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The IT Talent Problem

Business-savvy IT executives can be hard to come by, and that’s a big problem if your company relies on technology to exist (it does). Maybe it’s time to start growing your own.

Way back in 2000, just before the dot-com bust, I wrote a weekly column for CIO magazine, and I spent months covering “the technology workforce crisis.” The big issue was the cap that the U.S. government had put on H‑1B visas and the strong need that companies had for developers and other technologists. Then along came the dot-com bust, and the news (and my column) was all about layoffs and identifying the real goats in the Internet debacle.

As the economy recovered from the bust, we all took a more balanced view of technology hiring. Companies needed good technology people, and they were able to recruit them pretty easily or augment their teams offshore.

Enter the 2010s. With cloud, mobility, big data and consumerization, companies are in even greater need of technology talent than they were in the late 1990s, and that talent is in even shorter supply. Computer science enrollments are at an all-time low; baby boomer workers are retiring and taking all of that legacy-systems knowledge with them; and Silicon Valley is hot again. Would that young, brilliant developer rather join the next Zynga or upgrade the payroll systems at your insurance company?

Two weeks ago, I asked the IT executive readership of my weekly newsletter, The Heller Report, to answer the question: If you had a magic wand, what one talent problem would you solve? Responses poured in and addressed challenges around recruiting, developing leaders, and retaining the talent that they currently have. But more than 70 percent of readers would use their magic wand to do only one thing: give business skills to their technologists. Their people, they worry, are so narrowly focused on the technology that they fail to see the forest through the trees. They do not understand the business context of their technology work, nor can they have a meaningful discussion with the leaders of the business areas their technology supports.

This lack of business-savvy technology talent is a serious problem for every company that relies on technology to exist (which is, of course, every company). Those beautifully “blended executives,” who can talk technology in one meeting and can talk business in another, are rare birds. Yet with technology moving directly into the revenue stream of your company, you need them, and your need is only going to increase.

One option is to spend all of your time (and money) recruiting blended executives from the outside. You will be in heated competition with every other company in your market, and if your recruiting function is not a competitive weapon for you, you will find yourself in a losing battle.

You would be much better off growing your own. Here are some ideas:

Build a rotational program.
Encourage your head of human resources to work with your CIO and a few of your other business leaders to build a program that rotates IT people into different functions of the business. This kind of program is not easy, with your CIO having to survive without a trusted IT leader for a period of time, but the long-term result of a good rotational program can be tremendous. It may well be worth the investment.

94 thoughts on “The IT Talent Problem

  1. I partially agree, my experience has been that hiring managers are looking for technical resources that must match all the skills of the team this person would be leading, which on its own is a very difficult feat, and then they try to see if this person can be a leader. Rather, hiring managers should be looking for great leaders first and then see how much knowledge they have in the different technologies and skills that this person would be leading, and there is no need to have prior knowledge in all of them. I know this from personal experience, I am a Computer Engineer from Purdue University with an MBA (from a much lower tier school) with a total of 15 years of experience of which 10 have been in Technology Program and Project Management. This means, for the last 10 years I have been working hand in hand with leading technical teams to the establishment or completion of successful programs or projects. Yet, when I look into new opportunities in Technology leadership positions (IT Director, VP of Technology, Program Manager, etc..) I know highly technical non-management oriented colleagues with less years of experience under a similar job application process getting interviews and then rejected whereas I don’t even get the interview. I know there can be countless reasons to the scenario I have described, but still, I am sure a shift in the hiring focus would make a huge difference.

    • One Solution to this problem adopted in UK and MENA is to employ ‘middle men’ or Business Engagement Managers – Executives/Senior Managers that provide the necessary interface between IT Technologists and Business Heads. Good BEM’s possess and balance just the right mix of Technology Knowledge/Skills/Experience with understanding of an Organisations Functions, Departments, Business Processes and Strategic Goals…An excellent example of this in evidence can be seen within Etihad’s IT Organisation.

      • And where do they find these miracle middle men? It still amazes me that the one place people do not look, but should be the first place they look, is the quality leadership in an organization. The Q-leader is responsible for auditing, and therefore, solid familiarization, at a minimum, with all key aspects of the business. Further, a seasoned such individual has to be a communications leader and strong change agent. It is amazing how many IT procedures I have personally reviewed, approved, and audited. Additionally, The Q-leader is responsible for documentation management of the entire company’s business systems. In addition to having the skills to bring all functions together in pursuit of excellence, he must have strong technical capabilities. If he or she has a background similar to mine, they’ll be trained in TQM and certified in PMP, as well as very experienced in interfacing with key departmental structures and functions. In a pinch, they can fill in for almost any leadership vacancy, short term.

      • This solution is great, however if an organization is unable to “employ” outside help. Essentially, it is the same principle of embedding IT leaders or developing an internal mentorship program (without incurring the cost of outside help).

    • When Irish it workers are being paid 220 euros for over 40 hours a week
      less than half of the legal minimum wage as supported by Apple ,VMware , EMC and other multinationals what do you expect . I have just qualified and cant afford to work in this industry so it was a compleat waste of my time and investment . I will now have to remain on welfare untill this form of slavery remains in place and i have advised all my fellow students to do the same . Why should anyone have to put themselves into serious financial dificulty to make huge profits for companies who use our country to evaid paying tax . And you seem suprised that there is a shortage in this area !

  2. I’m sorry to say but i believe the rotational program won’t work. Why I say so? well, have you asked technical people if they do want to start learning more about the business and less about technology?. I believe that for most technical people, me being one of them, is much more important to go and grasp as much knowledge on what we need to do our jobs than learning the business part it; after all, it’s our technical knowledge that got us into our current jobs and eventually into the next one. I believe that if you can make IT people feel that this is the job of their life, that they’ll grow a career in the company and that the company will continue to innovate in technology then they’ll consider learning the business part of the company; but again, you run the risk of having these employees not keeping in pace with technology’s new innovations.

