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4/18/2014
09:16 AM
Lawrence Garvin
Lawrence Garvin
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The Sorry State Of IT Education

Our profession is rife with people capable of performing procedures they've been taught, but incapable of thinking through a problem. Here's what we need to do.

As our traditional corporate silos continue to collapse, IT professionals will need to take on more cross-discipline responsibilities to advance their careers. Unfortunately, our education systems are failing to prepare IT pros for those responsibilities, and it will fall on employers to pick up the slack.

First, a little history to understand how we ended up where we are today.

In the mainframe era, there were no formal IT education programs. Computer professionals in the 1950s and 60s, including my father, learned all of their skills at work. That training often came directly from the mainframe hardware vendors, the likes of IBM, Honeywell, and Digital Equipment. The skills were limited to those required to perform the necessary business functions with that computer equipment, but the employees being trained had a fundamental understanding of the business of their employer.

By the time the PC era hit in the 1980s, universities had developed four-year computer science and MIS programs. But the PC and the advent of Unix, NetWare, and Windows systems moved too rapidly for those university programs, and although they continued to crank out well-trained software programmers (some of them even using contemporary languages), there was still a dearth of training for those working with non-mainframe computers.

[Customer satisfaction sinking? Read Why Does Customer Service Suck?]

Out of that challenge evolved two new training tracks, both of which have contributed to the sorry state we're in today. The first track consisted of self-motivated high school and college students who taught themselves the necessary PC skills to get a job, sometimes before graduation. The second was the trade school, which produced droves of "certified" 20-somethings ripe for the picking in the rapidly growing IT field. Both tracks have the same fundamental failings: They're not designed to teach business fundamentals or critical thinking.

Image: Sakeeb Sabakka (Fotopedia)
Image: Sakeeb Sabakka (Fotopedia)

As a result, the industry is now flooded with hundreds of thousands of IT professionals fully capable of performing procedures they've been taught, but incapable of thinking through a problem. These IT pros can't identify symptoms, analyze possible causes, evaluate potential solutions, or implement the correct one. The "scientific method" many of us grew up with is virtually unknown to younger IT pros today, despite the fact that our public schools insist on trying to teach chemistry and physics to 7th and 8th grade students.

We live in a time when the entire knowledge of humanity is available at the click of a mouse, when almost every published book of knowledge still worth reading is available for free online or dirt cheap as an e-book. And yet the process most of today's IT pros use to learn a skill amounts to asking somebody else how to do something.

Hopefully, the answer they get is the right one, because there's also very little judicious selection of mentors. I've seen many cases where one undertrained IT pro gets bad information from another undertrained IT pro, and it doesn't take very much of that before an entire community of people is operating inefficiently, ineffectively, and to the detriment of the employer.

The necessary future of IT education
OK, so that’s the fundamental problem, and it exists in every IT shop in every business in every country. Now what do we, as CIOs, CTOs, IT directors/managers, and business owners, do to stop this slide into mediocrity?

First, we must put the expectation of "professional" back into the job descriptions of those people we call IT pros. "Professional" should mean the same thing for IT as it means for any other credentialed profession, whether medicine, law, education, architecture, or finance. Professionals are held to a certain standard of skill and behavior. Would you tolerate your family physician misdiagnosing a common illness? How would you feel if your lawyer didn't understand the legal terminology in the contract you're about to sign? What if your auto mechanic were unable to determine why your car won't start or, worse, started changing the tires to see if that would help?

So why do we tolerate IT pros who don't understand the basics of how a computer or network works?

Almost every profession requires its members to engage in continuing education. Not IT. Furthermore, it's one of the few professions that isn't licensed by the government. Now, I'm no fan of government regulation, but its licensing of other professionals allows us to implicitly take them at their word. Personally, I'd like to keep the IT profession unlicensed, but in order to do that, we're going to have to police ourselves.

Second, we must give IT pros the opportunity to develop their own skills and careers. When I was a supervisor in the trenches, I instructed my staff to spend 10% of their work time on professional development outside of the skills necessary to do their jobs. And by 10% I didn't mean spend one month out of the year cramming for a certification exam; I meant invest four hours every week in learning something new related to their careers.

Third and most important, we must develop our people's critical thinking skills -- again, so that they can recognize a problem, identify and analyze the symptoms, and develop and implement the appropriate solution.

Computing systems will get ever more complex, requiring IT pros to have advanced technical, business, and analytical skills. It's our responsibility as technology leaders to provide them with the opportunity and resources to develop those skills. Our business survival depends upon it.

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Lawrence Garvin, head geek and technical product marketing manager at SolarWinds, wrote his first computer program, in RPG-II, in 1974, to calculate quadratic equations. He tested it on some spare weekend cycles on an IBM System 3 that he "borrowed" from his father's ... View Full Bio

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Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
4/18/2014 | 11:28:01 AM
Continuing education
Lawrence, don't MOOCs make it easier than ever for IT pros to learn a new skill or brush up on an existing one? Seems to me online learning suits this need well. Less expensive than the training classes of old, too. On another topic, what strategies do you recommend for developing critical thinking skills in staff members? Stretch projects and what else? Thanks.
LawrenceGarvin
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LawrenceGarvin,
User Rank: Author
4/18/2014 | 12:28:13 PM
Re: Continuing education
I think that MOOCs can make it easier for IT pros, but that still requires the IT pro to have the initiative and self-discipline to complete the course. The other thing I've long recommended for IT pros is an online library subscription. There are many other resources also available.

Stretch projects are definitely a great way to develop critical thinking skills, but also just wargaming a problem around a conference table that directly relates to the workplace and job can help. "If this <server> you're responsible for administering demonstrates <these symptoms>... what's your approach." Of necessity, however, this process requires three things: [1] a facilitator, [2] a mentor, and [3] a committment from the employer to invest the worktime on the task.

This could also be done on an individual basis. Offer a staff member a "homework assignment" that involves developing and exercising critical thinking skills. For some staff members, it may require some preliminary classroom education on the type of physical and mental tools that can be used in the process. I'm continually amazed at the number of IT pros who can find a public forum to ask a Level 100 question, but apparently were not aware or (worse, I fear sometimes) simply not willing to start with the basic resources: Like product documentation or a search engine.

But even more so than just continuing education to keep up with new skills, a notable number of first-year IT pros barely have the skills necessary to perform their assigned job duties. If it's the intent of the employer to hire a green candidate, that's great! Everybody needs someplace to start, and I applaud those employers willing to take the risk. But taking the risk also means committing to the investment in developing that staff member.

I'm reminded of a recent quote, which unfortunately I've lost the source for so cannot attribute as I'd like: Manager A: "What happens if we train 'em and they leave?" Manager B: "Worse, what happens if we don't and they stay?"
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
4/18/2014 | 10:01:48 PM
Re: Continuing education
Great article, the challenges that an IT professional faces (or any professional) can become overwhelming overtime if left unchecked, on the other hand it's enjoyable (rewarding in the long-run) if updating skills/knowledge/information is viewed as a necessary core responsibility of the job itself. The latter is the logical option and it is not easy for example, an individual might begin a job or entrepreneurship and then deduce that they need to complete a Master's degree to deliver better service, and after completing the degree will deduce that more information is needed and so on. 

