IT Certification and Training

January 11, 2007

An Interesting Observation

Filed under: education, flatworld — Jim Henderson @ 0:09

Last October, when I was preparing to drive back to Minneapolis for my younger brother’s wedding, Dan Veitkus (VP of Training Services at Novell) asked me if I had anything to listen to in the car on the drive. While I had a fair selection of music on my iPod for the trip, I said I always liked having something new to listen to. He suggested I have a listen to the book The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman, and loaned me the audiobook version he had purchased to listen to himself.

While I didn’t actually get a chance to listen to the book on the trip, I started listening to it while I drive to and from Provo (for me that’s about 90 minutes in the car twice a week). The audiobook is about 20 hours long, and I’ve not made it all the way through the book yet, but I wanted to share something interesting that Friedman talks about in Chapter 7.

You should be aware that this book – at least as far as I’ve listened to it – can be viewed as having a western-world (ie, the US and Western Europe) view in terms of how workers can advance from jobs that are being outsourced into one of two categories of jobs – the “Untouchables” (ie, people whose jobs cannot be outsourced for a number of reasons) or the “New Middle” (people who have adapted to a globalized workforce and differentiate themselves in how they apply their skills and adapt as the workplace changes).

Georgia Tech’s undergraduate computer science program, starting in 2006, is being built based on something they call “Threads”. The idea is that rather than building a CS program based on hardware, software, and algorithms (which is a traditional computer science degree – or at least it was when I was pursuing my degree), Georgia Tech decided instead to look at cross-sections of the industry and build a program based on the idea that people who work in fields of technology end up having to apply their skills to complex problems in the business world. This means rather than burying the student in a program where they learn hardware design, raw programming skills, and algorithms in a relative vacuum, the student instead needs to develop people skills and understand business in addition to learning important technical skills. This allows the student to become a productive problem solver in the business world, applying technological solutions to business problems.

Have a look at the different threads Georgia Tech has to get an idea as to how this is supposed to work. It seems to be a very creative idea to address the needs of tech workers moving forward in the 21st century.

In Friedman’s flat world, outsourcing is a large topic of discussion. Globalization has allowed many traditional tech jobs – support, help desk, and even install and build operations – to take place overseas for a much lower cost. The differentiating factor for those who are left behind is the ability to creatively analyze business problems and apply technological solutions to those problems, streamlining operations like supply chain management.

As I look at my career as an IT professional, this is one of the things I can point to as a personal success – I learned early on how to apply technology to business problems, partly by just learning how to understand what the business requirements are. As an IT professional, getting the business to define their desired end result can be a challenge, but from the perspective of an enterprise architect, it is important to understand as much about the business as you can.

The days of just learning a technology – be it NetWare, Linux, Windows, Apache, PHP, C++ programming, or hardware diagnostics – are pretty much over. I believe that those who are going to be successful in the future will be able to take these technologies and combine them in new ways in order to solve business problems – whether it be to support a global retail infrastructure or to support a 20-person customer service organization. The ability to conceptualize data flows and implement automation of business processes and then take those conceptualizations and turn them into a solution is a key factor for success in technology these days.

As I was writing this post, a reader e-mailed me some questions for an article he’s writing. The questions he asked and opinions I provided in response dovetail nicely with this topic. I’ll write about that discussion in a later post after his article has been published.

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