    • Based on my experiences and observations, the personality of an IT person generally does not include keen interest in business management. He or she, while very intelligent and analytical, would rather solve complicated situations to satisfy his or her ego than participate in day to day business activities. I suggest that companies should do the reverse – find business-oriented persons and rotate them in IT-related activities. That is the foundation of excellent CIOs – expert knowledge ot the company business and basic knowledge of IT work, capabilities and limitations.

      • Sangalang comment is right on the money! That is the correct way to go. This has been demonstrated in the Healthcare Industry where for instance nurses became IT leaders. However it must be said that the academic education of techs needs to be broader and include humanities to hopefully allow them to better relate and serve the non-tech clients.

        • It is my anecdotal experience that IT is the lowest on the totem pole and no respect is ever given to IT professionals. My current organisation is absolutely phobic about promoting IT in to management positions, even when qualified. IT is frequently left of organisation diagrams while other non-core functional groups are included (eg, HR). The only way up the chain is to wait for your current IT manager to die or retire. There is no engagement with IT. Most internal jobs go to friends or a direct report of the decision maker, with a rubber stamp from HR or upper management. IT does not move in those circles. So, having no busines-savvy IT is a self-fulfulling prophesy.

          • Additionally, the manager who gets put in charge of IT tends to be the least competent, or most disliked, and keeps them out of the way. Which compounds the problem of the lack of know-how when dealing with complicated tech topics.

            As Sangalang said, IT guys have no interest in business. They could have done any economics/marketing course if that was their desire. IT is a creative industry and should be treated like artists or musicians.

  3. My wife is a computer science graduate working in a business role for one of the top 30 corporations.

    They’re finding it easier to teach technical people business rather than the other way around.

    But I think the main problem is that good people just don’t go into computer science now unless they’re nerds because the salaries and job security just isn’t good enough.

    • That’s the problem right there. The so-called “nerds” are often your best resource as a CTO. There’s a defensiveness among medium-level business managers, arising from their own cognitive inferiority, necessitating a diffident attitude toward the people who are really good at IT. Some even pride themselves on not knowing *anything* about IT, which is a pretty transparent attempt at signaling social superiority to relieve a sense of being intellectually outmatched.

      Business managers seldom have any idea of the complexity that goes into even a medium-scale software project, and the plain truth is that the IT department is almost everywhere composed of smarter people than the business side. (Which is why it’s easier to teach business to the IT guys, than the other way around.)

      Truly brilliant engineers will always have sacrificed a big part of their social capabilities to focus on their technical interests, in exactly the same way as a chess grandmaster or a theoretical physicist. These people are both exceptionally valuable, and useless at management.

      The better solution is to employ an internal go-between who has the ability to understand how the “nerds” think, and how to get the best performance from them.

      And demote anyone using the word “nerd”. It’s a sign of defensiveness and, ultimately, a hindrance to your IT efforts.

      • Well written. Point by point. I like it.
        And the solution you have provided is truly correct.

      • I’m an engineer and a nerd. I wasn’t using it like that at all or at least I didn’t mean to.

        However I should have said “They don’t got into technology unless they’re passionate” :-)

        My point still stands. Technical people don’t get paid enough, it’s that simple. The successful IT companies understand this however unfortunately most don’t, probably because as you say the managers can’t recognise those that are good or not so they treat them all the same. I don’t think it’s a question of intelligence, it’s just that most IT managers are delegators and generally hands off.

        My point stands that until the salary issue is corrected we will continue to see people choosing other disciplines.

        I would never have gone into IT or at least I would have never gone into programming and system architecture but rather into a more Business Analyst (which is really the role you’re talking about) with a path to Project Management.

        Unfortunately unless you are very special you sort of max out very early at a salary level which BAs reach within a few years.

        • Programming is tough. Business Analysis any one can do. If you have Finance Knaowledge (B.Com) that is sufficient. People who cannot do programming (*which needs brain) shift to business Analysis/Management role. Most of the projects suffer because the business Analyst mess up things.
          As the IT industry grew the managers ie, people who shifted to management role to avoid programming started downplaying the programmer – Technical people. This result in buttering people going up the ladder. The programmer suffered. This is the problem with indian IT

          • No, not every Tom, Dick and Harry can do Business Analysis. Speaking as a programmer and a Business Analyst – both have its simplicity and complexity. Creating a report using any of the Business Intelligence tools is easy, but setting up he requirements to tell you wha data to be pulled and how that needs to be aggregated is tough. Similarly, decision making looking at a report might be easy – but setting up the background data – tables, joins, functions and views – to create that report is ging be tough.

          • Srikanth,

            That’s the problem with IT everywhere and exactly what I was getting at. Unfortunately the people who have the power to change it know it’s not in their interests to do so.

          • No i dont agree with that, that may be the case with some people or some companies, Business Analysis is not a cool one as you told srikanth, it is also tough as programming not every Tom and Rao can do that. But it depends on one’s interests whether to choose BA role or a programmer role, mostly as you told the paradigm shift to Management roles is due to thier external pressures and it is also not common, there are people with 15 plus years experience and still doing the coding. So depending on one’s interest people should go and instead of randomly giving the projects to the freshers the company HR’s should ask their interests and allot them to those, there are cases where a good coding guy was placed in testing or analysis role and a good analyst is alloted to Programming role. But one point is domain knowledge is equally important as tech knowledge.

      • “The better solution is to employ an internal go-between who has the ability to understand how the “nerds” think, and how to get the best performance from them.”

        100% agree. The problem is I’ve found is getting management to understand the importance of these go-betweens. On the surface, they look like a superfluous level of management. In reality, they are the glue between management and IT.

        • As I said my wife is one so I’m not saying BAs aren’t necessary but the reason why more and more IT people have little to no technical skills is because the technical skills aren’t valued in terms of salary.

          It’s not a question of a how the “nerds” think, that’s complete crap. It’s a question of money. That’s how you get the best performance out of them.

    • My opinion is the opposite to yours about the salary and job security of IT people. Unfortunately I can’t refer you to any study but just my opinion and what I observed on the IT people in our clan. Do you have any study to back up your claim?