And thank you for the quotation, I have heard about Manager A many times and every time the reasoning would always divert towards the measures that could be taken to limit the capital or time loss that the business will face if the trained staff do leave. But now the more I think about it, Manager B's point is more important not only during regular business operations but also during a stage when the business is expanding.
dan.euritt
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dan.euritt,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/5/2014 | 2:36:25 PM
Re: Continuing education
Great article, that means different things to different people. With respect to computer technicians, not programmers, it's only partially relevant.

If you look for a computer tech job on craigslist, you'll see a number of employers who are offering $10-$12/hour for a temp hire tech support job. Why would the best and the brightest want to work in a field that pays that kind of money?

My first computer job was in 1983, and in all of the computer tech jobs I've had since then, not one single employer ever offered to send me to any kind of tech school. There were a couple of opportunities for minimal education reimbursement, if you took the courses outside of work, on your own time.

Compare that with a non-IT tech support job I once had, where the employer paid my salary, for six weeks of full time out-of-state training, on the products that they sold and supported. The IT industry reaps what it sows.

I don't agree with the assumption that troubleshooting skills can be taught in college. I've had literally tens of thousands of tech support interactions; most people simply aren't wired for troubleshooting. Surely you've heard of right-brain left-brain? If I wanted to hire a programmer, I'd be looking at their math skills first, not for a degree in philosophy. It's rather absurd to think that pontification from a podium is going to teach you how to troubleshoot. You either have the innate ability and interest, or you don't. Creative types usually do not.

Lastly, the IT industry isn't entirely ignoring ongoing education. CompTIA gave me an A+ for life, but then turned around and created another level of A+, that involves ongoing education. Government contractors won't take my A+ any longer, I have to re-take the entire A+ test again. CompTIA no longer offers any lifetime certs.

Tech support certs don't teach you troubleshooting per se, but since you must know the basics before you can even attempt to troubleshoot, they serve a valuable purpose.
Somedude8
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Somedude8,
User Rank: Ninja
4/18/2014 | 1:36:06 PM
Engineers
I belive that what is missing is the Engineering mindset. What we have today is more of what Pete Goodliffe describes as a Tinker-Crash, Tinker-Crash mindset. Keep trying stuff until the code compiles, then call it done. I see far too little effort to understand the cause of the code not compiling.

This leads us to the current state where so many programmers work based on what amounts to little more than superstition, having little true understanding.

One day, a couple of programmers were having a mostly civil disagreement about code editors. One was a huge fan of Sublime Text (which is pretty dang cool actually), and how he could do X and Y so much faster, and do Z with a single keystroke. The two guys went back and forth for a bit talking about how this or that feature made them even faster. Thing is, both of them wrote horrendous code. I finally couldn't take it anymore and butted in with something to the effect that faster was the last thing either of them needed, that what they needed was to slow down and THINK for a second before the started to write any code. I was not as polite as I could have been, it was not my finest hour. But I had been spending the last several days fixing their code, fixing simple mistakes that should have never been made.

I was very fortunate to come in to programming as a career change from an engineering discipline. My two cents: In a 4 year program, spend the first two learning an engineering discipline completely unrelated to IT. Learn to think a certain way, then the right answers come naturally.
LawrenceGarvin
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LawrenceGarvin,
User Rank: Author
4/18/2014 | 1:59:37 PM
Re: Engineers
Absolutely agree. Recently I've taken to describing this as the "throw mud against the wall" approach. The inherent problem with this approach though is I've seen a lot of people throw so much mud at the wall that they can no longer find the exit door. If it goes too far, that mud starts sliding off the walls and pooling on the floor making an even bigger mess.

The concept of "how to write a program" is one of the skills that the legacy four-year programs did bring to the table (even if they were still doing it with FORTRAN and COBOL well into the 1990s; a few introduced C in the 1980s). In fact, I daresay my undergraduate courses focused a lot more on logic and process development than it did syntax specifics. (Of course, pushing a card deck through a card reader for time-sharing on a System/360 definitely encourages you to minimize syntax issue on the front side. Exceptionally frustrating to get a source printout the next morning during the last week of class only to find out you missed a trailing semi-colon on a Pascal statement.)

To that point, and Laurianne's about MOOCs, Stanford University published course material on their three most popular Software Engineering courses, which I was able to obtain through Microsoft's now-gone Zune podcast library, but they're also available on YouTube:

CS106A - Programming Methodology [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkMDCCdjyW8]

CS106B - Programming Abstractions [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMzH3tfP6f8]

CS107 - Programming Paradigms [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ps8jOj7diA0]

I just wish similar types of courses existed for those in IT operations and administration. (Maybe they do and I've just not found them yet.)
Somedude8
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Somedude8,
User Rank: Ninja
4/18/2014 | 2:07:46 PM
Re: Engineers
Great find on those Youtube videos!
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
4/18/2014 | 2:32:02 PM
Re: Engineers
Thanks for sharing those resources, Lawrence. Based on your wargaming suggestion, sounds like hackathons could help teach some critical thinking, too. I am going to ask my Twitter contacts about similar resources on IT administration. Maybe we can come up with a good set. I'll report back.
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
4/18/2014 | 10:06:37 PM
Re: Engineers
Ever go into a computer repair shop and watch the guys work? What they do is just replace parts, until the machine starts to work again. If they can't, they just tell the owner that the device can't be fixed, and offer to buy it to use as parts in their next repairs. That's how it works, because it's all they know.

You don't develop critical thinking on a shop floor. I know you can do it through studying math, physics, chemistry and electrical engineering, and I'm told you can do though studying law. But that takes time, and that takes money, and generally, industry won't pay for it.

There's always room for a few near geniuses at the very top, but what they want the most of is guys clever enough to know which part to replace, and that's what they'll pay for. And, you get what you pay for.
LawrenceGarvin
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LawrenceGarvin,
User Rank: Author
4/18/2014 | 10:57:57 PM
Re: Engineers
Gary, I totally understand the mentality that results in the scenario you describe.

And, aside from noting how inefficient it is in the "replace part; try again" scenario (although, to be real, in some cases, "replace part; try again" is absolutely the correct approach), I think it's important for us to understand that this approach will not work in the future when everybody is working in a multi-discipline environment.

The "replace part; try again" scenario has always been an option of last resort. If we think back to the type of hardware diagnostics we did in the 1980s, a lot of that was the only approach that worked. Pull all of the expansion cards. Reboot. Plug 'em back in one at a time, and see what happens. Same approach applies to software/services. Disable all the services. Turn 'em back on one at a time, figure out which service is causing the problem. These are all DIAGNOSTIC tools!

But even those tools seem to have been lost, from a logical perspective, in what I'm seeing today.

You are absolutely correct in that "critical thinking skills" are NOT developed on-the-job. Those are skills that are developed from classroom education and exercises designed to develop those skills.

