Can Neelie Kroes & the European Commission really fight the developer crunch?


Neelie KroesIt’s hard times for a startup in 2013 – with the barrier to entry significantly lowered to actually starting your company (or at least, launching a website), it seems that barrier has been replaced by another – a barrier to hiring. As many startups begin to scale up all over the world, a ‘developer crunch’ – or, a lack of enough developer talent – first began to take form in the Silicon Valley; however, like all things startup, what starts in the Silicon Valley is inevitably adopted in all other cities, and it has certainly begun a common conversation in European networking events.

During CeBit this week, Digital Agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes announced that the European Commission would be investing one million euros into a ‘grand coalition,’ whose job will be to encourage IT education across Europe. Kroes pointed out five needs that she identifies in the IT employment space that have led to an estimated 900,000 jobs being unfilled in the IT space by 2015:

  1. Lack of Awareness: some people just don’t know that an IT career is a possibility for them
  2. The curriculum for education doesn’t include a general IT education
  3. The training that individuals are getting in IT doesn’t match with what the labor market is looking for
  4. The IT labor force is not always in the same place as the employment opportunities
  5. It’s difficult to assess someone’s IT skills

Kroes certainly embodies a lean mentality about tackling these solutions – piggybacking off of national initiatives, Kroes says “I know they are successful: why not have twice as many of them this year?” in anticipated response to criticisms about her 1st identified need.

I have to say that, on the whole, I am in agreement with Kroes’ propositions; although I think that, while the government will always try to keep an even distribution of IT talent across the market, I imagine businesses (at least, smart ones) will tend to regions where there is an excess of talent at a relatively minimal cost – Warsaw, Bucharest, Prague, etc.

What I’m more interested to see is when European tech companies will start identifying companies that ‘hire smart,’ like Google & Apple, and begin hunting their talent. At a recent CTO networking event that I co-organized with France Digitale at Criteo’s Paris office, I asked some of the CTO’s about their recruiting habits. When the suggestion of stealing talent from another startup/tech company came up – namely because two of the CTOs use more-or-less the same technologies and, thus, are hunting in the same talent pool – the suggestion was met with skepticism and resistance.

In total, the European Commission has pledged 4.5 million euros to combat the developer crunch in Europe, and as Europe goes forward, I am beginning to think more & more that what will differentiate Europe as a tech ecosystem will be its ability to work with the government to improve the ecosystem, something that the US tech scene has never really been able to do.

For more info, the BBC wrote a great piece on the subject as well.