  4. IT profession is innovation with capital ‘I’. Unlike other professionals who perpetuate themselves at the cost of society often times, IT professionals by definition obviate their need by automating systems. There lies inbuilt obsolescence.

    • So true. Once on a project I was on I was chatting to an animator while he happened to be carrying out a particularly dull repetitive task cleaning up animations and I said I could automate that for you.

      His answer was “Do you want to put me out of a job”.

      He was only joking off course but there’s some truth in it.

  5. Being a tech, I would love to learn more about the business end.
    I’ve found the people in my industry (largely ad agencies and media companies) don’t want me involved with it, they would rather keep me in a walled garden.
    I dare say some feel threatened. I suppose the only route is a personal one, not in company which would be the best way. Always learn by doing.

  6. Hmm … I recall reading that one of the most unemployable majors is Information Systems, which seems to be the hybrid business & technology program that would address this so-called problem.

  7. Being business savy is not something you learn in some training sessions, it’s something you learn in the treanches when you setup your own business. The rest is just theory.

    I left the purely technical field to setup several businesses about 10 years ago. It has given me a broader perspective on everything. When it comes to handling money for instance, a technology decision really needs to make sense in order to adopt it. Techies usually know the common terms such as “ROI” or “cost efficiency”, etc., but they don’t feel them. One needs to feel these things in the gut in order to make the right decisions.

    However, if I went back to the workforce I don’t know if I would be more hirable, since other factors such as age come to place. The truth is that technical professionals do need to learn business skills, by not gambling their future on being hired by some “smart ass” manager who decides if you can work or not. Realiace on being employed is a terrible gamble. Once you realize that, you start searching for ways to create your own business. Even if you don’t have money, you learn to think about how to finance your venture, a *key* business skill.

  8. I would just like to say that there seems to be an ageist bias against older workers. I’m 60 and unemployed but I have a great deal of experience both in business and IT. I hold a masters in Operations Management and have over 40 years in IT, so where are the jobs?

    • Denis, I agree I thought that was a pretty stupid comment in the article. I recently retired from selling and installing some of the latest technologies in the wireless data world. Yes I had some legacy skills and I definitely had a lot of business skills and education including an MBA from a top 10 B School.

      I moved between technology consulting and strategy consulting to technology sales and services frequently. And because I was involved at the very beginning of mobile data on packet based networks I knew things less experienced people might never learn. Having led a software marketing team that was responsible for marketing strategy and implementation for a multibillion dollar portfolio I had a lot of pure business skills as well.

      So yes there is a widely held belief in the myth that older technology people only have legacy skills. One of my key responsibilities was to mentor younger less experience coworkers. But now this is no longer my problem, it is the problem for companies that need the kind of skill and experience the people like me can provide. My challenge now is to find the most beautiful sunsets in the world. And so far I have really enjoyed the search and have found some amazing sunsets.

  9. I work in a huge financial institution. Recently i popped in job ad in our website. One of the BI teams asks for a person recently graduated with a master in Finance who knows how to work in dimensional data modelling. I m very curious to see what kind of applications they will receive

  10. The problem i feel is, most managers have a loss of link with the techies in their domain and many times they don’t want the techies to understand the business much out of own insecurities . This creates a vaccum in system understanding and providing solution..The better solution is to hier managers with necessary knowledge of technology , and do away with core managers as that kind if skill is not a qualified skill anymore .Though it might be a harsh opinion , but that an solve a degree of problem and also inspire or else enforce the managers to have some commitment to technology .Mind you , we cannot anymore do with people who boast of not being a techie in today’s world.

  11. For years we in operations had monthly meetings and every 2 months a business unit was asked to talk about what they do and how they use the computer resources available to them. Post meeting anyone could talk to people in the business unit and offer suggestions to improve their use of IT. Many times the business unit did not understand what resources were already loaded into the systems.

    A new section manager put a stop saying there were complaints from the BU that we were interfering. What the “new” manager did not know was the close relationship we had already developed over years of working together with BUs and he lasted only a year.

    So yes, even the lowly operator can contribute to the good of the company.

  12. In my opinion, the problem (not limited to IT), lies in this management vs shop floor divide. Consider this – why must an excellent ‘technical’ person have to enter ‘management’ to ‘enhance’ his position in the hierarchy and thereby his financial compensation. Why does a higher wage structure have to be the factor deciding decision making authority and hierarchy. Perhaps, these fundamental concepts are at the root.

    • The problem is they can’t even if they wanted to. Management and technical roles i.e. programming are completely different career paths.

      Which is why people are avoiding technical roles like the plague. You’re essentially condemning yourself to a life on the “shop floor”.

  13. Hire older workers. The IT field is littered with kids. Getting grey hair is the kiss of death in the IT filed. Once you get older people figure you to be management or the owner, but never consider the fact you might actually understand the technology. At my age I don’t mind upgrading systems, and repurposing older systems for companies that need to save money. So I don’t have the latest iPhone, maybe I don’t like being on 24hr call anymore. I have forgotten more than most of these paper tigers know.

  14. So true. It’s easy to hire coders, but to find one who has a basic understanding of what management wants and how to understand their requirements is like a miracle. So many IT pros just want to re-write their last system and make your business adapt it’s way of doing things to their way of coding. Very few of them really listen to your needs and respond accordingly. When I look for software people, I look for ones with a successful system running somewhere. It’s never an easy task.

    • This is where exactly the problem is.If there is a problem with understanding the business, then I think they should go thru two programs that I recommend
      1)Business knowledge on how company is running business using their output(solution)
      2)Operations flow that you expect using the new system
      3)Existing Data flow if available
      4)Ask them to map the new operations you want in the new data flow
      5)Leave the technology to them.
      Nothing is impossible in the world of technology. If the requirement calls for change in the ground rules of the system already in place, its going to cost a lot and involves risk.

