Why is There Such a Huge Shortage of Developers in the VR Industry?

by Sky Nite • May 20th, 2016

For years, the tech industry has had a shortage of “good” engineers. Although there have been multiple articles published decrying the “developer shortage” mythos as a misleading tale, the truth is that capable programmers have no trouble finding jobs. No, taking a month of programming classes after dropping out of high school does not qualify you as a “good engineer”, and so finding a job in that case will be difficult (although to be honest some startups are so desperate you’ll probably be able to get some work anyway). But the truth is, any well-educated (i.e. college or equivalent) person who applies themselves to learning software engineering will have companies bidding for them.

This shortage of developer talent is especially pronounced in VR, a field emerging at the forefront of technology. On the one hand, since the industry is still small compared to other industries, there are less jobs currently available. After all, very little money has been made in VR so far, and there are still a limited number of headsets available in the wild. Despite this, VR devs are having no trouble finding work, at least in tech centers such as San Francisco.

“Most everyone is already hired or remote,” said a VR developer working for a 40 person studio when asked about finding VR developers to hire in San Francisco. “Pretty sure I could walk down the street holding an HMD and a ‘Need Work’ sign and get stopped multiple times on my way home.”

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“I got like 5 job offers while out there,” commented another developer who is selling their game on the Steam Store, “but I’m working on my own project.”

Let us not forget this is all for an industry at ground zero. The number of companies utilizing VR is expected to explode exponentially over the next decade. If areas such as web development can still have an engineering shortage in such a mature market, then we can expect this VR developer shortage to worsen without adequate training pipelines.

Universities alone have not been able to fill the tech shortage. In the US, only about 11,400 people graduated from University with a Computer Science or Computer Engineering degree in 2011. That number is rising, but still far behind the estimated 500k developer jobs left unfilled each year. Universities like UC Berkeley are artificially limiting the number of their students who can major in CS, citing insufficient budget, staff, and facilities to fill demand. With colleges dropping the ball, development bootcamps have emerged as a possible solution. For the comparative cost of a semester of ivy league college, these bootcamps immerse students full-time into a specific type of development for 8 – 12 or more weeks.

It was the success of such programs and my own in-the-trenches learning that convinced me to help make one of the first ever VR development bootcamps, something you should absolutely apply to if you want to get a career in VR as fast as possible.

But even the added effort of development bootcamps will likely not be enough to close the developer gap without huge expansion (it’s estimated that for every 5 CS graduates there is 1 dev bootcamp graduate). Physical space and access to good teachers is limited. For example, our first VR camp has space for 30 people, meaning we can only teach 10-20% of those who want to learn through our program. Just to keep our acceptance rate above 10% means we’re going to have to increase our number of classes exponentially as the VR market does the same. Even with several other companies joining us in doing this, we’ll be woefully short of the total demand.

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Perhaps to solve this problem in the long term, we need to target it closer to its source. Good VR developers are a subset of good developers, and the whole category is in short supply. What we really need is to incorporate technical learning earlier in the education cycle, ensuring we have enough people with the skills our society needs. It’s well established that our current K-12 system is archaic; if we can change earlier learning to better reflect societal needs, maybe the shortage of developers will disappear gradually.

This is doubly important considering that 45% of current jobs are expected to be automated by 2033. We’re drastically under preparing our population for skills needed in the future, of which software development makes a large part.

Indeed, the future of the metaverse will be powered by VR developers. Our entire computing experience will be likely be in VR and AR within two decades, involving every avenue of our human experience. Those who create that software will not only be guaranteed jobs, but will build the future of human society. So, if you want to get ahead of the future, now is the perfect time to invest your skills into VR development. In the meantime, I’ll do all I can to empower you.

Author’s Note: I’m hosting a 3-day bootcamp in SF where I’ll be teaching the basics of Unity VR development. If you’re interested in learning to build VR apps, you can sign up here

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