The War for Tech Talent, With Numbers and Graphs

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But seriously, there is a war for talent, particularly developer talent, going on. Not just in Silicon Valley but also in NYC and many other places around the country.” Fred Wilson, The War for Tech Talent

All of the anecdotal and empirical evidence I have seen concurs, our static ten percent unemployment rates notwithstanding.

The question is what impact that has had on the ability of individual technology industry vendors to grow. To explore that, we’ve compiled the employee headcounts for an arbitrary collection of technology entities, and we’re again using the Motion Charts to visually display that information.


The challenge with the selection is that the large company headcounts of HP and IBM act to obscure the smaller entity growth rates. If you use the charts to examine the players individually, however, you’ll discover that even the smallest company on this list – Red Hat – has grown its headcount substantially; roughly 240% over the five year period.

The individual trendlines, as might be expected, reflect the various corporate narratives. HP’s dramatic growth from 2007 to 2008 displays the massive impact of the EDS transaction. Microsoft’s late decade malaise, meanwhile, is documented in its 4.3% downsizing from 2009 to 2010. Even high growth Google was off the year prior, shedding a few hundred jobs.

But in general, the slope documenting growth for all of the above entities – their financial performances aside – is high. We’ll look at industry growth in more detail in a subsequent post, but this quick and dirty look suggests two things. While the individual prospects for growth may vary – Google’s outlook is likely distinct from Yahoo’s, for example – the sector as a whole remains high growth, in spite of a recessionary economic context.

Which in turn means that the war for talent is unlikely to abate in the near future.

Sources: All headcounts are from annual reports except Cisco. Cisco doesn’t include headcounts in their annual reports and so their CSR reports were used as a subsitute from 2010-2006. Their employee diversity report was used for 2005. Credit goes to our own Marcia Chappell for compiling these numbers.

Disclosure: Cisco, HP, IBM, Microsoft, and Red Hat are RedMonk customers; Google and Yahoo are not.


  1. I see a lot of anecdote but very little empirical evidence for this.
    If there really was competition for technical talent, salaries would be rising, but there’s no evidence of that.

    Check the 2010 OES statistics at
    and the 2009 ones at

    The mean annual salary for computer and mathematical occupations has risen $1000 in that year, or about 1.4%. I expect the 2011 statistics to be much the same, possibly showing a slight decrease.

    As you noted, the unemployment rate for information technology matches the overall rate, so it’s not even the case that employment for the technically talented is growing. At best it’s holding steady.

    In any case ‘talent’ in the phrase ‘war for talent’ has to be analyzed semiotically, as a signifier which has entirely different meanings according to the context. To the un- or under-employed software engineer over the age of 50, it means his/her abilities no longer count, that the passage of time alone has stolen all those talents away. To the employer trying to find a technician with five to ten years’ experience of Ruby on Rails, Postgres, social media, and with management skills: it means there is a shortage of people to fill that position, hence a lack of ‘talent’. Talent is generally understood as an aptitude, but in IT it usually means the set of keywords the ATS scanner is looking for in a resume.

    The situation is not much changed from 1998,

    1. Excellent pushback. 

      My sense is that this is part semantics, the byproduct of my lack of precision in my argument. I have been employing “talent” to refer to a set of in demand skills, as opposed to broader industry exposure and experience. 

      As you note, history counts for little in this profession, as the emphasis is always on the present at the expense of the past. But this is little different from non-technical industries like finance, where an influx of younger, more capable employees is putting pressure on industry veterans with an outdated skillset. Adaptability is, as ever, vital. 

      More problematic for me however is the conflation inherent in the OES and BOL data, as they compress marketable and less marketable skills into a metric which reflects the labor reality of neither. It seems self-evident to me, for example, that the addressable market and expected margins will differ for an Ada programmer versus one skilled in JavaScript, and the data largely reflects this (http://www.indeed.com/jobanalytics/jobtrends?q=ada%2C+javascript&l=). 

      What is required then, in my view, is a mechanism that provides more granular and technology specific metrics than is available from the OES. I am not aware, however, of any source that would provide reliable data on same, as the self-reported survey or site metrics are challenged. 

      Big picture, then, I still believe that there is a war for talent, but that it’s more narrowly concentrated around a dynamic set of skills than can be accounted for by the data originally pointed to. That said, the data does actively challenge the assumptions in an interesting way. My thanks to you for linking to it.

      1. Got any connections at glassdoor.com or similar? Might be able to get retrospective access to older years of their data, or some way to filter by submission date. Then you could look at things like the salary of a Google software engineer in 2008, 2009, 2010, etc. Obviously those data aren’t perfect, but few things are.

      2. “war for talent.. is more narrowly concentrated around a dynamic set of skills”that’s exactly it. “set of skills” ≠ “talent” in any ordinary reading, is my argument: if you have the talent, the set of skills can easily be acquired: but the vast majority of employers look only for the set of skills, so they will always have a hard time finding what they are looking for. To my mind it’s not simply a lack of precision but a category mistake, to equate these. It is unlikely we’ll ever collect data of sufficient granularity to track each months’ new “set of skills”, given the combinatorial explosion of platforms, tools, frameworks and languages. 

        I would note that I worked in Ada twenty years ago, and work in Javascript now. It can be done. 

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