  15. I would also like to add that too many hiring decisions are based on someone’s resume claims matching whatever alphabet soup spells out the current operating system and programming language and not nearly enough attention is paid to people with varied experience across the spectrum of IT skills. Any good developer can learn a new OS or programming language in a few months, but a bad programmer can never overcome his lack of organizational skills, no matter how many years of experience he or she has with your particular environment.

  16. Some random comments from my side…
    Rotational Method:
    I work for a large financial institution and I face similar issues. However I am one of those that has decided to involve myself on the business side because I feel I want to ‘see things from the other side.’ And also because I can never understand some of the decisions the business guys make. I always land up having a different idea on how to do things. When I point out the gaps, the managers downplay it almost ignoring my suggestions. Based on my own experience and feelings I believe the rotational method will work ONLY if the techies are willing.

    Managers:
    As so aptly pointed out above, the smartest ppl are usually the techies and its much easier to teach a techie the business than the other way around. The sad part is that the core manager (as Joyita pointed out) is a not a qualified skill anymore. I think it was previously the notion that the core manager can ‘manage’ without understanding the underlyings and that seems to still be the notion of today. (I have a friend who is an IT program manager and who also takes pride in not knowing anything about IT). However with this kind of management there has to be alot of trust in your techies. But with so much insecurity, I see for myself there isn’t.
    I’ve always maintained that a good IT manager will understand IT but an even better one will have come up the IT ladder, and have gained experience at the different levels to truly understand how IT projects function and the work/difficulties involved.

    Compensation:
    Regarding the financial compensation mentioned above, I agree with H Singh’s comment. In addition I find that the people who know the least (with no offence to core managers) get paid the most. Whilst techies who actually ‘make it happen’ get the least recognition for the work.

    Walled Garden:
    Dave aptly described the usual tendencies by business ppl. Keep you in a walled garden and most probably because of insecurity. I feel the same here. There are alot of places in my company that I can get involved in and personally (if i dare say so myself) do a better job. It’s purely insecurity. Nobody likes to be showed up. But also those ppl don’t push themselves to learn more and do better. I’ve seen that. I suppose thats another long discussion.

    Yes techies are usually the smartest ppl in the room. The idea is that if they can grasp complex problems and solve them then they can grasp & solve business problems. Developers are usually more logical and coherent in thought and their work and usually think of a problem from many different angles. These skills can be applied in any job. Hence techies ability to adapt/change/move and even become management if the desire is such :-)

  17. Only women get hired.
    No over 40 men get hired.
    This is the reality, ignore the femi-journo-shmournos and their sowing confusion.

  18. There should be a governmental order to for IT-specialists from universities. Supporting it-students with different treats, helps to increase interest towards the topic and fullfill the places in universities. Then US has some workforce in the very important sector in the future coming up..

  19. This is a case of the tail wagging the dog. CFO’s are simply finding ways to justify their ‘narrative’ (that there is no talent so we must off-shore these jobs).

    Nothing could be further from the truth. In my role as a high-technology instructor I see hundreds of people in their 20′s and 30′s who are brilliant developers yet can’t find work in their own countries because of off-shoring.

    While off-shoring helps the bottom line of a company it does great damage to the local economies of London, Birmingham, Paris, Madrid, Stockholm…

    What companies don’t seem to understand is who their customers are. The people buying their products are in North America and Europe (not in India). Does it make any sense to take jobs from Europeans, Canadians, and Americans for the sole purpose of maximizing short-term profit? Isn’t the long-term health of a company better served by hiring (and keeping) local talent?

    Believe me the talent is out there but companies go to great lengths to not find it (even so far as to manipulate the system and find ways to say “no” when local talent applies for jobs).

    • I couldn’t agree more. Most of the comments about the employability of older IT workers, salaries, job security, etc., are ignoring the 800-lb gorilla in the room. The hand-wringing of executives over the lack of IT talent is merely a ploy to gain sympathy for the importation of even more cheap IT “talent” from Asia, and for the exportation of more work to low cost countries.

      These globalists have destroyed the US middle class and dismantled the ladders of upward mobility. Still, I doubt their futures are going to be all that rosy. When the US population has been finally divided into the Überrich and everyone else, their gated communities will become cramped and ever less pleasant places to live. They had better be well-guarded should they deign to venture out among us peasants.

      • It’s one of the reasons why if you’re in the west then you need to go into a BA job after university. My wife’s main role is to offshore and manager those contractors.

        • I could not agree more with Gary.

          This has been Happening for decades in corrupted South America, where I was born, the rich never invested in their neighborhoods, therefore, we have Venezuela and Mexico, just to name a couple of good examples.

          In Sao Paulo, the upper class uses helicopters to go from one building to another. Women can´t use jewelry because they would be attacked and robbed.

          It is important to look after your neighborhood, not only to what is inside your fence.

          Only hope, is the Asians to become expensive, it will take 100s of years since there are quite a few Billion pooooor people.

          J.

  20. It is difficult for the older workers, too. Many fall off the learning curve that is constantly required in IT. Kids of half the age churn out code faster, are willing to work longer hours, for quarter the salary. Even cheaper outside. Why would any employer pass up on it?

    • Reasonable comment Wilbur. Except for three things.

      1) TPTB have decided that we must all compete against everyone else in the world, not just our own young ones. This perhaps will cease once the standard of liviong in the US has fallen to the sasme level as in India.

      2) Our young are (hopefully) intelligent enough to decide that taking on huge debts for a computer education is not justified by the salaries they will receive, and the lack of job security they will achieve.

      3) There are many senior IT techies who are just as sharp as their younger counterparts, and who bring the one thing to the table that is more important than just abolut anything else: experience, and that sixth-sense that only years spent in the field can create. BTW, most of the older guys I know spend all time necessary to keep up on the latest.

      Perhaps it is just that the globalist elitists want to hire only slaves?

      • Experience beyond a few years is unnecessary for coders, Gary. Technologies change and business needs change. Employers are unlikely to pay premium for excessive coding experience. Those with business knowledge will move up into management roles and guide the coders. Like manufacturing, IT is another skill that is cheaper in other parts of the planet. Too bad.

