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Sorry State of IT Education: Readers Propose Fixes
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smartin230
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smartin230,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/6/2014 | 11:51:35 AM
Getting closer
I think you are getting closer to the problem. The kind of skills needed for JOBS come from companies retaining and training employees, investing in them over time. This leads to company "knowledge". Cutting corners and employees ever economic downturn causes a loss of knowledge history and basically a way of doing things that can't be taught in schools without hands on experience . The kind of skills needed for leadership positions come from college education in critical thinking and problem solving.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
5/6/2014 | 12:37:13 PM
Many nails hit on the head here
This follow-up is excellent, hitting on all the bad practices of businesses but still missed one, H1-B visas.  It's the grasshoppers verses ants scenario.  Growing and developing internal IT staff (either through internal training or external education) is the "ant" thing to do allowing long term survival.  Shopping for talent a few weeks or months prior to implementation is the "grasshopper" approach then calling on H1-B visas to "survive" every time actually jeopardizes long term survival.  
LawrenceGarvin
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LawrenceGarvin,
User Rank: Author
5/6/2014 | 1:44:34 PM
Re: Many nails hit on the head here
I intentionally did not include the H1-B question. While it's certainly been mentioned, my personal opinion is that in most cases the mentions are a red-herring with respect to this conversation. The issue is not whether jobs are or are not available, or who's taking them; the issue is that the people that ARE being hired appear to be undertrained/undereducated, and the conversation is about how to solve that problem. From my perspective it's absolutely irrelevant what the immigration status of an employee is. Either they're qualified for the job, or not. Either the employer properly defined the job qualifications, or not. Ultimately it's about whether the employee can perform the tasks asked by the employer. If employees are leaving with corporate knowledge because they were short-term acquisitions in the first place, I submit it matters less what the immigration status was of the application, and more that the business simply failed to properly value the placement of that corporate knowledge. Shopping for talent just prior to an implementation is likely a fatal error of its own making. In fact, it doesn't take an H1-B visa for an employer to make that same mistake even with native-born employees.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
5/6/2014 | 3:18:15 PM
Re: Many nails hit on the head here
Point taken but the increased use of H1-B for IT placements started in the early 90's to supposedly fill skill shortages.  The dynamics for the IT skill shortages are still at work after more than 20 years.  When we have shortages in other fields it doesn't take 20 years or more to fill them.  Teacher shortage? Nurse shortage? We don't use H1-B to fill them we use the educational system but not for IT.  There use to be an education department within most fortune 500 companies years ago.  It's been replaced by recruiters and H1-B applicants.
LawrenceGarvin
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LawrenceGarvin,
User Rank: Author
5/6/2014 | 3:38:35 PM
Re: Many nails hit on the head here
Now this part I do agree with. It was supposed to be for the purposes of filling a short-term skills crunch, and for whatever reason, not just IT, our entire educational system has let down a lot of scientific and technical fields... presumably now being rectified by our renewed focus on STEM education. (Provided we educate, and not just job train.)

Here's a motto I just thought up... "Education builds a career; job training pays the rent."

You offer a great comparison to nursing and teaching shortages.... perhaps, in some part, because both of those professions require degrees and occupational licensing, the educational system was the only available system to fill that gap. Unlike those professions, though, similar gateways do not exist for IT jobs, so an employer can take any person off the street who claims to have the requisite skills (or certification, as is often the case).

So ... which is the cause and effect here, may be the relevant question. Are employers continuing to rally the cry for immigrant workers, claiming they can't find qualified domestic workers, because our educational systems are, in fact, failing to deliver. Or is this purely an economic model where employers are undervaluing the actual skill sets required to perform a job, and no longer willing to pay what a high-quality college graduate should earn?

Also worthy of note, the economic motivations are not just related to immigrant workers who may be willing to work for significantly less, but it also applies to the work being outsourced to offshore service providers.
Zman7
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Zman7,
User Rank: Strategist
5/6/2014 | 12:45:08 PM
IT Education vs Training
IMO, universities should stick to training. Why?  Anyone good enough to educate people about the strategic use of critical thinking in information systems is doing it in the private sector.  This critical thinking can't be taught in liberal arts classes either.  We have college grads that can't even complete a full sentence, let alone be expected to do any critical thinking.  Once someone has the basic training, they can observe critical thinking and learn it on the job.

