CIOs Uncensored: Help Wanted, But IT Passion And Business Acumen Required - InformationWeek

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Stephanie Stahl
Stephanie Stahl

CIOs Uncensored: Help Wanted, But IT Passion And Business Acumen Required

What with retirements and new jobs, there will be IT jobs aplenty to fill by 2014, close to 1.3 million by some estimates, Stephanie Stahl says. Successful job seekers will have business sense along with IT knowledge.

I often ask business technology executives if they'd recommend a job in IT to their kids. "Absolutely," most say without hesitation. Then comes the "but ..." But the education system must do a better job teaching the necessary skills. Or, but the kids must be able to think in business terms and understand the ramifications of a global economy.

The job market for IT is healthy, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which estimates that by 2014 this country will have created close to a million IT jobs that don't exist today. With retirements, there will be more than 1.3 million jobs to fill. IT categories account for six of the 30 professions the bureau predicts will grow the fastest. What's more, the number of computer science majors at Ph.D.-granting departments of U.S. colleges has fallen by half in the last five years, according to the Computing Research Association. This mix of higher demand and lower supply makes prospects good for anyone considering an IT career. It also worries some CIOs.

Says Richard Plane, CTO at Harris: "The biggest challenge I see today ... is the lack of new kids coming through the IT curriculum and being able to bring people up quickly into the enterprise and get them enthused, get them engaged. We've had this sourcing challenge for the last decade or so, where a lot of kids don't think this is a viable career any longer. If I could wipe it away, I'd try to ... bring in some new thinking and some new blood."

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For a heavy dose of IT passion, tune into CIOs Uncensored to hear more from Plane, Greendyk, and Davis.

So what are the hot skills? "Computer science is becoming more compiler-centric, and what I'm really looking for is people with business sense," Plane says. "So we're going back to the universities and trying to get a broad focus on business-enablement thinking, along with a computer science background, so they can do code development and infrastructure delivery but really understand what drives that--it's really business events."

When it comes right down to it, many kids already have a career in IT without knowing it, says Len Greendyk, VP of business systems development at Tiffany & Co. "Kids have grown up with it," he says. "Many of them don't think of it as something to do for a living. They think of it as something they use. But I think there's a lot of opportunities."

Pulling together all of the necessary skills in an IT organization is a challenge, Greendyk says. "It's harder to create a focused group that has everything," he says. "If I have a group supporting a retail division, I need the business people. I need the technologists. I need the data architects. I used to be able to build a retail team that had everything. Now I need to virtualize it more across the organization."

For Leigh Davis, regional CIO at Alabama Power, it's not specific skills or the degree that matters most. "If you're interested in learning about technology ... if you have that passion, it's really a fun place to work," she says. "If you're looking for a great career that has a lot of opportunity for change and excitement, IT's the place to be."

That reminds me of something that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman said during a recent panel discussion and in the second release of his best-selling book The World Is Flat. Friedman says he'd hire a passionate and curious person over a highly intelligent one any day.

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