  21. it is good that a leader understand business and technology both,but it is no necessary;a leader dont need to know how a computer to work excellently,but he/she should know business excellently;

  22. Hi, I’m a programmer myself for 5 years now age 31 here in Philippines, currently working, I’m handling VFP, VB, C++, ASP.NET, VB.NET, VBScript, basic networking (Domain controller, LAN/WAN setup). From reading all your comments, I agree mostly that when hiring IT Top Management who will lead us Focus Techie Programmers, they must have great technical skill and better organizational skill(documentation, negotiations with other IT department especially Database Management Admin, Network Operations and Control and Windows Server Admin). My problem with my current work is I Handle everything from Meetings with Business Operations and their Top Management and Other IT Departments, Documentations, Presentations during meetings, System and Database Design. If Some garbage IT Boss is going to pretend that they can balance our workload then they have the right to stay and lead us, but if they fail and cannot reach at least one level of my expertise then it is better for me to leave the company and search for a better one. If the company cannot find one ideal IT Boss then its better I do everything myself rather than lead by a moron who is pretending and not helping with technical difficulty of the project and always asking for technical information (i.e.., always asking for inputs, surely when asked by his boss, he will tell what I told him, ass hole…). I’m a good guy that’s why I don’t hold information with my colleagues but I know who is a dumb ass and cannot decide wisely and always draining my time with technical discussion like I’m the teacher and he’s the student. People who doesn’t have passion with Computers should change their career (especially desktop computers, for those who use laptops they have limited specs, laptops are for display only, I passion desktop because it can be expanded easily and if you like games with a very good video card you will experience overheating then replace the heat sink with water cooling.) I’m just saying I really spend a lot with computers and games, my logic and design is overflowing with ideas because of my exposure but I admit I suffer social life, but I’m still happy because I do solve complex problems. To our readers, please bear with me, not all IT personnel are aiming for a better position, I myself is very satisfied as a programmer because the job is really tough (i.e, combination of Web Design, Database and System Design, and Fixing Bugs like drop down button, compatibility for browsers, user friendly design (simpler the better) and especially fast processing). I’m aiming for a bigger income, I believe the bigger the pay the programmer received is to shorten the time he will develop each task or the complex the problem is (i.e., Open GL game engine, Unintermitted File Transfer in Different OS with Databases compatibility or Script involving Service Domain Account like jre update, etc..)

  23. Yes i agree with the statistics, As opportunities are becoming lesser. obviously students will get diverted from there field of study
    Saverable

  24. Well d’uh! Companies refuse to train trying to steal others who already have the skills, Companies REFUSE to employ those with the skills usually because of age. I have been developing systems for 30 years, and my business knowledge is extensive, so much so it seems to scare people and of course the real Elephant in the room is my age, guess what? I am OVER 50 and as most HR people are younger than my experience I cannot find a job. I took my date of birth off my CV and received 5 – 6 calls a day. Once my age was known there was never a follow up. So stupid companies, TRY ACTUALLY EMPLOYING PEOPLE WITH THE SKILLSET , WHATEVER THEIR RACE, COLOUR, CREED, SEX OR AGE and perhaps you might succeed, if not YOU DESERVE TO FAIL.

  25. Kind of sad on many levels. I wonder how many people who were laid off from IT jobs in the early 2000s and were forced to change careers, have read this article and felt vindicated. I worked hard to become an IT professional and after 2 years of looking for an IT job gave up and changed careers in 2004.

    • WHat career did you change to Mike? I know it is none of my business but am curious to know where one can go from IT? I am currently in IT and lo and behold should anything happen to IT tomorrow. I want to be in a position to migrate seamlessly and find a stable career.

  26. “give business skills to their technologists” – You have got it wrong!
    Technologists don’t need business skills. CEO’s of Technology companies need to understand their products technically as well as having some business skills.
    Just by knowing the basics (Profit = Sales – Costs & ROI) could get you very far. The business skills that they lack can be augmented by hiring the appropriate people. With the right Sales and Management team the company could operate with 10-20% better efficiency.
    The problem with the IT industry is that the majority of managers running IT consultancies have little knowledge of Technology. There is a vast difference between a graduate computer programmer and an experienced one who has been programming for decades. It’s the failure to understand this fact which makes them hire lots of low skilled onshore and offshore workers. An IT company led by a MBA graduate is just a recipe for disaster. The company without government support would likely collapse within a few years.

  27. Past two years economy is in a slow down and people are facing issues like Business Management and IT Jobs. Given the globalization existing situation has become complex than plain old vanilla economy. We need to come out of our comfort zone and continue to reskill. While a bunch of few people are needed to keep alive IT technology in Business. New Graduates should focus on upcoming areas so these mature by the time they graduate or become stable. No doubt finances, personal and family responsibilities will be a definite concern. Best Wishes.

  28. Yet, as soon as I reveal my technical IT background, I am categorized as a “techie”, and out flies my chance to excel in what my education was all about. I have an MBA from a well-reputed U.S. university. This problem is to a large extent recruiters fault, them being obsessed with various unscientific personality categorization instruments (personality tests) where they feel they fail unless being able to put you in a specific box – and their clients, the companies needed the talent this article is about, buy it…

    The same is true at large consulting firms like Accenture, where upon hiring, I was promised to be able to rotate from IT into corporate strategy. but in reality, that was just talk.

    • If a company is able to make you a techie you’ll never be able to get out without leaving them and unfortunately that experience will also send you down the wrong path with your next job.

      You should just hide that from anyone you work with.

      It’s ironic that companies have to lie by saying there will be business opportunities for techies but then don’t value them once they’re in the job – or at least don’t value them in terms of salary and career progression.

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  30. Other problem with IT industry in india is caste and religion playing role in promotions. Usually bramins and christians get top post. If you analyse the trend in indian IT closely you can realise this

  31. The correct approach, personally i feel is to train the key IT resources of the company with management concepts and skills and induct them within the management at all levels, at due course of time. This solves the problem of IT guys not getting jobs when they age and add tremendous value to the company also.The key is to train and induct key IT resources.

