What is really hot in STEM Jobs?

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.

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10 Comments

  1. Paul McLaughlin January 21, 2013
    • Henry January 22, 2013
    • PJW January 22, 2013
    • Ivan January 23, 2013
  2. John F. McGowan January 22, 2013
  3. Phillip January 26, 2013
    • Amy Devine March 8, 2013
      • John F. McGowan March 9, 2013
  4. John F. McGowan January 27, 2013
  5. Pingback: The Catch-22 STEM Job Market March 4, 2013
  6. Pingback: Where are the “big problem” jobs? March 4, 2013
  7. Amy Devine March 8, 2013

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