Outsourcing is a decision by management to purposely avoid the overhead of an in-house department. IT and systems support is a commodity anymore.  Why should the company invest in something they can purchase more cheaply elsewhere?  Just because you own a car doesn't mean you take mechanics classes so that you can maintain it - you outsource the maintenance.

I also think that anyone selecting the IS/IT career path will find that it is indeed the path to a good living.
LawrenceGarvin
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LawrenceGarvin,
User Rank: Author
5/6/2014 | 1:57:20 PM
Re: IT Education vs Training
Just because you own a car doesn't mean you take mechanics classes so that you can maintain it - you outsource the maintenance.

A common challenge in this conversation is confusing the user with the professional.

I absolutely agree that I, as an automobile owner, will find benefit in "outsourcing" my automotive maintenance needs. The alternative being [a] doing it myself, or [b] hiring a personal automotive mechanic -- neither of which are economically viable solutions.

However... I still expect the mechanics who work for my chosen outsourced provider to have the skills necessary to perform their jobs. As I've commented elsewhere, if I take my SuperDuty Diesel Truck into an automotive shop and the mechanic/technician on duty can't figure out why it doesn't have spark plugs, we're all in a big heap of trouble.

The same analogy applies to IT. A computer USER... a business productivity worker... an information worker.. whatever you want to call them, has absolutely no need to understand the workings of the computer network. They click on an icon and magically the document gets transported from the disk drive of the server to the application on their desktop and the world is a great place for them to be.

But, if that event does not happen as expected, the Help Desk Operator on the other end of the phone call (email, IM, whatever) had better have a solid grasp of how networking works, from the server, through the switch, cabling, software, protocols, etc., all the way to the desktop, if they're going to be of any use to that user whatsoever. If the only thing that HDO can do is follow a pre-written diagnostic checklist and the problem is not one of those "pre-defined" situations, the problem doesn't get solved.

Now.... as an employer, I have a need to provide certain technology support services to my employees so they can deal with technology issues that fall outside the scope of their job duties. It's irrelevant whether I hire a full-time employee and put them at a desk in the workplace, or I higher a service-provider to take those calls. I still have the need, as a business owner, for exactly the same level of competence and service in meeting the needs of my staff. If the person tasked with solving that problem is incapable of solving the problem, I have a bigger problem than just the inability of my IT worker to perform the tasks of an IT worker: Now I also have an information worker who cannot perform their job either (through no fault of theirs).
Zman7
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Zman7,
User Rank: Strategist
5/6/2014 | 8:10:01 PM
Re: IT Education vs Training
"It's irrelevant whether I hire a full-time employee and put them at a desk in the workplace, or I higher a service-provider to take those calls. I still have the need, as a business owner, for exactly the same level of competence and service in meeting the needs of my staff."

Ahhh...but there's a big difference between the two. In one instance, the company has invested time and money in the employee without getting a good return; while in the case of the service-provider, the company can simply switch to another provider that will give the desired service.
LawrenceGarvin
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LawrenceGarvin,
User Rank: Author
5/6/2014 | 9:31:01 PM
Re: IT Education vs Training
I disagree. I also submit that your conclusions are based on premises not readily discernable.

The employer may or may not have invested any time or money in the employee; that is, of course, one of the primary tenets of these articles.

As for switching providers... that's likely subject to contractual obligations with the service provider, and even then, in most cases the damage will have already been done.
petey
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petey,
User Rank: Strategist
5/7/2014 | 3:08:12 PM
Re: IT Education vs Training
I respectfully disagree with your premise about critical thinking skills. First, these represent to me, what I would call 'analysis'. Second, I would suggest liberal arts classes and especially literature would be the exact place to learn them. Multi-layered plots and twists, incorrect deductions and assumptions, and incorrect decisions have been around since Shakespeare introduced them 450 years ago. Computerization and the internet have speeded up the need to recognize them. 
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
5/6/2014 | 2:26:12 PM
More on IT certification mistakes
More good food for thought here. For more on the use  -- and misuse -- of IT certifications, see this recent column on luring IT security pros.

 
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
5/7/2014 | 2:00:48 PM
Why shift from development to operational?
Is your point that there are simply more jobs in operational things like network support versus old days I came from where companies were looking for developers to write their systems and support ERP?

Now, with the "in the cloud" and "off the shelf" mentality, are you just suggesting that most development jobs are only at software companies, and not that many to go around? If so, I get your point. But somebody still has to educate the developers who do work at software companies.

