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IT Leadership // CIO Insights & Innovation
Commentary
10/26/2007
05:01 PM
John Soat
John Soat
Commentary
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The Next Generation Tech Worker

CIOs need to decide: Where is the training going to come from -- self instruction, corporate programs, academia, or some combination thereof?

CIOs need to decide: Where is the training going to come from -- self instruction, corporate programs, academia, or some combination thereof?A recent column I wrote for InformationWeek magazine about the intersection of today's tech savvy kids and the need for IT talent struck a chord with readers. Several e-mailed me and posted comments on our Web site. Here is a representative sample:

First, just how tech savvy are today's teens? And what does that say about our country's prospects for the future?

"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, they want to communicate with their friends #1. BUT a nail gun does not make a carpenter and even less a craftsman."

"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 fifty years?"
I have to admit, after reading that last comment I googled Fourier Transforms and the Central Limit Theorem -- and I still can't say I know what they mean, much less that I grok them.

On the other hand, a certain baseline familiarity with consumer/PC technology is de rigueur in today's corporate environment, something the younger generation embraces and the older generation (too often) chooses to ignore:

"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."

That person couldn't have been talking about technology executives, could he? Here's a very pragmatic approach to measuring a tech exec's tech savvy:

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

Pragmatism is increasingly the norm on college campuses when it comes to computer science and IT, according to this respondent:

"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 as SOA demands JavaScript and XML, etc."

But the best school for accruing technology smarts is still the school of hard knocks, according to another respondent:

"Bottom line is that today, most I.T. 'Worker Bee' skills are STILL learned OTJ."

That being so, what's the use of a hard-earned, hard-won computer science degree?

"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."

The current corporate preference for a "we'll train our own" philosophy brings the IT hiring situation back around full circle, to the early days of IT staffing, according one respondent:

As one of those front-edge baby boomers myself, and a veteran of recruiting high technology talent for 35 years, [your column] brought to mind the state of the IT profession in its infancy. There were no Computer Science majors at that time, and Control Data Institute couldn't turn out enough programmers to meet the demand, so medium-to-large firms (in the financial services industry, for example) would seek out bright people and train them.

And they weren't engineering majors; math majors and those with creative skills -- musicians and artists, for example -- did particularly well. Surprisingly, many with handicaps like dyslexia found that they possessed complimentary strengths and became superior programmers, systems analysts, and sales support reps.

So if a baby-boomer shortage actually happens (most expect to work past normal retirement age), CIOs don't necessarily have to fear a talent void or endure whatever shortcomings they experience with outsourcing -- train your own!

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