  32. The business-part of a company is mined with politics. Most technologists prefer to stay away from it.

    • It’s a personality contest really which is the problem. They never respected techies as kids so they aren’t going to respect them as adults.

  33. I think it should be the other way around. An Engineer will always have good logical and analytical reasoning and better then average IQ. They are mostly driven and hard workers. Also, most of them love the job instead of the money they make off it. Learning the Business part of things is a just a choice for an Engineer. A choice that they sometime refuse to make because of the politics and responsibility involved in the Business front. It might not be so easy for a Business guy to get into IT because of the level of intellect and hard work needed.

    • I think thats a pretty unfair statement.
      “… because of the level of intellect and hard work needed”.
      I reject the notion that a good business person needs neither a high intellect nor an attitude of hard work. Just like (most) good developers needed to work hard to reach their standing (most) good managers had to perform in just the same way.
      What I can accept is that a lot of business knowledge can simply be learned and applied immediately while taking a course on codecademy will not automatically make you a good developer. However, I would suggest that an understanding of coding is sufficient for a business person to efficiently interact with techies. In other words a role such as project manager is perfect since they are the middle men between techies and non-techies. And to become a project manager you can be either from the business side or from the developers’ side.

  34. I am a developer. And I can tell you that around 40 out of every 100 who start out as developers in a consulting firm or around 2 out of 5 within an in house team tend to develop an interest on the managerial/business side of things. A large percent of them do not want to be developers throughout their career.

    What organisations need to do is not run a lean team where each technical person has time and energy to focus only on technical things. Staff your team adequately so that some of the technical developers tend to look into non-technical aspects with the time and settings available to them.

  35. Interesting article and even more interesting comments. My take on this is that as a “techie” at my present job in a developing African Country, upward career progression is kind of limited and I have realized that to move higher the ladder I need to learn other languages, do more certifications etc. Then to enter managerial positions, at least an MBA is required. I have thought long and hard about this, instead of slaving to re-certify and learn more languages and do an MBA then land a job with a little more pay and still another boss above me who doesn’t really understand what I do, I’d rather open my own company, which is what I have done. This way I can really bring the solutions I envision into existence and reap the full worth/consequences of my actions, lots of cash or misery in case my plans don’t pan out. As someone who believes in taking responsibility for oneself, I see no need in complaining about IT guys having no career progression and other such complaints. If we are really smarter than the other guys, then we should use that same intelligence to get ourselves out of the mess we now find ourselves in. The situation is not about to change, IT foot soldiers will always be undervalued, but hey at-least you got a job and somewhere to start your empire from if you are a dreamer like me.

  36. This is one of the most interesting discussions I have seen in weeks, with many interesting ideas. Some years ago I have seen that there is a body of research which understands programming mainly as a learning process. This is in line with my experience I have seen in many IT projects. The IT people have to learn the domains and business processes first and only after that they can program the solutions. This is what makes IT so difficult. What unfortunately often happens in discussions with business is that the business people do not really understand their own processes nor they posses a concentration, training and discipline to fully understand various consequences of their decisions.

    Why than the IT professionals are not more active in business discussions? One reason is load. Even on medium size projects the people are often on limit learning the new domains or new business processes and at the same time looking for a good technical solution. There is no capacity to elaborate discussions on the business side not to say about the danger beeing involved in company politics. A solution? Unfortunately, Francis is probably right, we have to be more active and build the companies, and we have to care that only experienced engineering people obtain the positions on the business side. As this discussion shows there are many experienced IT people who would be perfectly capable and willing to take over the business side.

    • You hit the nail on the head. Business teams often doesn’t know what they want. Thats probably because they are not aware of all the business rules embedded in the “code”.
      I ended up lot of times waiting for the business rules. Later I started suggesting based on the existing rules. This the value that IT person brings on board.

      The second point I want to highlight is some of the organizations are running or hiding various business functions on “need to know” basis all in the name of security.

      I think this needs to be addressed.

  37. Other problem with IT industry in india is caste and religion playing role in promotions. Usually bramins and christians get top post.
    This is what I have to ask questions and concerns.

  38. Following this really interesting article and the discussion, I fully agree there is a huge gap of experience, although there experience does not allow to follow the changing economies of world quickly enough. I would like the companies to invest more in the IT pros willing to extend their horizons by other business domains (eg. through post diploma studies, then secondments or moves). Many of them do it on their own. On one hand companies lack for such skill-mix employees, on the other hand it is hard to be heard from your “little” IT drawer. The cure would probably be to crash the siloes toward more cross domain roles or at least that companies would start to focus more on what potential is born under their wings and appreciate it. Finally for the future, IT majors should offer business courses so that IT graduates would be ready to talk the business language.

  39. Companies having the approach of getting on-board Technology Professionals with inclination to learn newer Technology & with Business Skills/capability to pick up Business Skills will grow much faster, than companies using Business/Sales promoted professionals to take up Technology/related Business.
    The underlying issue is most companies do not want to have the foresight of investing/moving a busy/billing technology professional by sending him/her for extensive Business schooling.

  40. and even if an IT person becomes good in business, they won’t stay being employed- but instead they set up their own techie business. …

    I only witnessed one IT person who passionately shifted to business development work – who happens to be my boss. It’s very rare an executive can understand tech people and communicate with board members.

  41. No Talent problem. It is Salary problem. Priyanka Chopra go INR 5 Cr. for 5 minute dance on new year eve. Why should a Talented and Business Savyy Programmer work for mere INR 2 Lac a month?
    My suggestion to business-savyy programmers is to start their own business. It need solid Guts between two legs. If you have it, you don’t work for salaries. If you don’t, how-so-ever you boast of your Degrees and Work profile, you are ‘Immature’.

  42. I don’t think, there should be issue of good package in IT industry, what lack is proper training. proper training and long term goal can inspired them to give best out of them.

