another year, another cycle

It's funny how every year the issue of training and knowledge transfer seems to crop up around this time. Must be something in the change of weather? :-)

Anyways, over the last few weeks a lot of folks have commented on the need to re-examine the training of new DBAs and more in general, the issue of training people for future IT positions.

Because there is a very definite fall in enrollment numbers in the traditional education channels, when it comes to IT. At last someone has started to pay attention to it, it's been very obvious since even before the dot.com burst...

A lot has been said already about that burst and its consequences. Rather than repeat tired arguments, I'm going back a bit more and re-visit the late 70s-early 80s, when we suffered a similar drop in numbers of IT people.

Back then, the problem was very definitely that the traditional education channels - the university and the CS course - were completely out of tune with the reality of IT. The curriculum of most courses was hopelessly behind the times and not relevant at all to the then current IT environment and its needs.

The vast majority of jobs in IT had no need for skills in building CPUs: what we needed then was more C programmers, more people capable of taking a spec and transform it into a running program. We therefore had a major drop in CS enrollments and a consequent lack of "trained" folks in the workforce. Well, what we had was folks trained in the wrong skills, but the end result was the same.

I'm of the view that what we are seeing now is a repeat of similar circumstances! I am not suggesting that CS courses are teaching out of date skills, no. But that they are not teaching what the IT industry needs. And as a result, enrollments dwindle. Just like they did in the 80s. And of course, we have less "trained" folks around.

Yes, IT has changed and anyone who refuses to accept that is in cloud nine. And of course, with that change has come a change in needs. We no longer need heaps of folks out there trained in the subtleties of writing C, or Java, or any other language for that matter!

What IT needs is folks that can analyze a situation and/or problem, find a viable solution and then follow it through implementation by building on existing blocks and re-linking them into a working solution.

The time when folks sat down at a desk and wrote incredibly long reams of code per day is long gone. If and when that is needed, we can always offshore/outsource it to where it is more cost-effective to do so. But the number of times that is required is ridiculously low, in the normal run-of-the-mill IT site nowadays.

Sure: there is still a need for programmers. For companies that *do* write software, to sell. But that is NOT - by any stretch of the imagination - the vast majority of IT work out there.

Perhaps we should ask then: what is IT nowadays?

In my neck of the woods, it's very simple: it's the setting up of an infra-structure that can reliably execute the modules necessary to solve business requirements and needs.

A lot of hot air to mean just this: being involved in selecting adequate execution environments that are flexible and performant enough to run the commercial packages that the company's business requires.

And interconnect them in a fashion that makes the whole bigger than the sum of the parts: for example, no longer is it enough to stash away all facts in a DW, one has to be able to come up with a working design that is able to efficiently and effectively offload some of that data into other areas for further analysis/processing.

The days of the "data centre" as the raison d'ĂȘtre of the IT department are gone: what we have now is a resource that must be flexible enough to provide input to other areas of the business, in a reliable and consistent fashion.

And no: that does NOT involve writing "interface" programs. The tools are already there, we just have to use them to build the required links. Rather than "re-invent the wheel".

And yes: this involves being able to provide flat files for folks to play with, in their spreadsheets/analysis tools!

Now, where does the current curriculum of CS courses fit into this? It doesn't, does it? Ergo, no interest.

So maybe, just maybe mind you, we should re-examine our own training turf rather than blame economic changes on the lack of interest in IT training or IT itself as a career?

Anyways: on a lighter note...

"I've got an itch riiiiiight theeeeere!"

Stunning birds, these ones: huge, yet very graceful. They remind me of 747 aircraft, in a way.

Now, this one reminded me of something else:

No, really? Got any well positioned dungeons with a nice view? :-)

And here is that crazy SQLPuss again, looking at ghosts:

catchyalata, folks


Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the one hand, inhabiting the day-to-day IT world, I agree with you whole-heartedly. I've yet to meet a new graduate who had much of a clue about what we were looking for.

On the other (to play devil's advocate for a moment), it's a matter of whether further education should be predominantly vocational (in which case the skills being taught aren't the right ones) or academic.

i.e. There probably aren't many careers for a pure mathematics graduate, but it's still a valuable subject, isn't it?

Oh, and by the way, I haven't a clue what I'm talking about really, as a mathematical pygmy and a school-leaver. I don't really know whether there are lots of jobs for mathematicians. I'm just defending the importance of learning for it's own sake.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007 5:33:00 am  
Blogger Noons said...

I'm a bit of an advocate for academic training.

But I have to recognize traditional academic curricula bear no relevance whatsoever to what we need out there in IT. That being CS or anything else, maths included.

Now, is it a case of vocational training all over again - that path seems to have ebbed away a while ago - or an acceptance that maybe there is value in hiring from a suitable academic background and then nurture and educate in-house?

Perhaps we need SAs again, trained on the job or by vocational training, like we used to have back in the 70s?

And if so, how well does that gel in these times of short-lived work tenure?

I mean: it's been a while since I last heard any company claim they want to invest in human capital...

On the other hand, we need more historians-turned-IT people, like HJR and so many others!

Yes, hindsight is great! :-)

Or as Larry would say: another opportunity?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007 7:39:00 am  
Blogger Joel Garry said...

You are so right.

But we need to separate out the skill sets from the analysis - if everything is a spreadsheet, what do we do with nails?

The "problem" with vocational training is its underlying assumption that the current tool set is optimal.

I went to college, got my BSc degree, started law school, decided computer geeking fit me better, and went to one of those vocational schools. It basically fed COBOL programmers into the aerospace industry. So it's main preparation was, for me, already obsolete, though it did have some value in analysis and learning the basics of a few generations of languages (though not C, which eventually hurt). I wanted to do that newfangled online stuff!

I was fortunate to be able to do that, and since that first company had success with me, they hired more people out of another school that had more of an online bent. But they didn't have so much formalized business programming training, and didn't do as well at first.

Nowadays I see the equivalent schools cranking out network admins (and one biggie suddenly going bankrupt recently). NA's are what the market needs, and they wind up doing the package baby-sitting, with no real business analysis - they wind up just buying whatever mauve package the users are sold.

So the vendors make money with training. I'm not so sure this isn't a good thing, there should be some levels of training before hand - CS + other knowledge for the concepts, business training, then specific toolset training.

And some retraining of HR and IS people so they don't just hire people with specific toolset experience and nothing else.

(Tried to post this yesterday but google puked on my password.)

Thursday, April 26, 2007 4:02:00 am  
Blogger Joel Garry said...

And of course, the

Thursday, April 26, 2007 4:09:00 am  
Blogger Cristian said...

it's strange, i'm writing from italy. I was thinking that problem you write about, that of IT training was an italian school and university problem but you are saying that it is a world problem. However i think that a person with the skills you say woud be an IT manager not an IT employee.

Thursday, April 26, 2007 10:35:00 pm  
Blogger Noons said...

quite frankly Cristian, if you are incapable of understanding what "IT" means in this context, perhaps you should abstain from posting in English language blogs?
It'd definitely save you from sounding ridiculous...

and no, it would not be an IT manager. Although I must admit my knowledge of Italy is quite out of date, perhaps it's all the rage now?

Friday, April 27, 2007 11:05:00 am  
Blogger Cristian said...

sorry for sounding ridiculous, i was only trying to undertand what IT is outside of Italy and outside my little company.

Monday, April 30, 2007 8:34:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

trying to undertand what IT is outside of Italy and outside my little company.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007 3:09:00 am  

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