Where I'll disagree, though, is that it does NOT take a "genius" to possess and use critical thinking skills. I truly believe that 90% of the people competent enough to work in IT in the first place, have all of the mental capabilties necessary to develop critical thinking skills; they just need a motivated mentor to help them do that.
petey
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petey,
User Rank: Strategist
4/19/2014 | 7:26:18 AM
training vs. education
Training is not the same as education. Universities today seem to be more into the development of training programs than education of general principles. Why? Because education is a business and you have to follow the money. One can become a technician or a designer. They require different skill sets. At the moment, businesses seem to be requiring more technicians than designers. IT presents unique challenges because it touches all facets of business. Unlike sales or engineering, both difficult and complex areas, IT has to meet the needs of the entire corporation, which can be even more challenging. Until business decides what is most important: education or training, and what they are willing to pay for, the future remains cloudy. The engineering discipline has faced some of these issues, requiring more general business classes in their curriculums. But if businesses are unwilling to pay for this extra cost, there will be no demand and the education community will not change. These are tough choices and require investment, well thought out strategies and execution--most of which are in short supply in today's business world of cost cutting to meet the quarterly numbers. 
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
4/19/2014 | 8:34:20 AM
Clean up curricula
I agree, the problem is also that the university curricula are littered with stuff that is not related to the major. When I look at engineering curricula these days for a BS there are mandatory courses like biology, arts, history, physical education, English (as if we really need to read the Great Gatsby for the fifth time) and so on. I'm not saying that these are not interesting courses, but they contribute absolutely nothing to being a professional in a field.

A compromise may be having a computer or engineering history course, as English a technical writing course, but everything else not major specific needs to go. What I am missing in the curricula are courses such as "Ethics for Engineers" or as mentioned in the article "Problem solving"or at least a course that covers business finances.

I found those courses in MS curricula in some cases and at the university I went to for my MS had courses like "Human behavior in complex organizations", "Business Finance", "Production Management", and "Project Management". Those courses taught me knowledge that I can still apply on a regular basis. I also tried myself with programming, but programming hates me and I hate programming although I found a home with PHP and can make a few neat things as a hobbyist. But even that little expertise allowed me to understand how applications are put together. Working as a QA Analyst now all this helped me in my professional carreer. Unfortunately, I have yet to come across a BS or MS curriculum in engineering or computer science that puts sufficient focus on quality. Graduates all know how to write the most complicated code without any commentary or documentation (and no, writing well structured code is NOT sufficient documentation!), if it compiles they tell the product owner the task is done, and we QA folks have to come up with n arguments why bug fixing needs to happen now before cramming in more buggy features.

That said, learning on the job is still the best, which means that a reasonably long internship with a deliverable ought to be part of curricula as well. Maybe universities deliver better graduates when they focus on academics rather than on athletics, that would also lower tuition.
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
4/19/2014 | 12:14:27 PM
Re: Clean up curricula
I would argue that most business courses don't teach critical thinking skills. They teach technical skills in a different concept. The stuff that moarsauce123 is suggesting be removed from curricula (arts, history, science, etc.) are the courses that teach one how to learn. Reading, understanding and debating master works of literature is the kind of activity that teaches the brain how to take information, assimilate its meaning, understand the logic and apply that to a situation in a completely different culture and time in history is exactly how you learn the critical thinking skills that the article and many of the comments are lamenting the absence of in most IT professionals. In the IT world, learning specific actions to troubleshoot an issue is easy. That's just memorization. Learning how to go about troubleshooting by identifying and classifying symptoms, then eliminating variables to narrow down a true root cause is a completely different kind of skill that I would argue are learned best through the humanities.
PaulS681
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PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
4/20/2014 | 8:15:01 PM
Re: Clean up curricula
You are spot on jagibbons! I couldn't have said that better.

I would say that the point moarsauce123 is making would not help at all and would be a huge disservice to students. I'm not sure there is even a problem here.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
4/21/2014 | 1:38:51 PM
Re: Clean up curricula
I cannot speak for all universities since I attended only two for a longer period of time, but the critical thinking skills that the arts, history, science courses are supposed to deliver were blatantly absent from the courses I know of. It was the same stuff that was covered in high school ad nauseam and yielded zero new skills. It mainly was busy work.

I learned problem solving skills especially in the course "Human Behavior in Complex Organizations". While it was mainly cover personnell matters we had to decide based on little information on how to proceed in a given case. We were allowed to propose anything except for firing people. All cases discussed did indeed happen as such and all cases were resolved without layoffs through creative means of problem solving. Am I honestly to be believe that I could get the same insight by answering the same questions as years earlier about "The Great Gatsby"? Or fill in any other work of literature.

I also did not see any point in attending art history 101 and instead opted for the more expensive sculpturing class. Unfortunately, that was a disappointment as there was no effort made to discuss the necessary material science. Contrary, the course about theatre lighting was way more informative because we went deep into the science of color and the effects on humans. But that class was not an a US university. I did undergraduate studies abroad at a run of the mill European university which was academically way more challenging than the US schools.

Don't get me wrong, I am not against these general knowledge producing courses. My point is that they have no place in a STEM curriculum at a university. For stuff like that we have high school, which unfortunately is often enough the beginning of the sorry state of IT education.
PaulS681
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PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
4/20/2014 | 8:21:38 PM
Is this an issue?
I'm not even sure this is an issue? Where is the data to back this up? There are people in every industry who are not good problem solvers, that's not an IT thing. There are always people who learn everything and have a paper education but can't put it to use for the life of them.

Troubleshooting skills are universal. Thinking through a problem is a skill in itself.
twilliamson423
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twilliamson423,
User Rank: Strategist
4/21/2014 | 8:59:46 AM
Re: Is this an issue?
I agree that there are people in every industry that are not good problem solvers but, as an IT professional, you or I, or anyone else, should be able to follow logical patterns to find solutions to problems.

I used to work in manufacturing and problem solving almost got in the way. You were paid to assemble a part in a way specified by an engineer. Any deviation, no matter how it may solve a problem you were having in the production process, might create an end-product that was defective because it didn't fit the overall design.

In IT, we can expect every network to be a little different, every computer to have slightly different components, it is just the nature of being in a field where everything changes rapidly and constantly. If we can't use problem solving to find out why that computer can't find a server or why that computer doesn't have video, then we can't do our jobs. (I didn't mention writing code because I am truly a novice there but I understand the process.) These skills maybe aren't as critical in many fields, like sales or marketing, but I would argue those fields are arts, not sciences.

I think that is the point of the article, we need to think of IT as a science and not merely an production line creating computers for users to bang on.
proberts551
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proberts551,
User Rank: Strategist
4/21/2014 | 9:14:14 AM
Education or Skills
What you learn about information technology is not really based on what school you went to, or how long you have been at the job.  Schooling is great if you are motivated, and not just going through the motions to get a peice of paper or a paycheck. 

I have worked with people that have I.T. degrees that know their stuff, and people with I.T. degrees that seem to know nothing.  Weather it is school learning, or on the job learning, you get out of it, what you put into it. 

