a perplexing paucity of PHP programmers

My friend Abbas Ali, who is one of the lead programmers for the open-source Coppermine gallery project, writes with mild frustration about the seeming shortage of talented PHP programmers in India. He cites a number of reasons, one of which is a lack of good trainers:

Unfortunately in India you need a trainer for learning programming languages. No one is willing to learn on his/her own. As soon as a student goes to university, (s)he starts to search for training institutes. There are very few training institutes offering PHP courses and I will say none of them are good (at least in Nagpur). The sole reason is that the trainer himself/herself is not adept at PHP.

This is surprising to me. Certainly the vast majority of programmers in the US I know are self-taught, especially the web-centric ones who sling PHP and SQL code around all day. The availability of numerous and inexpensive training manuals (notably the O’Reilly series) seems to foster a DIY mentality towards picking up a new language, though neraly everyone has of ocurse had at least one programming ocurse in college even if they aren’t formal CS majors (and few are). Are there no such eequivalent resources available in the Indian market? Or is there a cultural difference at play here? Either way, it seems like there’s an opportunity of some sort to rectify this situation. There’s a vast amount of PHP and SQL based web application development going on, especially around the Twitter and WordPress ecosystems. Then again, James and crew over at WPMU.org are also always trying to recruit talent, too, so I wonder if the problem isn’t limited to India.

In fact, looking at my own example, my own knowledge of these technologies is pretty basic. I have written two plugins, one of which makes some vey nominal SQL calls and the other which is just a few simple PHP functions strung together, leveraging the hooks and wordpress API. I doubt very much that I’d come close to a “talented” PHP programmer of the sort Abbas’ company and others are looking for. Perhaps the depth of PHP knowledge is shallow overall and deep in only a few places, in which case Abbas has hit upon an observation that is truly global. If the depth of PHP and SQL knowledge could be increased across a broader swath of the talent pool, would we see an explosion of even better apps?

It certainly feels like there isn’t much technical innovation going on in the web right now. The only person out there in the tech punditsphere who actually gets his hands dirty and tinkers with code is Dave Winer, and he has built some really elegant things. Also I was really quite impressed with Joe Moreno’s URL-shortener solution. These sorts of things require broader knowledge than just PHP and SQL, such as DNS mapping. Most of the new sites that spring up covered by TechCrunch seem to be simple ideas implemented cleverly, but nothing really innovative seems to have come down the pike since, well, Twitter. Is the web industry stagnant for lack of talent overall?