Posted by
John F. McGowan, Ph.D. in
General on
January 21st, 2013 |
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This article takes a deeper look at STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) jobs in private industry, with a particular emphasis on mathematics. What jobs are hot? What jobs are not hot?

STEM jobs and education is the subject of a great deal of press coverage and public comment. There are perennial claims of shortages of STEM workers and that the United States is behind or falling behind other nations in STEM education. See for example the 2005 report Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future and its 2010 followup report Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5

This article surveys STEM job postings on the Craig’s List San Francisco Bay Area job board on January 13 and January 19, 2013. The key results of this brief survey are: very few entry-level or junior STEM jobs are posted. Most STEM job posts claim to require 2-7 years, often 3-5 years, of work experience in specific skills such as programming languages such as MATLAB or C++ and toolkits such as OpenCV or OpenGL. Very few jobs requesting more than 10 years of experience are posted. *There is little or no interest indicated in a range of mathematical skills taught in high school and college math including algebra and especially calculus. *

STEM job posts with a high mathematical content are dominated by statistics and data analysis, primarily business data and some medical/healthcare data. Most machine learning, “big data”, and data scientist posts fall into the category of statistics and data analysis. There are remarkably few STEM jobs posts seeking to solve “big problems” such as alternative, cheaper energy sources, curing major diseases such as cancer, and the like. The few companies that arguably post “big problem” jobs are often backed by the government (e.g. Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors and SpaceX) or may have special relationships with the government (e.g. Robert Bigelow’s Bigelow Aerospace).

**The General STEM Market**

In many respects, STEM jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area overlap heavily with software and programming jobs. To establish the context, the author took a look at software jobs with various requirements.

Craig's List San Francisco Bay Area Jan 13, 2013 Search Phrase Number Found "programmer" 107 "software engineer" 371 C++ "software engineer" 112 java "software engineer" 213 python "software engineer" 108 C# "software engineer" 45 embedded "software engineer" 27 phd "software engineer" 22 "junior software engineer" 1 "junior programmer" 1 "entry level software engineer" 0 entry level "software engineer" 3 junior "software engineer" 16 "new college graduate" "software engineer" 0 "senior software engineer" 98 C++ "senior software engineer" 36 java "senior software engineer" 68 python "senior software engineer" 35 C# "senior software engineer" 15 embedded "senior software engineer" 4 "software architect" 11 "principal software engineer" 6 "software project manaager" 1 Training training "software engineer" 29 "will train" "software engineer" 0 "training provided" "software engineer" 0 "data scientist" 6 "algorithm engineer" 3 "algorithm scientist" 1 PHD 127 PHD MATLAB 8 PHD OPENCV 0 Programming Languages C++ 234 C# 131 java 624 python 385 PHP 406 Ruby 256 Perl 246 SQL 537 MySQL 335 "Objective C" 81 "Objective-C" 46 MATLAB 35 Mathematica 2 SAS 30 Functional Languages/Exotic Languages haskell 0 erlang 2 lisp 1 (job at Apple) lua 19 ocaml 0 Version Control Git 113 Subversion 47 CVS 32 Perforce 24 Mercurial 4 RCS 2 (doubtful computer) SourceSafe 1 Toolkits etc. OpenCV (Computer Vision) 4 OpenGL (3D Computer Graphics) 17 Mobile iphone 197 Android 260 xcode 17 Miscellaneous database 1133 emacs 1 Linux 525 hadoop 105

There are two things that stand out. First, even in the Bay Area and even with the current hype about mobile devices, software jobs are dominated by tools used for business applications, especially the processing and analysis of business data: databases as a general category, SQL (Structured Query Language used by many databases), etc. Secondly, junior or entry level jobs requiring no or even less than two years of experience are extremely rare!

**A Catch-22 STEM Job Market**

One may ask if companies hire very few entry-level STEM workers, where do experienced STEM workers come from? Indeed, in some contexts, companies frequently claim to have large numbers of job openings in STEM fields that are never filled. But this is hardly surprising given that these job openings are for experienced STEM workers only and the companies, at least based on job posts found on Craig’s List and other job boards (which are similar), rarely hire entry-level STEM workers.