  43. The problem lies squarely in management.

    IT management does not value the business focused technologist. THey are a threat to the CIO. We have the capability to cut through the latest vaporware jargon, endless middleware technologies, simplify the requirements, halve the budget, and deliver a working system on the first release. Such an outcome dis-empowers the CIO financially, politically and socially.

    Business Management don’t have the understanding to select and acquire a suitable business focused technologist. If they do, then they usually think they don’t need one.

    Financial Management don’t want to know. Who is these days prepared to spend anything like 20-25% of their budget on analysis – a human resource cost? No hardware to show for it, oly expensive consultants? They cannot understand its value.

    When push comes to shove, who has control of the data model? Who will support the system long term? The CIO.

    If its not up to spec, its easy for the IT department to blame the business for not describing their specifications completely. And the business usually doesn’t have the same corporate clout as the CIO.

    And in the BA world, there are a lot of counterfeits in teflon suits, looking for dollars now, and their next job as soon as there is a sniff of necrosis.

    The CFO and CIO and CEO all know that genuine workable solutions only happen when you put the dollars into analysis. Business Analysis. Enterprise Architecture heralded a breath of fresh air into an organisational approach to business, but the CIO hijacked it and shifted the dollars into Cloud computing and gigabits and terraflops. The other two stood by their mates.

    Compared to 20 years ago, queues in banks and business are longer than ever, because the transactions take up to four times longer to process.

    Computing has become like the proverbial fast food franchise, fixed menu, bland tastes, doesn’t do the job, and the business feels worse coming out than you went in. The business becomes complacent. Hakuna Mattata

    Anyone got a job for a Masters Degree qualified IT guy who specialises in Business? And can keep the Technologists honest? And takes more pride in their work, than the car they drive? No company in Australia seems to value them anymore. If they did, I’d probably be employed.

  44. If these offshore developers or cheap H1B imports were actually good at their jobs, I’d admit that my job needs to adjust to the realities of the marketplace. But to this day, I have yet to see anything coming out of offshoring that works as expected. Most are complete disasters that get swept under the carpet.

    The stuff that gets delivered by H1B heavy teams is of such poor quality that I would have been shown the door immediately for so much as pushing stuff to testing much less production. But compared to 15 years ago, the quality bar is so ridiculously low, that slow queries, frequent crashes, bad data, and delays are now the new normal.

    Today’s technology has the potential to create a huge boon for those businesses that are prepared to use it as leverage. My concern is that incompetent managers, anti-IT elitism, and short term thinking is costing us dearly in terms of competitiveness.

  45. Interesting discussions on IT talent problem that led to altogether different directions. If the real issue as emerged from the above discussions is how to merge IT talent with other faculties and treat at par with that of a medical doctor, a wrestler, a businessman, a pilot, etc. etc. then one may draw a conclusion that it is a north-south pole that can never meet at a point. IT is a facilitation service whereas the rest of the faculties come from different orientation, knowledge, skill, studies and so on. How one can make an IT intellectual a professor of literature unless he has in-depth knowledge of litt. or a good combination of both. Likewise, can a highly IT-talented guy be a wrestler or treated at par not at all. IT is not a mother of all knowledge. It has a specialized faculty that cannot dominate others as is being practiced currently. As a result thereof, current force of generations coming out from schools, colleges or universities hardly have in-depth knowledge than a good know-how of how to turn on and off your computer or cellphone, etc. Current dilemma is: Brains and mindful of generation is missing … should be considered very seriously.

  46. The reason IT people lack business sense is that the people with business sense know not to go into STEM fields because THERE AREN’T ANY JOBS!!!

  47. I am an IT guy. Working as Joint Director IT. Doing lot of general and IT work.Good discussions. IT department is a support system in non-IT organisation, hence it has a limited role in business matters. It is difficult for an IT guy to grow up in ladder in this setup. And the same IT is production unit in IT organisation. The person or programmer in production unit is considered a automated coder hence least cared. Both the places who sells the products outside and brings revenue, they are considered valuable from an organisation’s point of view, even though great programmers and system analysts involved in developing a product. Ultimately the IT product developed should be get sold and money should be realised. That’s where the whole crux lies. As regards brains, offcourse the IT guys have best IQ, knowledge, skills and do hardwork.
    Ultimately it all depends on how much money can be realised by from IT. Hence mix is always best for a Business organisation. Pure IT is best for R&D if one wants to be some scientist. hence one need not to mix business requirements and general innovation and creativity.

  48. IT is now back bone of every businesses that tend to exist. It is now a history to find any unit big or small to exist without this department. If a link goes down or converged data is not available for even 5 min. the Infrastructure specialists are at stake.. but nobody counts the links that remained up for the 99 percent of time.. be it at Railway reservation or a Retail outlet…but data and links are now the challenge – but sadly though – the team which needs to be encouraged to meet 99 part of this challenge is always on the guns of the greedy and non-technical managers. They would make a big issue out of the smaller ones and would Fire some of the guy who is On-call or a Scapegoat. They will then replace them with a new team with lesser experience and would again in process of training the new-ones make one of them scapegoat. This is out of my experience with very big firm(s) out in Bangalore. The line of Managers they maintain is for profit-sharing and the real technical guys are always at gunpoint. It is like a Army job out here in IT…. Politicians eat up the cream and the poor army fights heads out to save the land.. The respect for both is the least as far as I have been with the industry so far… they call u up in midnight even if you have left at 8:00 pm after extra work and then when real time comes for your hike in the year end.. they would give you a pre-defined template to fill in which there will be no column for your achievements.. there will be only pre-defined rubbish goals which you can ever fit in your work area -there will be atleast 10 of these goals which are worthless and not connecting to work in any sense. The dumb Process of the big Companies would also pre-define the ranks to be in October itself whereas the real face to face rating is taken up in January.. so they know six months in advance what rating you get… all rubbish.. they have a slot to be given in for of 1, 2 and 3 for head counts pre-assigned !!! I cannot see the truth in the whole process which tends to dis-respect the very person who has led to the real service of the Clients and stayed awake sleepless for nights to attend calls and issues of the so called big customers… The home relationships and careers of wards are at stake.. the moment they know you are an Out-sider and need to visit hometown atleast twice in a year.. (as you do not want to shift immediately for education concerns of your wards)… they would find an excuse at time of Rating that the employee takes leaves (even though they are from your own PL quota !!)
    If any one has doubt on this I can surely name the Company (s) who have such garbage lot of Management – but the truth is these Managers wont let your life be easier even if you left the Company.. strangely such Managers rotate internally even if kicked out by HR when their deficiencies and mischief is caught.. but in the process its some of the good technical guy whose future is at stake.. Looking to all the hardships and un-human challenges lying in this nuisance field of IT.. my children and family are of opinion to take up different choice for graduation !!! and I am sure that this has reciprocated in many families – which will in near future bring a sort of chaos for the same Managers who disrespect the real heroes which keep the show going… The dumb Manager knows that in countries like India you can find talent at stone throw but he is not aware that it cannot match the Quality aspects which is required to keep the Business promise with the Valuable Clients of the Organization.. but who worries.. it is all pure politics inside IT also… just be one of them and I can gaurantee that you can mint a better future rather than waste and break heads in those technical stuff.. a non-IT guys like Recruiters.. Managers.. HR .. etc. etc. are far more happier..and they know their roles better than we can imagine.. )