In the past, I worked for a manager at a corporation that has only a Gormet degree.  She was having to learn the management job, but knew what it took to do the I.T. job she came from.  I was rather supprised!  Schools, if you can afford them are great, but not the litmus test for being competent. 
PaulS681
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PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
4/21/2014 | 5:33:42 PM
Re: Education or Skills
Excellent point proberts551...  You will get out what you put in to it, no matter how you get the training. IT is a demanding field that requires constant education.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
4/21/2014 | 9:41:46 AM
Short Term Career
Somehow I've made it over 40 years in IT.  I'm a rarity.  When asked if I think its a good field to get into I tell them only if you want a 20 year career because at or before that milestone you'll be kicked to the curb by corporate America.  Plus you'll have to compete against H1-B visa people that will work practically for nothing to get into this country while continually educating yourself without reimbursement from your employer to stay hirable.  Gone are the days when corporations actually invested in IT people.  Instead when a corporation makes a technology change it also changes the IT people right alone with it.  I've seen it over and over again and again.
proberts551
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proberts551,
User Rank: Strategist
4/22/2014 | 8:32:42 AM
Re: Short Term Career
I agree with every word 100%  Age discrimination is rampant.  People are not Human beings, but merely workers.  I was taught quality over quantity.  The reason is because if you put quality in to a product, or even to the staff you hire,  you will get a better overall experience, and result.  Nowdays you are a comodity to be used, a human resource, not personell.  I grew up in a world when people actually cared about more than just money, and how cheap and how fast to get a job done. 
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
4/22/2014 | 11:52:28 AM
Re: Short Term Career

@proberts551, Age discrimination is not just in the IT profession although IT was the first to be attacked beginning in the early nineties when the wealthy convinced government to issue H1-B visas, used for the most part to displace aging IT workers under the disguise of filling the technology skill shortages gap.  Now after 20 years the process of displacing older workers with H1-B workers continues under the same disguise of filling skill shortages.  You would think that after 20 years corporations would have placed skills education for existing IT personnel high on their investment list by now but it's still much easier to just buy what you need when you need it and that includes buying younger people over older ones.

gnbrooks..1
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gnbrooks..1,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/21/2014 | 2:24:59 PM
One of the old timers
I am one of your old timers that learned mostly on the job. I did go to school and got some instruction there but most of that education was aimed at programming. I do very little programming (if I can help it) beyond writig some scripts.

Education is important but it must be timely. Universitied have been notoriusly slow to respond (I worked for one, I know) and tech schools nortoriously incomplete. 

I have come to relaize over the years that the first key is knowing who has the appititude for this business. I have hired people with great paper credentials show could not get a thing done and some with no paper credentials who were great. So education is not the only consideration.

I agree that critical thinking is sorely lacking in education today. I would like to see more of it in education. I woudl also like for education to be a good balance between practical and theoretical. It seems that it is useually an either, or, proposition. You need exposure to both.

For the practiciing professional, training runs is a boone and bain. You need it to keep current, but with the constant change in technologies, it is hard to justify the ROI. Even certification tracks are so temporary, it is very hard to find an adaquate ROI on investing in certifcations.

Companies have very little interest in developing people for their organization, so training is a rare benefit of emplyment these days. Outsourcing helps them avoid the training issue.

I agree that IT education needs an overhaul.

 
PaulS681
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PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
4/21/2014 | 5:38:41 PM
Forcing education
"Almost every profession requires its members to engage in continuing education. Not IT."

Regarding the snippet above from the article, I don't see that as an issue at all. Do we need to be forced to get continuing education? If you don't you will not stay relevant, isn't that enough?
LawrenceGarvin
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LawrenceGarvin,
User Rank: Author
4/21/2014 | 5:52:46 PM
Re: Forcing education
All of those other professions also have accreditation boards, professional associations, state licensing, etc., who actually administer those continuing education programs, and association membership, board certification, and state licensing is a requirement to maintain employment in those professions.

Do we need to be forced to get continuing education. I certainly hope it never comes to that point; but there's no doubt that we need continuing education. We also need the awareness of our employers that continuing education is a necessary part of the job. It's no problem telling the Managing Partner of a law firm, or the Chief Administrator of a hospital that their staff lawyers and doctors need time to engage in education -- that's a de facto nature of employment in those fields. Unfortunately it's a very big problem to convince employers of IT pros that this is necessary. As pointed out elsewhere, not only is this a problem in itself, but business owners have become loathe to invest in IT pros in any form or fashion, the conventional wisdom being that they can just "buy it" when needed. That may be true today, while demand is fairly low; but when the price of those resources quadruple because there's a shortage of qualified people in the industry, it will be those very same business owners who come out on the short end of the stick. (Well, and those undertrained IT pros who can no longer find relevant employment in the industry.)

If you don't have continuing education, you won't stay relevant.

That's actually relevant itself. If the employer an IT pro works for is oblivious to the currency of the skill set of that IT pro staff member, it's not just the IT pro that's falling behind, it's also the employer. If the employer cannot be assured of implementing technology in a manner and form needed, because the staff members entrusted to do that are clueless about said technologies, then the employer is also at risk. To my point above, when buying the skills on the demand-market exceed the financial resources of that business, the business also becomes irrelevant.

The purpose of this article isn't to remind IT pros about what they should already know -- that failing to keep current can be a career-ending move -- but to remind employers that failing to create and maintain a work environment that facilitates and encourages the ability of that IT pro to stay current can also be a business-ending move.

 
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
4/22/2014 | 10:21:51 AM
Re: Forcing education
Show me a business doing real long term planning with real execution according to the plan and you might find one understanding your point.  Unfortunately the over whelming major of fortune 2000 companies do limited long term planning (generally for financial purposes only) followed by a steam of primarily tactical execution that may or may not follow the plan.  Everything is done with short term thinking and short term results.  They only know what they want just a few moments before they need it.  This allows no time for present IT personnel to keep up even on their own.  For example, if a company decides to implement a Cisco communication infrastructure it is easier, cheaper, and faster to "buy" certified Cisco personnel than create them in the time frame between decision and execution.  Sadly, this typical business technology acquisition process devalues existing IT personnel so companies are very much less likely to invest in them or care about them for that matter.  None of the other areas of the business are treated in this manner, not Purchasing, not Sales, not Accounting, not Engineering, none.  Ever see an H1-B visa for a Buyer or CPA?  Maybe if we eliminated the H1-B visa for IT jobs, applied to IT for over 20 years now, corporations will do better long term planning and get back to investing in people again instead of buying what they need when they need it.
tomskaczmarek
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tomskaczmarek,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/22/2014 | 10:59:34 AM
Re: Forcing education
DDURBIN1, we live in a world of specialization. Companies are forced through competition to concentrate and invest in the core business. For most of the Fortune 2000 companies, the core business is not information technology. While many companies realize that the application of IT can be a business benefit, the focus is on the strategic application of IT in the core business functions, not the technology. This devaluates the knowledge of technology and raises the value on the knowledge of how the business can use the technology in core business functions.

