The future looks bright - if we help

It is easy to despair when our youth seem to have had their creativity and enthusiasm for IT careers squeezed out of them by an uninspiring IT syllabus in schools, but existing It professionals can make a difference.


It is rather too common to denigrate or underestimate the potential of our youth, rather than to help and encourage them to achieve.

It is easy to despair when our youth seem to have had their creativity and enthusiasm for IT careers squeezed out of them by an uninspiring IT syllabus in schools.

If proof was needed that we can make a difference, and develop aspiring IT professionals, I found it recently. I was presenting the British Computer Society's Best Use of ICT prize at the South East Finals of the 2009 Year in Industry (YINI) Contribution to Business Awards.

For the uninitiated, YINI provides gap year employment opportunities for students in science, technology and engineering.

They place about 600 students each year, but receive around 2,000 applications; it is clear that they could place more if companies were willing to take students on.

The ICT prize winner presented a wonderful project. His polished presentation showed how he developed a prototype for the world's smallest high-definition camcorder. Embedded systems development is challenging, so for a student without prior formal education in C++ to devise both the hardware and the software of this device is an impressive achievement.

The other YINI students showed highly technically accomplished projects, many of which had a software development component. All of these students showed business awareness and produced work of commercial quality that had clear benefits to their companies.

Apart from leaving myself with renewed hope, there are important lessons that we as IT professionals should take on board.

The most important of these is that despite the obvious failure of an over-prescriptive, uninspiring education system, our youth are clearly able to do great things. Imagine what they could do if we helped rather than hinder them?

The second lesson that we can draw upon is that aspiring IT professionals benefit from work experience. It is a great way to motivate and challenge our future colleagues, provide them with real development opportunities, and allow them to show us what they are capable of.

Finally, looking forward, the key lesson is that it is clearly within the gift of the IT profession to secure its own future.

We need to support schemes like YINI. More broadly IT professionals need to become active role models allowing our young people to know about the opportunities that we offer. Perhaps through professional bodies, schemes such as Computer Clubs for Girls or with universities.

The IT industry can play its part by supporting its staff in these activities and offering work experience opportunities of all kinds.

Engaging with this is more than gaining the warm feeling that comes with good deeds, or a tick on the corporate social responsibility checklist. It makes good business sense: both in the short and long term. Our challenge as a profession is seeing that this happens.

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