is a shortage of men and not women (until the time when people reach their 40s), so when women in the their 30s or 20s complain about there not being enough men, they mean there aren't enough men who meet their standards.]


Your talking about the high end of the programming and engineering world. I have no doubt there is a shortage at that level, but that has a lot more to do with there just not being a lot of +3SD people in the world. I don't think anyone here has a problem with letting +3SD H1-Bs in, it's not like it would be that many and they are probably value positive.

People mostly get worked up when H1-Bs are less qualified then the average American worker, but are willing to work for less. And we aren't talking about American's holding out for gold plated salaries, but fairly average cube jobs in the STEM sector.

Take my friend I described earlier. I don't think its a given he would end up in his position, he was smart and pretty motivated when I knew him in school. But he graduated '06, did some lab and teaching stuff so he could stay with his wife while she was finishing her degree, and then tried to get a job in '08 in the middle of the recession. Of course that didn't happen. Eventually time goes by and he's been nominally employed for so long since graduation nobody will touch him.

Now if he could get into the industry I think he would do just fine, but the lower level entry market is flooded and H1-Bs are part of the problem. If you can't get into the industry you can never get the experience necessary to utilize your intellect or education.

STEM, please. This chic should talk to someone with a BS in Math and ask them about all the job opportunities there are.

Don't listen to people like this kids. They know not whereof they speak.

"According to this Fortune Magazine article, there is a rising demand for STEM jobs..."

I've been reading this since my senior year in High School, 1981. HS has written extensively and eloquently about the crappy status of STEM-type jobs, specifically IT. Over the past year, with the ending of the Space Shuttle Porgram, Kennedy Space Center has laid off 8000 highly skilled technicians and engineers (all private-sector contractors, not NASA employees). The local news has article after article, day after day about how hard it has been for these highly-trained STEM and tech workers to find jobs, any jobs.

A former Software Engineer turned MBA.

That there are "not enough engineers and scientists" is an example of Hitler's big lie theory. You tell a lie enough times and everyone will come to believe it is true. This lie has been bandied about as long as I have been alive (since the 70's). Except for short periods of time, it has always been a lie.

It has been my impression that a lot of people who major in STEM fields in college can’t find jobs in what they majored in and wind up working in computer programming. So this means we have too many people majoring in STEM (except for computer programming) rather than not enough STEM majors.

Really, the problem is that the IT field pays better than most employers looking for engineers who deal with the physical world. So lots of people got degrees in easier subjects than CS, and get jobs which require the equivalent of an engineering background, but not a full-fledged CS degree.

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