**A Shortage of Calculus Tutors?**

A great deal of mathematics education in high school and college in the United States is in algebra and calculus. When corporate titans and big name academics on blue ribbon panels bemoan the state of STEM education in the United States they seem to be saying that the United States is not producing enough students with the critical algebra and calculus skills that employers are struggling to find. Algebra and calculus being the mainstays of high school and college math education.

Algebra and Calculus in the Real World algebra 79 (50 in education category) algebra tutor 40 algebra teacher 12 algebra instructor 7 "linear algebra" 6 (2 tutors, 1 machine learning, 3 repeats of "Senior 3D Physics Engineer" -- game company/perpetual advertiser) "calculus" 61 (at least 55 tutors/instructors/teachers/etc.) -- 59 in education category on sat jan 19, 2013) out of 63 in "all jobs" other 4 were cross-posts of tutor/writer/etc. posts also in education/teaching category

Remarkably, all calculus jobs found on Saturday, January 19, 2013 were calculus tutors, teachers, and other forms of educators. A large majority of algebra jobs were tutors, teachers, and educators. Linear algebra which is usually taught in first or second year college mathematics courses and which arguably has considerable practical use turned up in a only a few job posts. STEM topics such as linear algebra tend to turn up most frequently in computer game job posts, not exactly what most people think of when they hear the United States is falling behind *(Russia/Japan/China/India/fill in your favorite foreign bogey man here)* in STEM education and workers!

The Wonderful World of Statistics

However, if we look at statistics, machine learning, data science, and similar topics, we do find many job posts, primarily for statistical data analysis of business data and sometimes medical/health data.

January 19, 2013 search results statistics 263 (37 in education/teaching category) statistics software 83 (2 in education/teaching category) "data scientist" 6 statistics "data scientist" 4 (check overlap) "machine learning" 59 statistics "machine learning" 12 (check overlap) statistician 1 SAS 40 SPSS 31 "statistical package" 1 "such as R" 5 (all refer to R programming language) "big data" 155 (0 in education/teaching category) "big data" hadoop 64 "big data" hbase 31 "big data" statistics 13 weka 2 NOSQL 95 nosql "big data" 21 probability 15

**Scientist Mostly Means Biotech**

A broader survey of STEM-related keywords and phrases showed that “scientist” in a job title mostly refers to biotechnology, health care, and medicine jobs. Every now and then one may encounter a “data scientist,” an “algorithm scientist,” or something like that, but most scientist positions are biology and medicine jobs — at least on Craig’s List San Francisco.

STEM KEYWORDS AND PHRASES "calculus" 61 (at least 55 tutors/instructors/teachers/etc.) -- 59 in education category on sat jan 19, 2013) out of 63 in "all jobs" other 4 were cross-posts of tutor/writer/etc. posts also in education/teaching category (saturday jan 19 2013 search) scientist 54 (vast majority science/biotech or healthcare) handful of exceptions: -- Sr. Data Scientist -- Speech Scientist "data scientist" 6 "speech scientist" 2 Scientist/Research Engineer, Applied Science 1 (basicaly data scientist) scientist teacher 1 engineer 1318 (mostly software) "research engineer" 3 "electrical engineer" 35 "mechanical engineer" 36 "chemical engineer" 2 physicist 1 physics 131 (62 in education category) physics tutor 42 physics teacher 13 physics instructor 12 physics faculty 7 (lot of overlap with tutor/teacher/etc.) physics game 15 (computer game jobs on examination) physics engineer 41 (gaming/optical engineering/misc/not tutor) mathematics 138 (44 in the education category) "applied mathematics" 5 (3 in education/teaching category) mathematician 8 (6 repeats of same web job, teacher, algorithm scientist) mathematics teacher 5 mathematics tutor 17 mathematics instructor 9 mathematics professor 1 (visiting assistant professor of statistics) mathematics faculty 15 mathematics educator 3 mathematics software 59 (vast majority are software engineer jobs) mathematics phd 8 algebra 79 (50 in education category) algebra tutor 40 algebra teacher 12 algebra instructor 7 "linear algebra" 6 (2 tutors, 1 machine learning, 3 repeats of "Senior 3D Physics Engineer" -- game company/perpetual advertiser) statistics 263 (37 in education/teaching category) statistics software 83 (2 in education/teaching category) "data scientist" 6 statistics "data scientist" 4 (check overlap) "machine learning" 59 statistics "machine learning" 12 (check overlap) statistician 1 SAS 40 SPSS 31 "statistical package" 1 "such as R" 5 (all refer to R programming language) "big data" 155 (0 in education/teaching category) "big data" hadoop 64 "big data" hbase 31 "big data" statistics 13 weka 2 NOSQL 95 nosql "big data" 21 probability 15 "mathematical mode" 0 theorem 0

