When I started in technology, there was a clear line between programmers and other IT roles, such as hardware engineers. They were distinct disciplines with their own requirements, and they had separate career paths. Today that’s changing; you can still be a hardware engineer, but more and more IT functions require some familiarity with programming.
Whether it’s writing scripts or batch files, IT professionals find it necessary to get familiar with Perl, Java and other software languages. Programming skills are essential as systems become more integrated and automated.
While the need for programming is a challenge to IT professionals, it’s also a challenge to management. IT leaders have to find employees with the right mix of skills—and the mindset to continue their education and develop new proficiencies.
If the right skill sets aren’t available on the job market (or come at too high a price), organizations can train their existing workforce. Of course, you may be reluctant to train up your staff for fear that these employees will go elsewhere. It’s a legitimate concern, but I always think of this quote whenever I hear such an objection: What happens if we invest in developing our people and they leave us? What happens if we don’t and they stay?
There are plenty of training options available, including online (Code.org is a good place to start) and classroom instruction. Tech conferences can also be valuable. I encourage my own staff to learn new skills by letting them take equipment home so they can build and explore. They seem to enjoy this aspect of training, because they come back to work asking questions and looking for answers on their own.
However, one drawback of staff training is that some individuals don’t really know what role they see for themselves in the future in the organization. Do they want to be an engineer? A manager? It’s hard to direct them to training if they don’t have clear path for themselves.
On the hiring side, the best places where I find individuals are job fairs at local colleges, community colleges or other technology organizations. I have hired several individuals from DeVry Institute and highly recommend them—they’ve turned out to be great investments.
In addition to finding (or training) the right staff, IT leaders and managers also have to create a collaborative environment for these employees to work within. Collaboration is a must to manage and maintain all the disparate systems that are required to run the business. We also see trends such as software-defined networking and hybrid clouds where scripting and the ability to integrate different platforms via software are essential.
We need more non-programmers to become more familiar with writing software. We also need programmers to get more involved with systems and network management. IT managers should start now to find and develop programming talent. Are you looking for employees with more programming skills? If so, are you hiring, training or both?