It might actually be possible to launch an Internet enterprise at the speed of light—if only there were enough human resources to go around.

The reality is that nothing moves at Internet speed, not even Internet startups. Finding smart software developers to turn visions into working code is both difficult and expensive.

Local colleges and universities are doing their best to fill the void.

“Enrollments are rising,” says George Hauser, chairman of the computing science and computing engineering department at Pacific Lutheran University. “PLU has experienced growth in this area.”

Yet the U.S. Department of Education reports that the number of bachelor of science degrees awarded in computer science actually fell by 41.7 percent between 1986, when there were 41,889 of them, and 1995, when the number declined to 24,404.

Hauser too saw enrollment in computer classes drop in the early 1990’s. He notes that college majors are somewhat like fads, with almost constant shifts in popularity.

PLU offers bachelor of science degrees in computer science and computer engineering. Minors can also be earned in these disciplines, as well.

A bachelor of arts in computer science covers more subject matter than a minor but is not as difficult or in-depth as the bachelor of science degree, Hauser says. The degree is intended to be a second major, to be taken up by an art student who wants to learn about graphic design, for example.

The bachelor of science degree is for those seeking a career as software engineers and other high-tech positions. The PLU program contains the equivalent of a whole year of studying just math and science.

“That tends to scare people away,” Hauser admits.

City University offers a BS in computer systems, with students selecting one of four sequences within the program. Classes are offered at the Renton and Everett campuses, but not at the Tacoma branch.

The University of Puget Sound offers a BS in computer science, as well as a minor in the subject.

The University of Washington-Tacoma offers classes towards a BS in computing and software systems.

The UW system offers more degrees in this field at the main campus in Seattle and a branch in Bothell.

“I could see down the road that the Seattle degrees would be offered here,” says Larry Crum, a professor and director of the computing and software systems.

Crum is often contacted by local companies looking for workers. He said UW-Tacoma may start an internship program.

Pierce College offers associate of arts degrees in digital design, database management and design, programming, technical support and computer network engineering.

The school has one-year certificate programs in computer systems, computer network administration and computer programming languages.

Pierce also offers an associate of arts and sciences degree in management information systems. The degree is geared towards students pursuing business careers. The AAS for computer science and computer engineering are for software engineers.

Tacoma Community College was unable to provide information on its programs.

The number of unfilled IT positions in the United States stood at 346,000 in January 1998—and the situation reportedly has gotten worse in the interim.

Growth in the Internet has placed an impossible demand on this shrinking labor pool. The Commerce Department forecasts the demand for new IT professionals between 1994 and 2005 will add up to 1 million.

In a 1999 report, research firm Dataquest estimated that the worldwide market for IT developer services will increase to $291 million by 2001.

Many frustrated heavy hitters in the industry have turned to outsourcing as the solution. In theory, it’s a great idea: Hire remote freelancers or an offshore firm, pay per project and never worry about relocation, office space, equipment or immigration. In practice, though, outsourcing is hard to execute.

Unless you have a full-time manager devoted to tracking down and dealing with freelancers or software development companies—and few start-ups do—quality hired-gun software developers are hard to find the prospects.

Many local IT firms contact PLU’s Hauser regarding students.

“I have people calling all the time looking for employees,” he says.

Some companies need IT professionals so badly they encourage students to drop out of college to start working, he adds.

In India, Singapore, Israel and the Philippines, meanwhile, the volume of IT graduates is on the increase. The result is that technology companies are looking beyond our borders to get their jobs done. They reportedly like what they see, provided they can find it.

Hauser says PLU is looking to India, Europe and other parts of the world for professors. It is difficult to find an American with a Ph.D in computer science, he says.

Hauser says the salaries earned by professors often can’t match what the private sector offers in the field.

Because salaries for IT professionals are so high, students want to work right away. And they continue to work, rather than return to graduate school.

A local organization has emerged to address the labor shortage. Tacoma Network unites business leaders and educators in cultivating a high-tech workforce.

Educators from several schools gathered at the 733 Club in Tacoma on April 5. The group plans to hold more meetings on the subject.

For more information, contact the 733 Club on the Internet at http://www.tacomanetwork.com.

By John Larson, Business Examiner staff