In the example, the Cisco infrastructure is not core business to most companies. It is the core business to Cisco and companies that provide the specialized service of implementing such technology. Employees interested in a deeper knowledge of technology may have to react to the business climate and seek employment at companies that have technology as their core business.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
4/22/2014 | 11:21:18 AM
Re: Forcing education
@tomskaczmarek, Your attitude toward business technology is typical, basically about as important to the business as a stapler.  However companies that implement a Cisco infrastucture are not doing it for the IT.  Companies that implement an ERP system are not doing it for the IT.  Companies that implement a VOIP system aren't doing it for the IT.  Companies that implement BI or Big Data are not doing it for the IT.  Companies creating a mobile App aren't doing it for the IT. Companies that implement EDI are not doing it for the IT.  Companies that implement ANY business techology are NOT DOING IT FOR THE IT.  They are doing IT for the business.
tomskaczmarek
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tomskaczmarek,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/22/2014 | 12:21:08 PM
Re: Forcing education
@DDURBIN1 Precisely. IT is there to serve the business in cases where IT is not the business.

Your term "business technology" is interesting. Many technologies impact business, some more than others. Can a business invest in all of them?

The mobile app that you mention is also interesting. How deep into the technology of mobility ought the company that is deploying the app go? What aspects of the mobile app should the company care about? Who in the company needs to know what about the technology to make it profitable for the business?  What are the long term implications of limitations on knowledge about mobile apps and devices?
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
4/22/2014 | 12:25:35 PM
Re: Forcing education
It is always a business decision.  Nothing is ever done for "IT".  As IT is a means to an end supporting business.  You can still use a type writer to create a letter but the business has determined its more efficient to use a word processor.  You can still use a word processor to create a letter but the business has determined its more efficient to use a desktop computer.  You can use a desktop computer to create a letter but the business has determined its more efficient to use a tablet with a cloud service.  As business technology advances so does the cycle of implementation and replacement.  When companies went from type writers to word processors they didn't get rid of all the secreataries that didn't know how to use a word processor and again when desktop computers replaced word processors.  But in IT, Mainframe people were replaced with UNIX people and then UNIX people replaced with Windows Server people.  Change the business techology the business users stay with re-education while the IT support people get replaced. It's to bad the IT people are not upgraded the same as the technology.  

 
tomskaczmarek
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tomskaczmarek,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/22/2014 | 12:34:49 PM
Re: Forcing education

 

In our time of specialization, obtaining and maintaining an employable skill set is a challenge. Being shown the door can be devastating because HR departments are particularly clueless about the requirement for cross-functional knowledge, the kind that Garvin was suggesting is important in his commentary.  

 

proberts551
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proberts551,
User Rank: Strategist
4/25/2014 | 10:15:01 AM
Technology - Job loss - Education
 Quoted from you   "When companies went from type writers to word processors they didn't get rid of all the secreataries that didn't know how to use a word processor and again when desktop computers replaced word processors"    I do agree with about all you said.


In some instances like in the medical field, many,many transcription departments disappeared and many women who were employed lost thier jobs because HMO's reworked their business model. Instead of whole large rooms filled with transcriptionists, listening to doctor reports and typing them out on word processors or computers, you now have the doctor typing his report on a computer located in a hallway between each patient.  Boom! Jobs gone.

  The same is happening with data centers across the united states as India takes big data for cheper rates than what companies supposedly spend in the United States.  This is a very a Volatile career in information technology. Data center jobs gone, Boom!


Not only is it constanly changing, but so are the available jobs.  Much of I.T. is not hired positions any longer, but contacted out to contract agencies.  Only a few hired people that know the business direct the temp workers to projects.  It is difficult for schools to keep up with this, and to keep people in a hired role, teaching skills so they can be on a hire list.  It is key that schools forecast the direction of future jobs, not what is out there at this moment.  No one really wants to be living the "Contract life"  No vacations, No benefits, and Extreme high healthcare costs...
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
4/25/2014 | 10:58:32 AM
Re: Technology - Job loss - Education
No doubt the IT profession is experience some of the displacement that occured in the business departments when automation was applied.  We no longer have "invoicing" departments filled with A/R clerks banging out invoices on type writters.  However I've seen and experienced first had the commodity treatment of IT personnel.  I started out in costume developement for mainframes (COBOL, IMS/DL-1, CICS).  I was lucky enough to get some UNIX experience.  I then was hired to implement UNIX systems (HP, SAP, Oracle) in a mainframe shop.  None of the company's mainframe personnel where offered training in the Unix systems.  They all were replaced.  I then was lucky enought to get some experience in Windows Server.  I then was hired to implement Windows systems in a UNIX shop.  Guess what, none of the Unix personnel where offered training and were replaced.  These companies still needed System Administirators, Database Admin, Application Analysts, and the likes but chose to replace rather than invest.  Each lost a LOT of business knowledge in their IT staff and both suffered in the short term.  Now I'm trying to get some cloud and SAAS experience but not having much luck.  I think my time may have come to an end in IT.
KevinC353
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KevinC353,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/22/2014 | 3:42:39 AM
This seems the complete opposite of reality
"Almost every profession requires its members to engage in continuing education. Not IT."

I barely ever see those in business management roles engaging in continuing education. However, a vast majority of my colleagues in the IT industry are ALWAYS studying and learning new technologies or gathering new skill sets. It's impossible to continue in the field if you aren't always learning and willing to adapt. The nature of the field is that a few years down the road everything will change. If your IT pros aren't willing to take advantage of employer provided assistance(which should be available for any company that wants a real IT pro), they're going to be passed by in a short span of time.

Also the idea that individuals in IT tend to garner most of their knowledge by word of mouth from other IT colleagues is accurate for the industry a decade ago, but not as relevent in this day and age. We are in an age where vast amounts of information are at your fingertips. If I needed assistance on new products or troubleshooting, I could find thousands of blogs, forum posts and reference manuals with a simple Google search. Why would you limit your available pool of resources to one individual?

A few years ago it was difficult to consider funding many of the very expensive training classes geared towards working IT professionals. Yet very recently I have noticed a big jump in free and reduced cost training options. VMware started offering their required class at various local community colleges around the US(Savings of nearly $4k), I myself am currently brushing up on my networking skills in an 84-part Youtube CCNA class(free) and am registered for a free Linux course by Edx later this year.

I agree that one of the most important skills for any employee is the ability to adapt, but I see that as a much smaller problem in the IT sector versus general business operations roles. Can you imagine a world where we threw out Excel in two years? Could the average worker adapt fast enough?

Edit: I wanted to add my sincere belief that the hiring process for IT will start to revert back to the Jack-of-all-trades mentality from decades ago. As we start to break down the Silo mentality and implement more and more GUI administration and orchestration, one quality individual will start to take over tasks that have recently been divided into specific expert roles. Lose the Silo>Lose the Specialists. 
KoletteS710
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KoletteS710,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/22/2014 | 8:37:10 AM
Re: This seems the complete opposite of reality
KEvin-

 

Link, please? I watch a lot of "Eli the Computer Guy" at work, but im always up for more things to watch. 

 

I did find a series of videos by NetWorkKing, but im not sure if they are the same as the ones that you described. 
KevinC353
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KevinC353,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/22/2014 | 12:57:19 PM
Re: This seems the complete opposite of reality
@KoletteS710 The Youtube link is https://www.youtube.com/user/ShrikeCast. He also has a website associated with the series: https://gumroad.com/l/ccnatraining.

 

To follow up on some other great comments I read..

I think that IT is a great field for those that really enjoy learning. Unlike many careers where you may learn most of your skill sets early on, those in IT need to continue the learning process for the rest of their career. If you realize that at the start of the career choice, I think you will be fine.