  49. Organizations should be effective in passing detailed information on business needs like process complexities, constraints to operate and expectations from enabling technology. While lot of these stuff is communicated at high level by IT enablers just after on boarding, the point is to how much level these issues are addressed. Metrics do help a lot. Business would need to consider aspects such as how much a short term project as to offer our long term business plans, if IT projects convince board members, management too with in organization should be in sync with top level management as to how to get your work done.

  50. Being an IT professional we must have sound knowledge of IT and equally good and sound knowledge of the system processes as well; to develop a system that could be fulfilling the organizational needs

    I agree:
    1. to implement “Rotational Programs” and keep on moving the IT resources from one domain area/sub area to another periodically. This will help the resources to understand the different systems easily and how they are depending upon other systems
    2. to “Involve the Business Leaders”. Small orientation sessions and a bit detailed sessions how the systems are working will help the IT guys to not only document the system processes in a better way but also develop the system with more accuracy and precision. We could go for “Learning Hour Programs” to achieve these goals easily.

    However “Embedding the IT People in Business” might also work

    But “The Buddy System” seems to be very difficult thing to implement. I believe at some instance it may be totally wastage of time …

    I would like to mention some thing that might also work, “Invite IT Team members to respective department’s Meet and Greet events”. It will be very fruitful for every one, the IT Guy, the concerned department and the company …

  51. As correctly pointed out ” What can we do about this.. ” – but even before that “are we committed to do about it .. if a viable solution lies within ! ” Yeah then it would be even better :

    a. It is easier said than done if we are going to replace non-technical stuff of managers with a little good hearted, visionary and techno-managers.
    b. The HR should be instrumental not in just typing appointment letters and filing resignations recommended by those who cannot value talent.. instead there should be a fair approach by filling the Manager hierachy with norms of the industry – solidly studying the background and role these Managers will be taking up.. they are paid to manage the teams and not Damage the teams.. but we all know what role most of these dumb head Managers have played leading to global turmoil at regular spans…
    c. Lastly – I have ended up doing MBA from very reputed University out here in Bangalore – but the line of those Managers have never even taken this in the achievement rating nor by promoting me from technical to techno-Manager post… looks strange but true.. so how many of the technical talent would go for a Business role if it repays just agony and pain in long run.. There should be respect for the learned in first place – then you can think of a solution..

  52. I work in recruitment and before this I used to work for the big tech companies. The honest truth is that there isn’t any lack of supply there only is a lack of common sense. In recent years there has been an inflation on what companies demand.

    In all honesty to be a CIO/CFO or whatever acronym you want to call it, isn’t rocket science. I know I’ve done it. In fact a successful CIO/CFO has a good understanding about business and technology. They don’t need to know how to code, they don’t need to have 20 years of experience. Honestly most of these jobs only require some form of higher education, a will to do it and 2-3 years of experience in some related field.

    Every day I see hundreds upon hundreds of highly educated, driven and work motivated people go to waste as the profiles we’re asked to fill are beyond any reason or logic.

    Executives have made their jobs sound much harder than it actually is. In 90 % of the cases the men and women working in sales work four times as hard for little or no reward. It is time for companies to start looking for talent the wrong way.

    Just 20 years ago a your driven person could reach a satisfied level of income in a few years. This time in 2014 is closer to 14 years. And this is the exact reason young people either start their own business, or aren’t motivated to work. If there is no motivation other than a title on the business card or a crap salary why would they try. They waste their intellect on being a peg in an outdated organization that thinks too highly about themselves and what their jobs in reality demand.

    I’m sitting on the front row looking at how our economy is changing as a recruiter and it isn’t pretty, in fact it is grey, depressing and sad. We’re wasting a whole generation and loosing the fight against developing economies. All because we’ve lost touch with reality. Fortunately enough I get paid because of this stupidity. I’m not proud of it but someone’s got to do it.

  53. Interesting angle.

    I would say it’s much easier to incorporate a bit of business into the minds of computer science experts and would do your business a lot more good if you hired experts that can help your business develop faster.

  54. Hi, If I need to divide 10 apples amongst 9 of my employees would i need a programmer or BA to solve the issue?

  55. as long as MBAs are driving the program, it is impossible to see a real transformation.but yes in paper. Sorry MBAs, current era is a technically driven,

  56. The issue of talent is because. Hiring people are hell bent on specific skills which is impossible to get. They should hire people who are trainable and have shown grit and determination in whatever areas they have been asked to work. The people with multi talents can cope up with the challenges of new trends of technology. Then just waiting for specific skillsets. Skill sets can be developed. What hiring people need to see is the qualification,potential and atittude.

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