**Big Problem STEM Job Posts Are Rare!**

Very few job posts involve solving or attempting to solve “big problems” such as new, alternative, cheaper energy sources, power and propulsion systems, or major medical problems. One occasionally finds jobs related to solar power or batteries on Craig’s List San Francisco. Only a few of these are engineering or R&D jobs. These often are companies backed by the government such as the now infamous Solyndra. It is very rare to see anything related to nuclear or thermonuclear fusion power.

Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors and SpaceX (Space Exploration) advertise jobs from time to time on Craig’s List. Both companies are heavily backed by the United States federal government. Probably the most exotic “big problem” job posts that appear on Craig’s List are from Las Vegas hotel billionaire Robert Bigelow’s Bigelow Aerospace, some of which read like *X-Files* episode plots. Bigelow Aerospace has received contracts from the federal government and there is considerable speculation regarding Robert Bigelow’s relationship with parts of the government.

BIG PROBLEMS Saturday Jan 19, 2013 "solar power" 67 (most non technical) engineer "solar power" 3 scientist "solar power" 0 solar 232 solar scientist 0 battery engineer 6 (not battery R&D though) "battery engineer" 0 "fusion power" 0 "thermonuclear fusion" 0 "alternative energy" 10 tesla motors 3 (two clerical, 1 IT app -- not car engine developer etc.) bigelow aerospace 2 (dated Dec. 28, 2012) -- chemical engineera -- mechanical engineer (spaceship life support systems?)

**Conclusion**

The key results of this brief survey of the Craig’s List San Francisco Bay Area job board are: very few entry-level or junior STEM jobs are posted. Most STEM job posts claim to require 2-7 years, often 3-5 years, of work experience in specific skills such as programming languages such as MATLAB or C++ and toolkits such as OpenCV or OpenGL. Very few jobs requesting more than 10 years of experience are posted. *There is little or no interest indicated in a range of mathematical skills taught in high school and college math including algebra and especially calculus. *

STEM job posts with a high mathematical content are dominated by statistics and data analysis, primarily business data and some medical/healthcare data. Most machine learning, “big data”, and data scientist posts fall into the category of statistics and data analysis. There are remarkably few STEM jobs posts seeking to solve “big problems” such as alternative, cheaper energy sources, curing major diseases such as cancer, and the like. The few companies that arguably post “big problem” jobs are often backed by the government (e.g. Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors and SpaceX) or may have special relationships with the government (e.g. Robert Bigelow’s Bigelow Aerospace).

Many of these results contradict common claims and themes in general news media articles, think tank reports, and other sources about STEM education, STEM employment, and alleged shortages of STEM workers (scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians).

It is common in the business press, as well as conservative and libertarian sources, to see claims that the government and/or politicians are short-sighted compared to the long term strategic vision of private industry. This is remarkably unsupported by the hiring patterns found on Craig’s List (and many other job boards, which are similar in content). Private businesses seem remarkably uninterested in tackling serious problems such as energy despite soaring prices and evident problems. In the rare cases where someone may be attempting to solve these problems, one often finds the heavy hand of government funding, for better or worse. Whatever one thinks of the much ballyhooed fracking technology, this, on close examination, can be traced to US Department of Energy research funding, and not, for example, the photogenic ExxonMobil scientists featured in ExxonMobil’s 2008 ad campaign.

