Current and future requirements for “talent”

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Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking to some senior educational leaders about the requirements for students who will be entering the IT marketplace in the next few years. In addition to talking about the increasing prominence of open source and standards in that marketplace, I discussed the skills the students would need beyond technical competency. This is a topic I plan to return to again, but let me start by listing the main areas:

  • Social skills to work in diverse, multicultural teams
  • Leadership
  • Adaptability
  • Communication skills
  • Comfort with ambiguity
  • Analytical skills — ability to recognize patterns in disparate data
  • Understanding how to translate challenges into opportunities

Taken individually, many of these are not new, but taken together and within the context of the new workplace that includes

  • development and sales teams being global and increasingly distributed,
  • more people working from home offices,
  • it becoming more commonplace to hire and manage people whom you have never met in person,
  • development taking place 24 hours a day in some part of the world
  • leadership positions sometimes being given on a meritocracy basis rather than a seniority one
  • improved use of communications technology; email; instant messaging; and distributed source code control, requirements management, bug and issues tracking, and customer relationship management, and
  • online document creation and collaboration.

What other skills would you list or what are the specific aspects of those listed that you think we will most need? What other factors are driving these requirements?


  1. Hand in hand with technical use of open source, I’d add understanding of relevant copyright laws and licences. I’ve certainly spent more hours that I’d like discussing open source with lawyers, but if I hadn’t had a strong understanding of the copyright and licence issues it would have been many, many more hours. While ideally technical employees shouldn’t have to know or worry about the law, that’s simply not the current reality, and I can’t see that changing any time soon.

  2. Well, ‘IT’ has run into a brick wall in many ways; it’s characterised by the ‘commoditisation’ of the PC business, and IBM’s exit from PC hardware and OS/2. And if Google will give you a copy of Sun StarOffice for nothing, then that puts the final nail in the coffin of IBM Lotus SmartSuite, surely. Other vendors must answer for their own business models.

    In its place are coming massively-parallel machines such as Intel’s 80-core chip and IBM’s BlueGene which, frankly, we have no idea how to expoit. BlueGene has 40960 processors; Websphere on BlueGene can use maybe 4 of them. Even our languages for programming in aren’t adequate to the challenge.

    It’s OK for the Research Scientists; they’re willing to spend 5 years crawling across the dirt-track runway to launch their supersonic airliner. But the First-Class Businessman … the one that IBM likes to sell to … will want a ticket counter where he can plunk his dollars down, take his ticket, and have his supercompute service performed same-day.

    From where I sit, I see a change from “Missions” … for example, “Disk File Development Mission” … to “Solutions”. “Here is a well-funded client with a problem that needs a solution, bid the contract and deliver it”. It’s a kind-of blossoming; now we have the trunk and branches of the tree grown, things are splitting into more diversity, and we’re getting leaves and flowers. More, but smaller, projects; each one delivering a well-defined niche solution to a client’s problem; enabling the client to optimise his business better, but in a way that’s different from optimising someone else’s business.

    With the increasing amount of open-source, we are having to integrate on a client’s site. We can pre-integrate and ship the IBM component of a solution, but (and it seems to be an anti-plagiarism rule) if we wish to deliver non-IBM open source as a component, we can rehearse it ‘in the factory’, but we can’t deliver the results of the rehearsal, as you might deliver a prefabricated office building. That’s not an engineering problem; it’s a commercial legal problem. If you want cost driven out of it, you have to get the commercial laws changed.

    The warranty component of a solution is becoming more significant; I think even Microsoft are finding this. Here is this month’s summary of defect fixes ; if Microsoft didn’t keep on top of this, then pretty soon our global Internet and its 600 million connected Personal Computers wouldn’t be working in any reasonable way.

    Are the kids being taught relevant skills in schools ? No. There’s a big assumption that ‘someone else will take care of it’.

  3. I appreciate your willingness to lay down some guidelines for students. As an IT director at a K12 I frequently get asked by students and sometimes administration for some guidelines vis a vis careers in IT. You’ve enumerated some very important points and skills that should be fostered if not actually taught.

  4. What I have seen is that certain things generally lead to a failed career:
    * “I only do X.” In any job, you do what you’re told to do. Learn that early and you’re likely to have a happier career. Sweep the floors, empty trash cans, string cables, write login scripts, explain how to use a template for the thirty-fifth time. Be willing to do anything that is needed for the good of the company. Even if your present company doesn’t reward you for it, your work ethic will open doors for you.
    * “I already know Y. You don’t have to teach me anything.” Always be willing to learn, even if you think you already know it. This is especially true when you are first entering an organization. You may have worked for some hot company already, but you do not work for them any more. The company you’re now working for will have its own ways of doing things.
    * “I know Z already. Why do I have to learn A, B, and C?” Be willing to learn anything, about any technology or topic. You never know when one little thing someone showed you will be applicable in a totally different context.

    I suggest that potential IT employees:
    * Learn to read, write, and speak standard American English and use it regularly without jargon or “smilies.” When you do something, you need to document it, so that the next person does not have to re-learn what you just figured out. In addition, your boss’s tech skills are probably rusty. If you speak a foreign dialect (jargon) to him or her, you may unintentionally offend.
    * Read a little, and not just sci fi novels. One-dimensional works for cardboard, but is terrible for people.
    * People are interesting. Learn to find things in nearly everyone that will enable you to build relationships with them. (It helps if your reading and experiences give you some common ground.)
    * Try to learn at least one foreign language. This will give you an additional channel to communicate with people. Since learning a language is not just “learning the word for X,” but learning additional ideas and concepts that are carried by the words, you will also increase your capacity to understand and communicate in your native language.
    * Do not pick IT solely because of some expected financial payoff. You will do this for many hours at a time, for several years. If you do not like the work, you will be miserable.

  5. What other skills would you list or what are the specific aspects of those listed that you think we will most need? What other factors are driving these requirements?

    Within communication skills is presentation skills. Many IT and other hi-tech people do not have the knowledge of effective presentation skills, particularly when using PowerPoint. PP should be used as a tool to enhance a presentation. Simple things such as In a group exercise, the whole group stands up near the lectern when giving a presentation in class. Actually, the group, except for the actual speaker, should be sitting down but Ive seen all 3 or 4 in the group standing at the lectern taking turns speaking. Walking in front of the projector should be avoided. Learning to transcend a presentation from presenting to conversing with the audience. There’s so much more but there’s not enought space.

    Another skill, perhaps part of communication skills, is effective networking, i.e. social networking. I gave a workshop to a group of coding people on being an effective networker. It’s needed, particularly for those who work from home. They need to join chambers of commerce, networking organizations, and other organizations which may lead to business but this is not being given in college.

    People, even IT majors, can be successful but they will be more successful in less time if they learn the skills you presented. Carry on.

    Frank (Francesco)

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