The Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University has featured my experimental research on programming as part of their working paper series.
Here’s most of the CGO executive summary:
High-skill technology workers are a boon to the US economy. Salaries are high for tech workers and jobs are plentiful, yet relatively few college students major in computer science or related fields. Furthermore, women are much less likely than men to pursue careers in tech. What is causing this low interest for careers in technology?
It is possible that with training opportunities, more people would go into tech careers. Or, it could be that tech work is simply unattractive to many workers. In this paper, author Joy Buchanan provides the first controlled study of what factors affect the decision to pursue a career in tech. The study serves as a foundation for future research on labor trends in tech.
In her experiment, subjects complete a survey and express the minimum amount they would need to be paid to complete a one-hour programming assignment. The actual payment for the assignment is then determined by chance. Subjects are only invited to complete the assignment if the randomly selected payment is more than their minimum rate. In some treatments, subjects receive encouraging messages or information before they make their decisions.
In all treatments, most subjects opted to complete the programming assignment. However, their willingness to accept the job depended on the pay. The variation in subjects’ willingness to accept payment helps explain trends in tech employment.
Importantly, several factors had little to no effect on subjects’ willingness to program. These include:
- Previous programming training
- Encouraging messages about the assignment
- Information about assignment content
The most important factor affecting the decision is whether the subject enjoys (or believes they would enjoy) programming. Subjects who were willing to complete the assignment at lower wages reported higher enjoyment of programming in their initial survey.