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Readers Sound Off: The IT Talent Problem

Raising the ‘business IQ’ of technology talent is not as simple as it may sound, say technologists and business executives.

It’s no secret that technology talent is in short supply when, perhaps, it is needed the most. But what’s not so clear is what to do with technologists who you hire and are not business savvy. As CFO columnist Martha Heller wrote last March, if business executives had one wish, an overwhelming number would want to a magic wand that they could wave and impart business skills to their technologists.

As Heller wrote, “Their [tech] 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.” The challenge is pervasive, she said: “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).”

Heller went on to give CFOs some tips for starting leadership development programs that “fight the natural order of things” and develop a new high-value generation of blended executives — those who understand payback periods as well as they do programming.

The column truly touched a nerve, setting off a sometimes heated debate. The technologists weighed in heavily, and their comments make it clear: Not only is this an extremely difficult problem to solve, but also, in some ways, management is its own worst enemy.

First, off, yes, most commenters agree, IT staff devoid of business and finance knowledge is a problem:

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So what’s the solution? In general, readers thought Heller was barking up the wrong tree, and offered an alternative:

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Has this been done before? Yes.

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But there are issues with the middleman approach too.

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If middleman can be the glue, however, why not IT staffers? There’s a deeper issue, it turns out, to developing one reader called the “miracle man” who blends IT and business skills: the technologists themselves.

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But there are IT people who are interested in expanding their knowledge base and making the leap, and who don’t conform to the stereotype:

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Some IT professionals insist that even if they have an interest in making the move, companies are not as sincere as they sound in their desire to impart business skills to IT staff.

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Indeed, it can be hazardous to a career to stay pigeonholed a techie.

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So where to develop the skills to understand the business context of an IT project? It won’t necessarily solve the skills problem corporations have, but, ideally, there is a path that could help develop a talent pool with these capabilities. It requires IT people to take a bold step.

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One thought on “Readers Sound Off: The IT Talent Problem

  1. As a Chem E with an MBA who became a software engineer and then CEO via co-founding a business app software company, I understand both points of view displayed here.

    I remember business / marketing types who made NO effort to understand technology. I remember techies who made NO effort to understand how marketing and sales worked. Neither were in their comfort zone.

    We only hired both types who WERE WILLING to learn. We educated them in each domain. We studied before teaching sessions what their right brain / left brain tendencies were. We rewarded them. And we made them work together all the time.

    The efficiency in a small entrepreneurial company ( 75 people, $10mm revenue ) was powerful. Our team could things in 6 weeks that our less-enlightened competitors 6 months or a year.

    It starts at the top with leadership. And shedding assumptions. And respecting people’s preferences but leading them to respect others.

    It can be done. It should be taught. But few attempt it and fewer achieve it.

    Regards,

    Ike
    a successful software entrepreneur

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