CIOs Uncensored: How Tech Savvy Are Kids Today, Really?

Sure, they know gadgets, but do they know systems architecture? And do they have to?

John Soat, Contributor

November 9, 2007

3 Min Read

A recent column I wrote about tech-savvy kids, the need for IT talent, and the intersection between the two struck a chord with readers. Several e-mailed me or posted comments on our Web site.

More than a few were skeptical of just how tech savvy these kids actually are. What makes me think there's a teenager vegging on a couch somewhere behind these comments?:

>> "Some kids are truly talented but the vast majority are just young people who know cool tricks with new gadgets."

>> "The kids today are very gadget savvy. They know NOTHING of what it takes to build and operate systems of any scale."

>> "Yes, kids these days learn their gadgets fast. BUT a nail gun does not make a carpenter and even less a craftsman."

Wasn't it Archimedes who said, give me a nail gun and I'll nail the world? Still, nail guns aren't going to get us where we want to go:

>> "If our young people grok a 48-button remote control device, and young people in China and India grok Fourier Transforms and the Central Limit Theorem, who do you think is going to be running the world in 50 years?"

I googled Fourier Transforms and the Central Limit Theorem and I still can't say I understand them, much less grok them. On the other hand, a tech-centric world demands at least a certain level of savvy from its business leaders:

>> "The reason so many executives are so easily impressed and amazed by these 'prodigy' stories is that they themselves can barely figure out how to change their desktop background, let alone write a Word or Excel macro."

Ouch! He couldn't have been talking about technology executives, could he? Here's a pragmatic approach to what it means to be tech savvy:

>> "You have to be technical enough to know the business benefit of applying certain technologies. You also have to be savvy enough not to be a salesperson's puppet, and to challenge what auditors and your subordinates tell you is necessary."

Speaking of pragmatism, one respondent said he'd like a refund on his college tuition, please:

>> "When I graduated 25 years ago I was struck by one recruiter's comment. He said that if I was hired, they would teach me everything I needed to know, to which I asked, 'Why did I just spend 4 years in college.' His reply? 'We just want to know that you know how to learn.' It was a stark realization after 4 years of studying engineering."

Fortunately, academics seem to be getting the message:

>> "In colleges we professors are starting to teach more along the lines of how to learn, how to update, and how to use basic IT and business principles, since what they are learning today in Java may tomorrow be somewhat obsolete."

Still, one respondent feels things haven't changed all that much:

>> "Bottom line is that today, most IT 'Worker Bee' skills are STILL learned OTJ."

FYI, that's how most journalism skills are learned, too. Which may be the real lesson here: Experience is the best teacher, and savvy is as savvy does.

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit John Soat's forum.

To find out more about John Soat, please visit his page.

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