As we look ahead to 2011, it's a good time to think again about the potential shortage of qualified IT people due to excessive outsourcing of IT jobs to India, China and elsewhere. This situation is akin to the brain drain that occurred during World War II, when eminent scientists emigrated from Europe to the US.
The two main factors contributing to this developing shortage are a lack of focus on technology careers in the US, beginning in high school, and the uncertainties of the domestic job market.
First, let's look at education. Some people suggest that kids today aren't willing to take on the difficult subject matter that's contained in IT courses. Poppycock. Older generations always seem ready to label youngsters as lazy, self-absorbed and unwilling to work hard. Personally, I think every succeeding generation is smarter, more intelligent and more enthusiastic than the one before it. A better explanation is that our high schools have not kept pace with the emerging IT world.
This situation is caused by several factors. In math and science classrooms, we still teach biology, chemistry, physics, algebra, geometry and calculus as the core courses - the same courses I took in the early '60s. True, some schools make IT courses available, but they are electives. The renowned Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, for example, offers six elective courses in IT-related subjects. Happily, it is considering making one IT semester mandatory. In St. Charles, Ill., the subject of IT courses is being discussed in the district's 21st-century skills project. But few others seem ready to take that step.
One thing behind the reluctance to change may be the testing that students undergo to enter college. Schools feel that they must prepare students to answer questions about the Pythagorean theorem or the atomic weight of sodium, and are confident that questions on efficient database design or Web site development won't show up.
And, of course, it is difficult to stay abreast of the ever-changing environment that is IT. Yesterday it was effective programming techniques, today it is ERP development, and tomorrow it will be cloud computing. The atomic weight of sodium is constant, but when it comes to IT, it's hard to keep courses relevant and textbooks up to date.
As for the domestic job market, I have heard even CIOs question whether they should encourage their children to pursue IT careers. My answer is that they should. All companies will need some type of technology practitioners in the future in order to harness the vast technology changes that will occur in the 21st century, which may rival those of the 20th century.
If you share my concern about the possibility that IT skills will leach out of the U.S., I suggest that you get active with your local high schools. This is where a lot of kids discover what they like to do. Let's push for IT courses to be mandatory in math and science. Let's encourage high schools to hire qualified teachers or seek IT practitioners to fill the void. Perhaps these same practitioners could serve on panels to advise curriculum committees on the subjects that should be taught. We could work with the schools to have guests from the industry speak to the students.
Our kids are aggressive users of technology. It would seem easy to get their attention when we talk about working in the field that creates that technology. Let's keep the brains here and active in our technology future.