What is the future for real IT professionals?

by Frank 21. October 2012 06:00

I own and run a software company called Knowledgeone Corporation that produces an enterprise content management solution called RecFind 6. As such, our business is the design and programming of complex, heavy-duty application software. This means that we do the hard stuff, including all of the invention, and that I need really clever and innovative and productive IT people (mainly programmers) to work for me.

I have written previously about how hard it is nowadays to find the quality of people I need, see my previous blog entitled “Where have all the good applicants gone?” However, there is an even bigger problem in our industry with an ongoing fall in standards that began way back with the Y2K problem in the late 1990’s as everyone panicked about the problem of date handling once the year 2,000 clicked over.

The problem was basically one of greed where emerging countries like India realized there was a lot of money in providing IT expertise and started mass-producing so called ‘experts’ and shipping them all over the world. Very soon a resume or list of qualifications or certifications was all that was needed to convince paper-bound and rules-bound bureaucrats that an individual had the prerequisite skills to either immigrate or be awarded a work permit.

And of course, young people in countries like India and Pakistan and the Philippines moved into the IT industry not because they were motivated by the prospect of becoming IT professionals but because it was their ticket out of poverty and an entry opportunity into countries like the USA, Canada and Australia. So, we started to fill up the ranks of IT professionals with people that did not have the aptitude or motivation, just a strong desire for a better life (and who can blame them?).

Greed raided its ugly head again as local executives linked bigger bonuses to lower costs and the Indian companies further reduced ‘real’ qualifications to increase the supply of experts. Universities also got in on the act, again motivated by greed (more students equals more income) and standards were again lowered to create  a production line mentality, “Just pump more out of the system, we can sell them overseas!”

The law of averaging applies and as you gradually increase the number of the less talented and less well qualified people into the talent pool the lower the ‘average’ standard becomes. It is analogous to starting with a glass of the best Scotch Whiskey and then gradually adding more and more water. After a while it isn’t worth drinking because it isn’t whiskey any more, it is just flavoured water. We have similarly diminished our IT talent pool (especially in the ranks of programmers) to the degree where the average programmer can’t actually program.

For a long while we imported tens of thousands of these less-than-adequate programmers and they filled up the holes in mainly large enterprises like banks and finance companies and the public sector where they could hide their lack of real expertise. However, and unfortunately for them, the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) has accelerated the growth of outsourcing (back to even less qualified people in places like India, Pakistan and the Philippines) and our recent immigrants are now losing their jobs to their home country-men. I find this ironic but maybe you don’t agree.

In another previous blog, the world according to Frank, I predicted a significant rise in unemployment numbers within our IT industry. I also said it has been happening for some time but that the real numbers won’t be clear until around mid-2013.

Greed will continue to drive the outsourcing phenomenon just as it will continue to drive the lowering of standards and the overall effect on our industry will be significant as the available pool of real talent becomes smaller and smaller. Similarly, local opportunities for real professionals are disappearing fast. Many of you will end up having to help justify your boss’s big bonus by approving software created overseas when it isn’t really up to scratch and many more of you will relegated to fixing the crappy code being delivered to your company from the outsourced incompetents. Not a good future for real professionals and definitely not an environment of high job satisfaction.

When I began as a programmer in the 1960s everyone I worked with was highly motivated and everyone had a high aptitude because it was such a difficult industry to enter. You had no chance of working for a mainframe vendor unless you scored at least an A+ on the infamous IBM or Burroughs or ICL or GE or CDC aptitude tests. We were a very small and very exclusive group and to my mind, a dedicated band of professionals who were in IT because we loved it and were really good at it. The average level of expertise was extraordinarily high and this is now patently no longer the case because our industry has changed dramatically since those early and halcyon days.

So what is the future for real IT professionals who are in this industry because they love it and are really good at it? Like with all things, I believe there is good news and there is bad news.

The good news is that as a true IT professional your value is higher but, probably much higher than the less-than-competent manager who is interviewing knows. This is because many incompetent programmers have now managed to become incompetent managers and this situation protects incompetent programmers but punishes highly competent ones. Basically, your manager isn’t smart enough to recognize how different you are to the average programmer in his team. This makes getting paid what you are really worth very difficult.

Ergo, if you are really good at what you do and want to be paid what you are worth and want to do challenging and satisfying work your only chance is to select a company doing challenging work and a smart manager to be interviewed by. Oh, and don’t select a company with a greedy CEO who is looking to increase his bonus by outsourcing (regardless of the result) and lowering costs to impress the board and or shareholders. Sounds like a tough ask to me, thank God I am self-employed.

Would I recommend the IT industry to any young person today in high school contemplating a future career? No I probably wouldn’t. I would probably recommend accountancy, business studies, medicine or dentistry instead. So where am I going to find the really bright, talented and motivated programmers I need in the future? This almost certainly doesn’t bear thinking about but maybe it is an opportunity as most problems are.

