Why is there a shortage of good programmers?

Professor Shirley Williams of the University of Reading asks why finding good programmers is so hard, before discussing how the free online course “Begin Programming: Build Your First Mobile Game” is designed to help.


There is a myth that there is a shortage of programmers. However, in my experience when employers advertise for programmers they are often swamped by applications. What there is a shortage of is good programmers.

Over the years I have worked on various Knowledge Transfer Projects and have often had to recruit programmers. On paper there are many qualified applicants whose CVs claim expertise in the required programming language, but when this is put to the test many of the applicants lack the skills they have claimed.

All too often the applicant has written some programs but these are at a basic level, such as a program to convert measurements from metric to Imperial. Usually these applicants haven’t written anything substantial on their own and are unable to spot mistakes in someone else’s code.

Why is there a shortage of good programmers?

Because learning to program is challenging, and becoming a good programmer takes a lot of time and practice. Some people think that they are going to be proficient after a few hours of study, not realising that becoming a programmer is a long process. Then there are students who study strategically, learning only the bare minimum needed to pass a course, without worrying that this does not mean they are good programmers.

What needs to be understood is that learning to program is like learning a foreign language – we can all pick up a few key words but it takes years to become fluent in reading and writing. There are subtleties of syntax and semantics that need to be understood.

Learning one foreign language will almost certainly help in learning others, but while some natural languages share common roots and have many similarities, there are others that are very distinct in character. The same is true with programming languages; while many modern programming languages share common roots, there are different families.

What is the solution?

Our course “Begin Programming: Build Your First Mobile Game” aims to introduce you to programming in a way that encourages you to become a good programmer.

We use the example of a mobile game to make it fun, but at the same time it’s challenging. The discussions allow you to get input to your code from other learners, or to troubleshoot someone else’s problems. We use the same development software as industry professionals worldwide for the course, so you’re learning to use the tools of the trade properly from the outset.

Whether you’re interested in coding for a hobby, or are considering a career as a programmer, it’s good to start out in the right way. Becoming a good programmer can be a long journey, but if you’re starting your journey with us, we hope you’ll feel welcome and have fun!

Join “Begin Programming: Build Your First Mobile Game” now.

Category Digital Skills
Begin Programming: Build Your First Mobile Game

Begin Programming: Build Your First Mobile Game

Learn basic Java programming by developing a simple mobile game that you can run on your computer, Android phone, or tablet.

Join this free online course

Comments (49)


  • Alvin Jones

    Retired and 77 but want to be efficient in programming in a year. I was a Network Engineer and hardware dude. I want to grow up and be one of the programmers.

  • Antony Fountain

    There is an entry point barrier to be sure.

    But there are also structural issues associated with the way British Industry runs itself: there is a strong tendency to hire off the shelf rather than develop skills internally. As a Principal Engineer with more than 35 years in the industry, I have delivered a myriad of training courses all over the world, mostly in the USA, but have never been on one myself here in the UK.

    There are also needless entry barriers associated with Project Management, agile and TDD have become bottlenecks to entry, irrespective of the skills you have to offer the style of management has become something of a mantra, if you dont have Agile/Kanban or have not been exposed to TDD, you are wasting your time applying to some organisations. Which is desperately short sighted, people are highly adaptable as beings and can fit in to whatever structure they are required on the whole.

    Persevere: the best industrial concerns are looking for a brain: many years ago I was working for a small company and we hired a lady from the Royal School of Music as a programmer: certainly skills had to be taught, but a degree in anything shows that you have the basics required.

  • Michael

    Don’t become a programmer. I wasted time, money and effort on nothing but misery. A 2 year education and nobody wants to hire me because I “don’t have 5 years experience”.

    There is no shortage of developers. The whole industry is lying to you.

    • Srikant

      I totally sympathize with you. In my experience, it’s easier to get a foot in the door to this industry if you have a degree in computer science, IT or a related field. It’s hard to break in as an “outsider”. I have been struggling to get even a Junior Developer role. Nobody is willing to take a chance on me.

    • Adam

      I agree: I have 5 years experience with significant IT project exposure, and then decided to try to become a developer, but would have spent much less time and money doing an MBA – now the only work I can get is night shifts on a service desk and I have not even seen any code. I think in the UK they would rather it was all done by outsourcing to an off-shore graduate (who really does not care that much about the business as opposed to the billing) than take the chance on hiring and building up there own team. This is why UK productivity is so poor – we don’t implement enough code. Coding skills should be required regularly in every department where there is automation (so all) – but this is just not the reality.

  • Jimmy Ang

    Thank you very much.
    Hope that after this course I will be able to proceed all the way to advanced level and possibly qualify for a programmer job.

  • Amir

    Hi Professor Williams,
    Allah will bless you
    I look forward to beginning this course.

  • justice

    Nice one Professor Williams.
    Profession i want to be a programmer (web application), i really need someone to guide me through because i have little or no knowledge about programming. i will appreciate it if i could get some articles from you. Meanwhile, thank you so much for this insight.

  • Philip

    God will bless you

  • Chris B

    Hi Professor Williams,

    I look forward to beginning this course. What a great endeavor you and your colleagues have undertaken. It’s much appreciated! I hope it can help me secure employment.

