OPINION | JEFF BYERS: Push us forward

State needs more software developers

The new year is a time for individuals and our state to look toward the future.

One of the statewide goals has been to push the state of Arkansas forward through education and new economic opportunities, primarily through technology. If we, as a state, are going to attract or become the next hub for tech, we've got to do the preparation work now.

In recent years, Arkansas has made great strides. Programs offering accessibility to education have emerged such as ASU's Swift Coding. The development of the Little Rock Tech Park further encourages the economic future and promises more jobs in tech. Meanwhile, former Gov. Asa Hutchinson's promotion of mandated computer science classes taught in high schools across the state is working to lay an educational foundation in computer science.

While all these are incredible strides for our state, we must go one step further and find ways to continue to encourage students to take the fundamentals of what they have learned to engage their skills at the next level and pursue careers in technology.

To go to the next level, we need to ensure our students are not only learning to code but are exposed to opportunities beyond mandatory high school and charter classes. One of those opportunities is software development. A recent survey by the workforce group Remote listed the software developer as the most critical digital job of the future.

Software development careers offer a diverse and meaningful career path for Arkansas' future generation. Beyond coding, software developers utilize creative and critical thinking skillsets as they plan, design, test and implement new systems, solve problems and design solutions. These careers offer meaningful work that builds on coding and looks to create innovations that improve our society.

More than ever, software developers are in high demand as our society continues to rely even more heavily on technology. For our future workforce in Arkansas, a career in software development means a chance at job security and economic growth. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the software development shortage to increase by at least 25 percent.

The entrepreneurial boom in Arkansas is alive and real. Whether buyable or fintech, technology continues to evolve. The backbone of many of our state startups stands at the intersection of good ideas and tech enablement. However, to execute and support these great ideas and entrepreneurs, home-grown software developers are needed in Arkansas to support and keep these businesses in our state.

Additionally, while Arkansas ranks in the lower tier for household incomes, software development jobs rank well above the state median. More individuals moving into the tech sphere offer one way for Arkansans to increase that median number. Moving forward, this means more financial opportunities for our state's families and individuals. It also means more economic benefits, from boosting Arkansas' tax base to attracting new businesses for a dynamic, highly skilled talent pool.

Great strides have been made in the last eight years to encourage young Arkansans to learn and pursue careers in technology. Advances and increases in STEM-focused education are creating remarkable momentum in the state. However, we must work to expand education across the state, so that students understand how to apply these new skills. One way to do it is to expose students to careers and futures stemming from those skills, such as software development.

Because bottom line, it's only a matter of time before the next tech hub emerges, and if that is going to be in Arkansas, there's no question--we need the software developers first.

Jeff Byers is vice president of software solutions at Mainstream Technologies in Little Rock.

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