Despite the current short term profit over long term goal mentality in business, we all must be aware of the cyclical nature of the business world and the IT sector. IT took a big hit due to the private sector not seeing employees as a part of the business and more of a capital expense. Yet that happened all across the economy. When we start to realize that those same "capital expenses" are our consumer base, things will start to flow in the opposite direction. It's a cycle much like the IT role in corporate America in general. We had the day of the IT Rockstar, which turned to IT Specialists, we will most likely return to the IT rockstar in a couple years until new ground breaking tech changes the game again. 

I also don't have a huge problem with the Visa IT wave. Some that I've met have been fantastic individuals that I respect greatly, but most aren't as flexible in other areas of business. Being able to see the endgame and anticipate how the end user's worklife will be affected by changes you make is an important part of being an IT professional. If you cannot empathize and put yourself in their shoes now and again, you are thinking short term. 

 
johnathanbick
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johnathanbick,
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4/22/2014 | 1:16:05 PM
Sorry State of IT
IT is in a sorry state today especially those involved in managememt. The management wants to increase the number of h1-bs to 300,000  a year. 5000 is the number of new houses built in the bay area each year. Around 200000 is how many bay area residents will be displaced as a result.

This example shows the short term thinking that prevades the IT industry Perhaps management should be made to take some basic math courses.
captron1955
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captron1955,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/25/2014 | 11:47:19 AM
Re: Sorry State of IT
You have this backwords.  It is the companies that have caused this. School is only the first part of the education process.   In the "old" days, Senior IT folks took time to mentor the new folks.   Today it is all about doing things faster with less resources.  And the first that went was developing new talent.  The problem is, it takes time and patience develop talent.   And most companies aren't willing to make that investment.   So don't use Then add in the impacts of outsourcing.   The outsource vendor does all the learning during the design and implemention of a system and then walks out the door with all of the "corporate knowledge".   And then management can't undestand why the staff strugles to support the system.   
smartin230
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smartin230,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/25/2014 | 3:14:29 PM
Re: Sorry State of IT
You are absolutely correct. There is no time for mentoring and training. thanks for you comments.
shakeeb
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shakeeb,
User Rank: Black Belt
4/29/2014 | 7:53:01 PM
Re: Sorry State of IT
"As a result, the industry is now flooded with hundreds of thousands of IT professionals fully capable of performing procedures they've been taught, but incapable of thinking through a problem" this is very true.  I believe people easily move into the IT filed than any other field.
shakeeb
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shakeeb,
User Rank: Black Belt
4/29/2014 | 7:53:30 PM
Re: Sorry State of IT
As you correctly said it is important to enhance your knowledge in other areas too. Mainly when it comes to higher IT professions.  This will help them to easily move around with people. 
joshuapk
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joshuapk,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/22/2014 | 9:16:26 PM
It's all in the liberal arts!
What's funny about this is the fact that degree progams that would instill critical thinking skills are shunned, with quips like "Would you like fries with that?"  I'm talking about liberal arts degrees.

I went to a liberal arts school after I had started my IT career as a software developer.  Because I already had the needed skills, I decided to get a degree I wanted.  This turned out to be a BA in Philosophy.  I had a number of excellent professors who stretched my mind and taught me how to think through problems, see abstractions, and otherwise examine subjects critically.  Most of these skills were directly applicable to my professional work.  But they were also applicable to a wide variety of life circumstances - my degree has helped me a great deal.

My wife went to Johns Hopkins University as well as Ohio State.  She talks about their differences.  Take Chemistry, for example.  At Johns Hopkins, you might get a lab assignment:  "Given chemical compounds X, Y, and Z, make the new compound A.  You have three hours.  Go!"  You had to be able to know how to synthesize that compound A, or know how to find out.  At OSU, however, the assignments were more like, "Given chemical compounds X, Y, and Z, follow the formula I am giving you to make the new compound A.  You have three hours.  Go!"  No thinking involved in this assignment - just do the steps the professor has outlined for you.

This is why the RHCSA and RHCE certifications are so valuable.  Microsoft (and other certs) say, "Answer these hundred questions correctly and you get a cert!"  RedHat says, "Here is a real broken system with a real OS installation.  Fix it any way you know how, and then install these X number of services.  You have X hours.  Go!"  If your system doesn't come out as they specify, you don't get the cert.  You cannot obtain a RHCE without being able to think through problems.
KevinC353
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KevinC353,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/23/2014 | 1:16:09 PM
Re: It's all in the liberal arts!
There are many degree programs that teach the scientific method. Which goes a long way towards the common sense training, if you actually believe one can 'learn' common sense. I don't have an issue with Liberal Arts degrees. I think they have a purpose. I do however believe that most should not be 4 year programs. In reality, most degree programs outside of highly technical or role specific ones(e.g. medical, engineering, law), should be 2 years of study. Gather the knowledge you need, then transition into the working world. The majority of people don't actually get jobs in the field that they studied. For the majority of roles, it would be far better to experience life on the job and continue to take the occasional class online to supplement your knowledge.
tcritchley07
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tcritchley07,
User Rank: Strategist
4/25/2014 | 8:58:09 AM
Sorry State of IT - Lawrence Garvin
Just to start, I don't think the S/38 existed when Lawrence Garvin tested his RPG program in 1974. That's by the by. Not sure what country we are talking about here but the UK new school syllabus is totally prescriptive and, in my view, unsuitable for moving into 'coal face' IT. Look for it on Google.

Terry Critchley
LawrenceGarvin
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LawrenceGarvin,
User Rank: Author
4/25/2014 | 12:25:03 PM
Re: Sorry State of IT - Lawrence Garvin
>> Just to start, I don't think the S/38 existed when Lawrence Garvin tested his RPG program in 1974

Thank you for reading the bio, Terry, and I checked. You're absolutely right, and I've mistaken the system that was in place back when I was a teenager. Based on the chronology, that would have actually been an IBM System/3. The bio will be corrected.
Keith Fowlkes
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Keith Fowlkes,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/25/2014 | 9:14:01 AM
GREAT ARTICLE - YOU HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD
Larry, 

Thanks for your post and I believe you are RIGHT ON THE MONEY with this one.

My experience as a CIO and as a college faculty member has shown you to be so correct.  In the classroom, my students have had a very difficult time with being given abstract assignments (assignments that aren't laid out step by step for them) and pulling the pieces together to find a good solution or meeting a goal.  Occasionally, I've heard "why don't you just tell me the steps and I'll do them" in class and that is just not how real life works.

As a CIO, I've hired many, many people in my career and hired many excellent IT professionals.  Possibly one of the best that i've known was a woman with a philosophy degree.  She was comfortable with the abstract, creative and tenacious in finding solutions from the chaos.

I see so many students, politicians and parents say "just get my son or daughter a job after college" but it is so much more than that.  It is about crucial foundational skills for thinking critically and abstractly and coupling these skills with business and technical knowledge that moves the person from being a "techie" to being a contributing and fully functional team member with more skills than just programming a router or installing a motherboard.  Those fundamental skills of writing, math, philosophy, biology and more prepare students for a much larger "life of the mind" and open opportunities to them that go far beyond the technical.