We need a new way to select and train IT professionals; the universities are simply not doing a good enough job. Is there anyone out there with the money, ideas and knowledge willing to set up a new kind of highly selective IT training program? If so, please contact me, I will be more than happy to be one of your first customers.

What will be the next big thing in IT?

by Frank 29. September 2012 23:42

I run an application software development company called Knowledgeone Corporation that develops enterprise content management software applications. My customers are generally big business and big government and part of my job as the designer of our applications like RecFind 6 is to predict what my customers are going to ask for in twelve or twenty-four months’ time.

I read a lot of technical papers and forecasts and blogs and try to ingest and evaluate as much as I can about where our business is moving so that I can make the changes necessary in our products to meet future demand. I have been doing this for twenty-nine years and like most pundits, sometimes I get it right and sometimes I get it wrong.

Like Gartner (that never seems to get it right) I have been silly enough to publish a number of my predictions as white papers and they make interesting reading years later. Some examples are listed below:

2009   Windows 7 – Frank’s views

2007   Technology as a Tool – Where is Records and Document Management Heading?

1998   The Thin Client – The Next Panacea?

1997   Knowledge Management – The Next Challenge?

1996   Information and Records Management Towards 2000 – Electronic Document Management Principles.

1995   Document Management, Records Management, Image Management, Workflow Management,…What? The I.D.E.A.

I have also published more predictions in my blog, a few examples follow:

09/2011        Will developers, Corporates and Government upgrade to Windows 8?

11/2011        Mobile and Web – The future of applications?

12/2011        The real impact of mobilization – how will it affect the way we work?

01/2012        Will desktop virtualization be the final nail in the computer room coffin?

03/2012        What is the future of software applications in 2013 and beyond?

The obvious problem with publishing prediction is that you can’t always get it right and you will be judged at a later time when everyone is a lot wiser. However, people in my business have to predict the future because we start working on a new product a year or more before we are able to sell it. In a way, it is a silly business. We invest man years and large amounts of money designing, building and testing software applications long before we can get any kind of return on our investment.

Games makers have a similar problem, they have to invest millions and many man years long before they know if their game is going to be a success or not. This is why we have to predict the future and why we need to get it right more times than we get it wrong.

Right now I happen to believe that the world of software applications is going through a major paradigm shift. The advent of powerful mobile devices that really began with the first iPhone has changed the way most people want to work with applications. Like the PC network paradigm change of the early 1980’s, this one is also end-user driven, not IT Department driven. In fact you may conclude that the often reactionary IT heads of the commercial world have been dragged kicking and screaming into this revolution just as they were in the early 1980’s.

The availability of smarter and more powerful mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad have already had a major impact on PC and notebook sales and have caused major vendors like Intel to re-evaluate their product lines and strategies. In Intel’s case it first tried to leverage off old technologies with the promotion of ultra-books and now it has announced a move into new processors for mobile devices to rival those from companies like ARM and Qualcomm. Similarly, Microsoft, late to the party as usual, is now focusing on its new range of surface tablets and new versions of Windows 8 to support mobile devices.

As I said above, it is significant than none of these major changes have been driven by the usual suspects like Microsoft and Intel, they have been caught napping and are now in catch-up mode.

So, what are my chances of correctly predicting the future if giants like Intel and Microsoft with their huge budgets and research departments can’t get it right? Or, is the problem not one of budget but one of corporate arrogance? I will leave that judgement to you.

In my view the move to faster, smarter, more powerful and more user-friendly mobile devices is inexorable. When I now look at my office with its bulky PCs and masses of wires and connections it looks like a museum honouring the 20th century. My iPad in contrast, looks like the beginning of the 21st century; still not there yet but definitely the progenitor of coming office computing.

I see the same picture when looking at enterprise application software. Most of it, including my product RecFind 6 (based on the very latest Microsoft .NET technology), needs to be completely redesigned for the coming mobile world and this is the real challenge.

Everyone now knows (or should know) how to design games and small simple apps for mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad but most of us are still struggling with the redesign of heavy-duty, feature-rich and enterprise-strength applications like RecFind 6 for the new mobile platforms.  We can’t just scale them down, we have to come up with a completely new way to communicate with our mobile end users. We have to discard the technology we are most familiar with and re-invent our solutions using new and unfamiliar technology.

Just like Intel and Microsoft we have to change our game and we have to do it fast because this particular revolution isn’t being driven by us, it is being driven by end-users and the innovative people at companies like ARM and Qualcomm and Apple all of whom have had very little impact on corporate application software in the recent past.

The current paradigm shift is still in its early days but it will completely change the way we all run our businesses in the near future. If only I could predict exactly how.

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