© 2013 John F. McGowan

**About the Author**

*John F. McGowan, Ph.D.* solves problems using mathematics and mathematical software, including developing video compression and speech recognition technologies. He has extensive experience developing software in C, C++, Visual Basic, Mathematica, MATLAB, and many other programming languages. He is probably best known for his AVI Overview, an Internet FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) on the Microsoft AVI (Audio Video Interleave) file format. He has worked as a contractor at NASA Ames Research Center involved in the research and development of image and video processing algorithms and technology. He has published articles on the origin and evolution of life, the exploration of Mars (anticipating the discovery of methane on Mars), and cheap access to space. He has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a B.S. in physics from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). He can be reached at jmcgowan11@earthlink.net.

The problem isn’t that STEM posts are rare – it’s that Craigslist isn’t where they are advertised.

I couldn’t agree more with Paul. It is laughable that the author went through all this trouble of performing analysis on a data set that is out-of-sample to begin with. Maybe think about the relevance of your data set before publishing a meaningless paper with a misleading title?

Are they being posted any where then? If so where? Or are they found through network even more exclusively then programming and big data jobs?

The situation is very similar on other job boards/aggregators like indeed.com

On East Coast, there are more quant finance jobs which require knowledge of PDEs, but their number has decreased recently.

A couple of follow up comments to the article:

1. The San Francisco Bay Area, which includes the Silicon Valley, Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley, UCSF, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL), NASA Ames Research Center, and a number of other centers of STEM activities, probably has one of the highest concentrations of STEM employers, STEM jobs, and highly qualified STEM workers in the world.

Note that the article discusses results for the San Francisco Bay Area, not just the city of San Francisco. It is possible to search Craig’s List for jobs only in San Francisco. That is not what was done; the search was the job listings for the entire San Francisco Bay Area which includes the city of San Francisco, but also includes the Silicon Valley, Berkeley area, and so forth.

2. Craig’s List San Francisco job board is widely used by STEM employers and job seekers in the San Francisco Bay Area.

3. About 80 percent of the job posts on Craig’s List San Francisco are the same job posts as found on other job boards for the San Francisco Bay Area including Yahoo Hot Jobs, LinkedIn, DICE, and Indeed.com. The distribution of job posts on these other job boards is similar to Craig’s List.

4. One would expect STEM employers who are facing a dire shortage of STEM workers and struggling to find the rare candidates to post to Craig’s List San Francisco and other Bay Area job boards. Why keep their STEM jobs a secret from the rare highly qualified STEM workers in the San Francisco Bay Area?

5. Regarding calculus, a high proportion of STEM job listings list highly specific skills such as MATLAB or OpenCV. Quite a number of statistics and data analysis job posts, of which there are quite a number, will list specific methods such as Bayesian statistics, support vector machines, and so forth. But, they never mention calculus or specific types of calculus, and rarely mention algebra. This tends to strongly support that there is little interest in calculus even though this comprises most of traditional mathematics in high school and college in the United States.

My own experience is that calculus almost never appears in mathematically intensive industry work. Linear algebra, yes. Some types of statistics, yes. Calculus is very rare.

I am not taking a position on the merits of learning or teaching algebra or calculus. I am simply identifying what skills employers appear to be seeking.

Sincerely,

John

Well, the author actually have a point. Here is why:

In the book “why do good people can ‘t find jobs”, the author say employers tend to look for people that is both employed, and able to do the job “immediately”. This sort of excludes new coming stem workers.

Employers usually say they could find workers, but this is of their own doing. Most employers are unwilling to train new coming stem workers on the job. As we can see from the Craigslist adds.