Thanks for your post!  GREAT article.

Keith Fowlkes
CIO - Centre College
tcritchley07
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tcritchley07,
User Rank: Strategist
4/25/2014 | 9:33:22 AM
Re: GREAT ARTICLE - YOU HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD
That's what I meant in my comment below this one about 'prescriptive' teaching/learning.

Terry Critchley
maddoghall
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maddoghall,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/25/2014 | 10:07:00 AM
Re: GREAT ARTICLE - YOU HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD
Keith,

I am glad your comment was the first one I read.

From 1977 to 1980 I was the department head of Computer Science at a two-year technical college.  We were having a hard time attracting full-time professors to our school because of the low pay.

I had a chance to hire a PhD in Philosophy who had a minor in natural language theory, and knew several computer languages.  She enjoyed teaching and wanted to do that rather than go out into "industry".  At that time I knew I was going to leave the school, and recommended that she be hired as my replacement.  The Dean of Instruction could not be convinced that this woman would be capable of being the department head and teaching courses like compiler design.

Eventually I left, and was "replaced" by the registrar of the college, whose sole computer science experience was that he knew the language BASIC.  What happened to the program after that still brings tears to my eyes.


Regards,

Jon "maddog" Hall
smartin230
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smartin230,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/25/2014 | 10:45:40 AM
Totally disagree
I totally disagree with this article. The sorry state of IT education part is true, but the way IT is taught needs to have multiple levels of instruction. Most IT degrees are VERY theoretical and they are long programs . The industry is moving too fast. There are smart people with degrees in other fields out there very capable of programming but cannot afford to go back to school for 4 years to get a degree. Where are the programming certificates? Where is the A+ Certificate of Programming. Not every programmer needs to be a theoretical genius. They just need skills that can get them started. Speaking of getting started....don't get me started on the sorry state of on the job training. IT companies offer little of no on the job training, they expect you to hit the job running....there are NO entry level positions...every position is a "senior" or "lead" programmer. Programming can be a craft... Programmers need to learn the craft. That is what school is for. Every class I have taken doesn't teach craft. It jumps right I with theoretical mumbo jumbo where teachers try to prove how much a genius they are by giving you complex problems right off the bat, instead of teaching a simple craft they want you to get discouraged and quit. Most IT teachers are not teachers at all, they are IT people that know their craft but don't know how to teach it. That's the sorry part.
frazo920
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frazo920,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/25/2014 | 11:43:22 AM
DO WE NEED A CALL FOR ACTION
Well, YES: If we look at the mos recent K-12 academic standards being peddled around these days, there is NOT EVEN MENTION to the simplest numeric system that rules the IT industry and controls most of our activities.  Although the binary system and its aritmetic operations are simpler and can be introduced enjoyably into the curriculum at the earliest grades, there seems to be no awareness of this by the current educational establishment.  It seems also that most IT professionals (IEEE?) are not aware either, and often times are not willing, or can not afford to become active participants in reshaping elementary and secondary education to help build the attitude and skills that support our IT industries.

DO WE NEED A CALL FOR ACTION here and now?
Number 6
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Number 6,
User Rank: Moderator
4/25/2014 | 12:16:35 PM
Will Companies Spend on IT Employee Training?
Good article although Lawrence makes some minor factual mistakes- more on that later.

The big question is whether companies will invest in training their IT employees. Lawrence says that he instructed his staff to spend 10% of their time on professional development but did his firm actually pay for any of the development? CEOs would rather cry that they can't find people with the skills they need here, although somehow they think they can in low-wage countries, rather than developing those skills among their existing employees. The research shows that companies have dropped training programs that used to exist. See Dr. Peter Cappelli's excellent book "Why Good People Can't Get Jobs" that explodes the skills myth.

Factual errors:

Computer science curricula were in place in several universities by the 1960s. Cambridge had the first in 1953. Purdue was first in the US in 1962. Penn's EE department offered computer courses going back to the ENIAC days of the 1940s and had a separate CSE major by the mid-1960s.

The System/38 was "introduced" by IBM in October 1978.

Professional Engineering certification in Computer Engineering has been available for several years. Whether this is applicable or desirable for IT positions is questionable. Professional certification in general is usually mandated by governments to protect public safety. That's why not all degreed engineers get a PE. Usually those working for corporations do not. Those doing consulting work or working for the government often do.
LawrenceGarvin
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LawrenceGarvin,
User Rank: Author
4/25/2014 | 12:46:34 PM
Re: Will Companies Spend on IT Employee Training?
@Number6:

No, the employer did not pay for any specific professional development formal instruction, but then that was not actually the purpose of the exercise. Reimbursement was available for certification fees and, in some cases, certification courses, although I'm not aware of any instance where a staff member claimed that. The purpose of the directive (and why it was only 4 hours/week), was to explicitly instill the discipline of self-directed development. How the staff member faciliated that, whether reading books, trade journals, attending in-person events, etc., was at the discretion of that staff member.

Regarding the universities which had curricula in the 1950s and 1960s, an important distinction needs to be made between those which were engineering-based for the design of computing hardware, and those which were more geared toward the use of computing devices, in the realm of operations and programming.  There's no doubt there were EE programs available, lest the machines would have never been built in the first place. Nonetheless, I believe you'll find that most of the *programmers* of those mainframes in the 1960s were not college trained. In fact, it was a particularly rare employee who had even attended college in that time frame.

 
Nickelplate
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Nickelplate,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/25/2014 | 2:24:22 PM
Education and Professionalism?
I'm old enough (67) to have lived and experienced most of what is being discussed here.  Over the years, I've watched the "professional educators" test their "theories" on education of children such that now we are seeing high school graduates that can't make change correctly even with a calculator.  Just because someone has gone to "University" and obtained a teaching "degree" does not mean that they can "teach"!

In the 70's I was a "professional" accountant, had my own public accounting practice, and luckily for me hired another "professional" accountant on staff (wanted to bring him in as a partner)(he graduated same time as me).  I say luckily, because as soon as I discovered: a. I had to help him to do his own personal tax return and b. He could not do bank reconciliation(s) yet he was supposedly doing this for my clients, I quickly let him go.

Currently, I'm amazed at the number of times (dealing with "professional" accountants) I have to carefully explain simple "logic".  The attitude always is: I have a degree, you don't: you don't know anything.  Unfortunately, the same attitude applies to "teachers".  Years ago I heard the expression: "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach."  This would seem to be becoming truer.

I've "done" basic punch cards on an IBM mainframe.  I've owned 2 Phillips P320 4K mag card "computers". 
I've owned a Texas Instruments 990 Mini computer ( upgraded memory from 128K to 1M myself early 80's).  Designed and wrote own accounting system with COBOL and had clients doing remote access with acoustic modems (1200 baud).

In 94? I applied at a local college to teach accounting, bookkeeping, computers, etc. at their nightschool.  Eventually was told thanks for applying but I was "over qualified".  (And needed teaching "degree").
tcritchley07
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tcritchley07,
User Rank: Strategist
4/30/2014 | 6:05:45 AM
Re: Education and Professionalism?
At 67 you are what 'Gabby' Hayes called a 'young whippersnapper'. I must be the only living exponent of IBM's card BPS, a card-based OS and compiler. Those were the days!

