Defense: Mohan Featured in Report on Tech Vanguard Dodging the Pentagon
CQ, the publication dedicated to coverage of the U.S. Congress, and its sister publication RollCall feature extensive comments by Research Assistant Professor Sibin Mohan in a special report published in late June on U.S. defense preparedness. Mohan discusses why the students he sees, who are among the top computer science graduates in the country, are choosing to bypass Pentagaon jobs.
An excerpt from the report:
(Top) graduates, sought by massive tech firms, startups and even Wall Street, often choose between multiple lucrative job offers at salary levels reserved for veteran government employees.
“It’s hard to beat the pay,” said Sibin Mohan, a computer science professor at the University of Illinois, whose 2018 computer engineering graduates — the talent the Pentagon struggles to recruit and retain — earned an average starting salary of $99,741.
That salary level for 20-something computer nerds rivals the top level of what some government workers earn in the Washington metropolitan area.
The government pays its employees according to its “GS” salary table, a 15-tier pay scale with 10 different salaries at each grade. The average Illinois computer engineering graduate from 2018 earns $569 more per year than a GS-13 Step 1 employee in the Washington area, with the maximum amount a GS can make in the capital being $166,500 per year.
West Coast companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Uber are recruiting these students well before they graduate, and the local climate is part of the draw. A lot of people want to live in California, “as opposed to say living in D.C.,” Mohan said.
But it is smaller tech firms that are escalating the bidding war.
“Startups are ready to pay extra money just to attract students away from some of these big names,” Mohan said.
And back on the East Coast, Wall Street quantitative trading firms are showering computer geniuses with cash to help shave lucrative nanoseconds off transaction times.
In recruiting tech talent, the government simply can’t outbid the private sector. Luckily for the Pentagon, some of the country’s brightest college graduates aren’t solely motivated by money.
“I know students who’ve had offers from the Wall Street firms, a decent amount of money, and turned it down because they were not excited about it,” Mohan said. “If the government agencies show them the cool work that can be done, then some students might be attracted to it.”
So-called “cool” work for recent grads could very well be their deciding factor between jobs. Those jobs could include the short-staffed red teams at the Pentagon and other cybersecurity roles across the government.