Kids Shunning IT in worrying numbers?

On I found an article from August of last year talking about how kids in school are not really interested in IT related school subjects, despite the "opportunities for well-paid employment and the availability of jobs for the right people with the right qualifications".

This isn’t really surprising to me. At the 2004 Gartner Symposium last year, one of the tracks had an overwhelming theme about how the IT function is viewed by the business as a huge bottleneck, because the IT department can rarely respond to the needs of the business in a time frame that the business finds acceptable. Much of the talk around Gartner was around a concept called "IT Lite", where the IT department works as "glue" between outsourcing companies and the business departments who need to get work done.

For years we in the IT industry have been hearing about how 4GL languages, ERP systems, and off shore development will remove the need to have internal IT departments in order to have our needs fulfilled. There is little surprising about the fact that children these days do not feel a need to gravitate towards IT related roles. Why would you when you read articles like this one proclaiming that "IT departments face the axe by 2008":

IT departments are set for major staff cutbacks over the next four years and can expect to see more than half of their jobs to be axed, according to research from Gartner.

Gartner said that increasing pressure to deliver on business processes, and the momentum behind the outsourcing movement, will cause around two-thirds of companies to lose at least half of their IT workers by 2008.

Unfortunately, sentiments like the above are most of what people hear about IT these days and outsourcing is always viewed in a positive light when compared to the standard practice of in-house IT. You never really hear the other side of the story, in which outsourcing can actually hurt your organization.

As the article linked to above talks about, many companies outsource the truly strategic work while leaving their internal employees to deal with most of the support work. The end result of this is either a dependency on the outsourcing staff to keep the business running (at a higher long term cost than the original short term cost was estimated), or a decreased ability of the internal IT staff to respond to issues related to the developed software due to lack of exposure to the technology developed externally. This lack of ability to respond could be one of the contributing factors to the view that internal IT is unable to meet business needs.

Another contributor is the inability of IT and business staff to understand the others view of the world. Many times IT departments, because of their lack of visibility into the business itself, may view certain changes as not as important as others. Conversely, business users may not see the value in upgrading a system that is the primary cause of extreme amounts of maintenance work (which eats time that could be serving business needs) because there is some business functionality that is needed rather than decreasing the work load on IT staff.

All of these issues are real and all of them contribute to the mentality we have these days around IT.

The bottom line is with all the press about the uncertainty of the future of IT, is it any wonder kids aren’t interested in persuing it? I know that as an IT professional myself, I would think twice about recommending the profession to my children while companies continue to tout the advantages of outsourcing the work rather than looking at the deficiencies in the process that can be introduced by such an action.

Outsourcing is not an easy thing to do successfully and the savings that companies think they are going to get are not guaranteed . Until this is realized, businesses will continue on their quest to remove IT costs from the organization by outsourcing work rather than figuring out where in the process the cost can be removed. Little things such as improving the requirements analysis process, introducing source control and continuous integration, and agile development practices can go a long way in removing many of these costs.

During the time in which business are on the quest to cut costs by removing staff, and viewing internal IT as a cost rather than as an investment, there will continue to be a lack of interest in the next generation to look at IT as a profession worth persuing. Why would we even be surprised?

As an aside, the only way to be viewed as an investment is for the IT function to understand it is there to serve business needs, not the technology. This is the hard part for us IT folks.