Terry Tortoise.
RichardO148
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RichardO148,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/25/2014 | 4:04:48 PM
Problem solving, Data Literacy and Systems Thinking - the future of IT
To put in bluntly the entire discipline of software development harks back to the days when steam engines were hacked together and blew up. The accepted practice of "debugging" should be considered archaic. Imagine building other entities such as putting up wall board by banging in nails until you find a stud!  

The term "computer science" is a misnomer. There is no more science in programming than a psychic uses to predict your future. It's all smoke and mirrors. When the software works it consider a miracle since more that 50% of software projects still fail.

As the author points, educational institutions teach programming rather than problem solving.   Some in education have tried to address this very problem. A number of years ago I worked with Fadi Deek, the Provost and Senior Executive Vice President at the New Jersey Institute of technology. His PhD this was on this very subject. Here is an example of his work: An Integrated Environment for Problem Solving and Program Development http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.157.6458&rep=rep1&type=pdf

However problem solving is not the only challenge we face. Few people in IT have data skills. They focus on the coding without a great deal of attention to the data. They lack "Data Literacy". This includes CIO's and managers as well as programmers and business people.

In business and in programming, data is the "product", raw material and output yet few who claim to be practitioners know much about data semantics, syntax, quality or applying techniques such as taxonomy or ontology to data. With the advent of "big "data" we have a constituency of both producers and consumers who remain data illiterate.

The IT industry and educational institutions must begin thinking outside the traditions of the past and embrace problem solving, designing rather than debugging and hacking, systems thinking and data literacy as the cornerstones of computer science. Forget about waterfall or agile mythologies. Forget about object oriented and Hadoop, these are just passing fads. Focus on the fundamentals of software and IT; problem solving and data literacy.
erlrodd1
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erlrodd1,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/26/2014 | 9:11:12 AM
Re: Problem solving, Data Literacy and Systems Thinking - the future of IT
Some comments:

First, I believe there is some "science" in "computer science" - there are careful, well-defined fundamental principles with theory and proofs etc. Obviously, an enormous challenge in education is how much to teach of a LOT of loosely related areas including theory, programming, data analysis, problem solving, software engineering methodology(including project management) and then choosing from a plethora of technologies, from those of historical interest to dominant ones to current fads. I think it is actually pretty hard for any of us who have been around a long time and in many different contexts to understand what the world looks like to a 19 year old.

There are so many chicken and egg problems, it can boggle the mind. There are things that sound fundamental and important, and yet, without some context of what might seem like unimportant skills in some technology, don't have any meaning to the student.

Second, I agree that understanding data is one of very important areas. When I taught university, as one coming from industry, I probably did more with this than the average program does. People who understand data and can maniputlate it etc. get paid very well for that skill.

There are two "soft skills" that have received a lot of attention for a long time - yet we don't really know "how" to teach them:
 1) Problem solving and worse 2) Design. I think the best writing on design is Fred Brooks' book "The Design of Design" and he seems to have succeeded in teaching design to some extent. These two areas are ones where to me, there is a legitimate, active question of how much the ultimate skill depends more on the the person (i.e. just how capable are they) than the teaching.
erlrodd1
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erlrodd1,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/25/2014 | 4:20:43 PM
My Experience with the "who" of IT training.
I taught a lot of IT in several contexts:
1. As a developer/instructor working for IBM and teaching IBM Systems
Engineers technical courses.
2. As an instructor with IBM teaching IBM customers technical courses.
(Note: I did many other technical jobs for IBM besides education)
3. As a university faculty member in a small liberal arts college
teaching effectively 1/2 of the curriculum (and developing
changes/new courses etc.

My comments on what you wrote:

1. The "who" is very important - many of the people who learned on the
job were highly motivated and learned it because they
really wanted to. I was in the category (I graduated as a chemical
engineer and began programming to model oil refining).
Some university students are like this - they just like computer science
and learn far more than what they have to do for
courses. Others do the minimum.

The people I taught as an IBM instructor (IBMers and customers) were
generally very highly motivated - it was a privilege to go take a week
or two
away from the job and concentrate on learning. Some of our classes for
just IBMers were 7AM-5PM with extensive homework prep for
the next day's labs and people loved it.

2. Universities can be very slow to adapt. This is for good reasons (too
rapid change makes for chaos in graduation requirements
and course sequencing) and bad reasons (universities have a lot of
people who are coasting and are hopelessly out of touch). Furthermore, 
universities are in general resistant to innovation - goodness, they still
have tenure!
Ultimately, in my opinion, the biggest issue in universities is the students - far more kids go to college than are college material so you have students who are not interested enough to live and breathe computer science. This is a huge factor. I had students who were not natural aces at programming, but learned it, yet they loved the field and used online resources to stay current on what is happening and to research interesting questions that arose during their courses. These students graduated as very competent IT workers. Others just treated most of their coursework as something to "finish" - never realizing that this approach would not get them much of a job. And among the mass of colleges (community and 4 year) who essentially take anyone who will pay, there is a tendency to dumb down to the students they are given. Obviously, the selective admissions schools are different. Well, my thoughts. Earl Rodd Retired from IBM and Malone University
tcritchley07
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tcritchley07,
User Rank: Strategist
4/25/2014 | 5:14:44 PM
Re: My Experience with the "who" of IT training.
http://www.computingatschool.org.uk/data/uploads/ComputingCurric.pdf  This is the UK Proposed ICT curriculum for schools I mentioned before. Other documentation lists 'contributors', none of whom are from industry or even the major mature suppliers i.e. not Microsoft and Google who are in here pitching their wares. One supporter said 'we might even get the next Facebook from it all. WE need another (or even the current) Facebook like a hole in the head.

I've argued this with a very senior academic involved in this and we agreed to differ on the point I made 'that he who pays the piper, calls the tune',meaning industry, not academics, teachers and various geeks. Scan the URL above and see what I mean.

Terry Tortoise

 
3rdman
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3rdman,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/16/2014 | 12:41:28 PM
State of Education
I find it interesting people continually blame the Educational System for the performance issues of the students. Education is NOT a manufacturing process with a product that can be quality controlled with the expectation that all students will "come out equal'. Education is expected to produce a uniform product but is given non-uniform materials (people) to produce from. We try and try to teach thinking skills and problem solving but everyone is expected to graduate with honors so we really cannot filter out those that do not develop those skills "on schedule" or perhaps will not ever. Thinking and problem solving are skills developed over time and with experience and guidance and occasionally require some degree of mental anquish and frustration but always requires persistance and perspiration. Sad but true not all people will develop the skills after x years of eduaction, get a grip on that, learn to recognize and reward those that can and have developed thinking skills and have a job for those that have not yet or cannot develop those skills. The old experiment of the chimpanzee in the room with a table and stick and bananas tied to ceiling, some figured it out and some didn't, applies to people faced with problems to solve, some will eat bananas and some will have to be fed. Don't blame the schools for things the students can't learn--how good are YOU at Differential Equation solutions?, if not very good-is that your schools fault or yours? rmj
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