You point about lack of entry level is right on. I've often wondered how anyone gets their first job in IT these days, whether development or operational.

Good followup to your original article, nice work.
LawrenceGarvin
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LawrenceGarvin,
User Rank: Author
5/7/2014 | 2:18:17 PM
Re: Why shift from development to operational?
Well, it's certainly an accurate statement that there has been a shift in the disciplines where the majority of IT professionals work. This effectively occurred with the shift from centralized (mainframe) computing to distributed (client-server) computing, which required significantly more operational/administrative workers than previously. The other shift that occurred as a result of that paradigm change is that organizations became more dependent upon commercially developed software, rather than building software in-house, so yes, to a lesser extent we also saw a shift of programmers from working directly for a "customer" to working for software development companies. I doubt there are less programming jobs today than there were then, they're just not on the payroll of the end-user.

Regardless of where the shifts in employment have occurred, both developers and administrators need to be educated. But this is where the breakdown has occurred. Universities, which have had programming curricula for dozens of years (and some of those curricula have even been updated to reflect contemporary development environments, but I do know of at least one university still teaching COBOL), have been less responsive in implementing curricula targeted at server operations and administration. That gap was filled by community colleges and trade schools and the resulting focus of those programs was on "job training", not on technology education.

As for the "first job" question, I don't really know the answer to that. For many years I've been asked that question: How do I get an entry-level job in IT when all of the job descriptions require experience? My best answer has been to volunteer. Experience does not need to be paid to count, and there are gazillions of non-profits who would be very grateful for the help. Shucks, there's probably quite a few SMBs who would be happy as well.

Which begs the question.... perhaps we should be promoting the idea of unpaid or min-wage internships as entry-level opportunities. Of course, that also requires a committment on the part of the employer to mentor that intern.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
5/7/2014 | 2:29:12 PM
Re: Why shift from development to operational?
Yeah, this company I work for now used to use interns helping the Win admin guy who was here. Because of constant dictated turnover and, by nature, they needed a lot of direction, it is counter productive for the business. In some cases though, they were better than IT guy we had. ;-)

As a 55 year old (sole) developer here who is 10 years from retirement, I've given some thought to how the passing of torch should take place. Intern won't work because they can't stay. Hire too soon, they get bored and move on, creating churn. But wait until 1-2 years before, then you better be right about who you bring in, no time to do it again.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
5/7/2014 | 4:32:49 PM
Re: Why shift from development to operational?
How does anyone get a first job without internships to demonstrate competence? We're not just talking about IT. If you don't seek out internships, I can't imagine getting through the initial screening hurdles. The non-profit volunteer suggestion is a good one, as well.
LawrenceGarvin
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LawrenceGarvin,
User Rank: Author
5/7/2014 | 4:59:10 PM
Re: Why shift from development to operational?
I think there's two aspects to the "first job" question: There's the question of "no IT experience", which is enough of a challenge in itself, and possibly also the question of "no employment experience".

Having "no IT experience" but some work history is a much better position than having "no employment experience" at all, which is a question I raised in the article. Although I'd also think that even somebody looking for their first paid IT job, probably has "IT experience" that can be documented. Who hasn't been roped into fixing mom's computer at least once?

This is also a question of how one presents themself for that "first IT job" position. It may be that those resumes are better written from a skills assessment position than a work history position. (But then, isn't that how everybody is supposed to write their resume?)

Personally, I think internships ought to be part of the academic requirements in a four-year IT program, and some places it is.

Work-Study Programs could also be a great opportunity, and at only nominally more cost to an organization than an unpaid internship, but that's likely going to take some outreach effort on the part of universities and the computer industry to find organizations willing to create such positions.

 
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
5/8/2014 | 4:34:18 AM
Re: what we expect from college
I think it is very true that many institutions are nowadays looking for money rather than educating students; many institutions doesn't care if a student is able or unable to undertake any course relabeled to IT. If a student is capable of paying the tuition fee, they will automatically get admitted. Most institutions also are just training students on how to make there ways and get employment instead of giving students the real knowledge that will help them in future either as an employee or an employer.
batye
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batye,
User Rank: Ninja
5/10/2014 | 1:38:18 AM
Re: what we expect from college
interesting point... but in some cases it like catch 22... you have good degree but no exp... or you have good exp... but no college degree...


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