Is this a new trend? I graduated with a BS in computer engineering in 2001 and I feel that I have been able to progress in my career from company to company without a stigma of being “new”. However I did pursue internships and volunteer work in my undergrad which beefed up my resume.

Are these employers unwilling or are they looking for at least some basic work experience?

I don’t think this catch-22 situation is new, nor unique to STEM jobs. I think it has gotten much worse since the downturn began in 2008.

I saw the same or a very similar pattern in STEM job posts in the classified section of the San Jose Mercury News newspaper and many other places before the Internet job boards.

I think if one gets a job through the college recruitment process and keeps that job for at least 3 years so one has the magic 3 years of experience, one can be pretty insulated from this reality.

There is a satire about this catch-22 situation (I can only get a job with work experience and I need a job to get work experience.) in the 1980’s movie The Secret of My Success. Michael J. Fox’s character gets a (non-STEM) job in New York City right out of college, moves to New York expecting to make it big, and gets laid off the day he starts work. Then, he tries to get a job on his own and discovers all the employers want real world work experience. He tries adding fake internships and other “experience” to his resume and eventually finds a job through a distant family connection. Obviously this is fiction and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but people were satirizing this sort of thing twenty-five years ago.

Do some companies hire enough people through the college recruitment process to fill the jobs demanding 3-5 years of experience, presumably posted by other companies, on Craig’s List, LinkedIn, and other job boards? Maybe. I doubt it. As I note, there are frequent, loud claims that companies are unable to fill large numbers of STEM (and non-STEM since the Great Recession began) job postings — but this is not really that surprising.

My point is that many employers seem to be expecting on-the-job learning and training to magically occur somewhere else at no cost to them. Taken at face value, they expect a competitor to hire and train new college graduates for 3-5 years, then pay these freshly trained employees too little or mistreat them sufficiently that they leave this previously generous employer of new college graduates for their — the complaining employers — company. This shortage of brain-damaged competitors somehow morphs into ardent complaints about STEM teaching and education at the elementary and high school level.

John

A follow-up on Calculus in the real world:

I conducted a search of the popular LinkedIn job board worldwide — not restricted to the San Francisco Bay Area — on Sunday, January 27, 2013. This turned up a total of thirty-nine (39) job listings matching the keyword “calculus”. Of these, twelve (12) were quant (quantitative finance or financial engineering) jobs. The quant jobs have fairly specific requirements in calculus such as:

Strong knowledge of financial theory, stochastic calculus, statistics, and knowledge of risk measures such as Value-at-Risk (VaR), Term Structure modeling and Monte Carlo Methods

The thirty-nine jobs included a couple of tutor positions, a physics and engineering teacher at a prestigious private school (prep school) in New England, about three computer game software jobs, a scattering of mechanical engineering and aerospace jobs. A few jobs used the word “calculus” in ways that did not refer to the calculus taught in high school and college mathematics, e.g. “ROI calculus”, or simply listed calculus as a course requirement without identifying any specific work that would require the actual use of calculus.

This is a tiny fraction of the technical jobs listed on LinkedIn. As a point of reference, here are the numbers for various other keywords and phrases on LinkedIn:

While there is considerable evident interest in statistics, there is very limited interest in most of the mathematics taught in high school and college in the United States including geometry, trigonometry, algebra, and especially calculus.

While calculus may be useful background knowledge, there appears to be negligible actual use of calculus in private industry: taking derivatives, solving differential equations, computing integrals, etc.

It is worth noting that the United States alone, not counting foreign universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, the Sorbonne, Tokyo etc, turn out thousands of Ph.D.’s in physics, mathematics, applied mathematics, electrical engineering, econometrics, and other fields every year.

Sincerely,

John

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Isn’t it assumed that a STEM graduate is proficient in calculus thus there is no need tss for it in a job posting? I assume that anyone with a BS in a STEM field has this skill and can use when necessary. Oftentimes with my job I never knew when I was going to need to at least understand mathematical theory.

I would wonder about the pay for a job that mentioned calculus as a needed skill as it sounds entry-level to me.