  • Dayvkomo

    thank you very much Prof. for this one… what a good article!

  • Olumide

    Super Awesome

  • Dotse Dossou

    This is a good article for all programmers. It is more than an article, it a good piece of advise for programmers and anybody interested in programming.
    Thank you Prof for sharing your experience with us.

  • Nikita

    I want to learn to program.

  • pondurugowreeswari

    am just have first time MOOC online course hope to learn a lot hear.its my dream to learn computer progrommings ..so happy

  • Suzan

    i have just read about this Course ! … so i´m late , is it good now to start ? or sould i wait for another course ? 🙂

    • Yannick

      Hi Suzan!) Hope you are doing well. Just wanted to tell you, that you are not late for joining the course. It is going to start the 4th April 2016. Have a nice day 🙂

    • Orest

      Does anybody know In what time the first lesson is going to begin tomorrow?

  • Pavan

    Its my dream to learn computer programmings..so happy…

  • samia chelbi

    I am so excited to start !!!!!

  • Fernando

    This is my first MOOC course and it’s what I dreamed to be at the moment. I’m 100% ready to start

  • nwagu o. c. umeh

    Am just have my first time online course ,hope to learn a lot here.have no previous experience at all about computer or programming but am certain I will do it.

  • Allen

    Just signed up for the course. To answer Kate, I have Apple products too, and have no intention of using anything android, but Macs have a java compiler as standard too, so you should have no trouble with the tasks. There is a slow (evidently) convertor for any android app to run on a Mac

  • basma

    Hellooo there, this is my first online course ever! I am super excited. Hope the best for everyone

    • Yannick

      Hellooo!) Thanks and same to you)

  • Kate francis

    Can this be done on Apple products as I only have iPhone and Mac book

    • Klaas Doesburg

      Hi Kate,
      You can find out whether or not your computer is suitable for the software used in this course by going through the steps in this questionnaire: https://uor.typeform.com/to/VZvWFh

  • Anne-Marie Luckhurst

    Will pass this on to my son who wants to do this course

  • Aesha Bhavsar

    so Excited.. 🙂

  • Brian

    Write a small app/game and become a world leader in programming… wow, sounds wonderful. Reality then sinks in and you realise it ain’t going to be easy. I’ve programmed in several languages but not for Android. Reason for doing this course? I want to write a small app for astronomical purposes which will be hugely important in the particular field I will work in with this learning curve. I am not in it for money, just satisfaction and the knowledge I have written an app that will last a while and give thousands an easy ride out in the dark fields at night! It will be open to modification by those who want to take it further although there will be a limit as to how much it can be developed as the area it will cover will only requre certain recorded information. I look forward to the course…

  • Sideso kome

    Really inspiring write-up, cant wait to begin the course! #FLMobigame

  • Dave

    Looking forward to learning how to write a mobile game, earning a shedload of dosh, leaving current soul grind of a job and enjoying life.

  • Hugh Muzbejoe-King

    There is no shortage of programmers, whether good or bad, in the UK. They are shipped over in their thousands from India using the Intra-Company Transfer scheme, to work at lower rates in the UK than the natives possibly can. India has a population of over 1.2 Billion – there will never be a shortage of them.

  • Makinin

    this is great and i cant wait to start this course

  • Steve

    I’d question whether there is a shortage of programmers. Where are the jobs? Not in this country…

  • Henrietta Ijenebe

    I aspire so much to be like you soon in programming. I will not hesitate to contact u if I have questions ma.

  • Otávio Nogueira

    Great post! I’m delighted to get in this course! c”,)

  • Tabish Kafili

    Desperately waiting to start the course with you. (Y)

  • Harry Aizen

    I am so excited about this course, i cant wait to get started, i know its going to be really insightful, spectacular and awesome.

  • jordan tucker

    i currently hire freelancers to program my apps/games so I’m hoping to eventually cut out the middle man and save cost 🙂

  • Pete Crawley

    Things have changed since I started programming in the 1960s with focal, I only had 1000 bits to work in, but managed to solve many engineering problems. Since then I have worked in Fortran, Basic, C, C++,Pascal and Visual Basic, but never in Java. I was never a Programmer as such but I programmed to solve problems in my job as an Engineer. I look forward to this new experience as I need to keep my brain going, I’m only 83 so only young yet.

  • Andy Gathercole

    Looking forward to the challenge


  • Simon

    Obviously I agree with the arguments article because I’m a good programmer (or am I?). The course sounds interesting.

  • ant

    cant wait to get started

  • Dipendra Pokharel

    This reads interesting. Could not wait more to start the course. I have a lot of expectation with the course.

  • John Gallagher

    This was an encouraging piece. I’m looking forward to starting the course.

  • Soukaina

    Thank you so much for this insight on how to become a good programmer. I’m looking forward to joining you on this course!

  • Stuart Finnie

    Looking forward to starting the course. Also, I work for the West of Scotland KTP Centre so nice to see Knowledge Transfer Partnerships getting a mention!

  • Rob Meush

    This was well written. Can’t wait to begin 🙂