“More Than Being About Technology”

The “Information Age” has been with us for some time now. Jules Vern, Isaac Asimov, and Eugene Wesley (Gene Roddenberry) are just a few of the visionaries that many people ridiculed and laughed at for their dreams and insight(s). Many may well argue that they were just plain crazy. I am not one of them. I have always been an avid reader of Sci-Fi mags, books, articles, etc, and its film varieties. Should they not be believed? Just take a look around you. How many people have noticed that drastic change in the world today? How many of you have noticed people walking around with devices that seem to be glued to the side of their heads; seeming like their talking to themselves or appear to be delusional? However, the down side to mobile communication devices is that people are not properly governing themselves to the various disciplines and responsibilities associated with the use of these tools. Are you driving a car and talking on a cell phone? Are you annoying someone who is nearby and not desiring to hear and/or listen to your conversation(s)? How about not being able to function without your personal communication device(s). Albeit, we need to have the connection to information platforms, we still have a very long way to go.

Data is just raw material until it becomes useful information. Remember my piece on IT and BI? The information was/is intended as a teaching and encouragement format to aid any and all American Information Technology and Computer Science Students in their technology endeavors, be you a person of color or not (“Tech Assimilation and Warehousing of Talent”).

My last entry brought about some interesting opinions and comments. A friend of mine made a profound statement to the article. What he said is so on target; it had to be shared with the aspiring Information Technology, Computer Science, and Business students and those who are not. I left the quote in its pristine state due to its consistency. Two other friends made excellent comments to this teaching platform as well. Their examples portray the direct result of what this reporter was alluding to where it affects and the effects of a non-techie person’s ability to interpret the language and structure within the world of Enterprise Wide Technology Information and Communication.

My friend Irma:
What was the phone call about any way? What I am trying to get at is if it was some form of wrong doing why only a phone call then try to treat you like a misbehaved child of hers to boot?
The next time maybe you should put it on tape or speaker- phone so that the demeaning tone, and words used can become a counter complaint. One should always demand respect as well as give respect…for example, my phone is in my home /my possession as one does not ever (even my children) disrespect a home, be it mine or anyone else’s home!!! ! I am sure by now you have gathered I am from the old school (smile)

Irma’s question pertains to the investigation of my “Enterprise” web site as it relates to people who use the Internet for employment searching and the displaying of abilities for potential employers to view. The telephone interviewer/investigator was from the Unemployment Compensation.

My friend Mozell:
Interesting story, it said little but it said something. It sort of read like a recruitment/poor me piece. I failed to get the point but then again maybe I was not supposed to. Sort of like you say prospective employers…If there is in fact a shortage of qualified IT folk, and this void can be filled by qualified black applicants…is it implied that the schools you mentioned have active recruitment components that you wish us to know? Rhetorical…Like my friend I am at a loss to the reason for the ill-tempered caller. To what end was the call initiated? What information did she dispute, or dislike you sharing on your page. Honestly not being privy to your page I do not understand how this post if related would help you obtain employment other than to say you were informed that IT people are in short supply and …you are qualified to fill a position in the field. If your are an instructor, your students are…I shall await further info to form a solid opinion. In the mean time if your goal is to raise awareness of the plight of IT folk you were moving in that general direction. As far as security is concerned and the sharing of info…that’s a tricky topic. Granted they are supposed to be on the same side. I find it a lil crazy, and tend to think hacking is the undercurrent of your piece. I will retire there until you are forthcoming with more info you are dangerously close to the same behavior that you say the non-compliers you speak about practice. Compartmentalized.

Mozell’s comprehension of the IT BI Community is limited. This example should be made aware to people who are lead to believe that they are computer literate because they have the ability to navigate through a few applications and utilize the script-written software and its’ peripherals allowing the portal entry onto the “Information Highway.” This is not to say that there aren’t many skilled individuals who can operate, navigate, and communicate within the IT world without formal training. One of my sons is so talented in the operations and machinations of software and hardware that I sometimes consult with him. I’m the one who is supposed to have the IT/BI and Business Administration Training. Yes?

Now we get to the crux of this message!

My Friend Clark Maxwell:

First of all, assuming that person that called you about your website was from the unemployment office, she was an idiot. That has not happened to me, but I have heard of that before where it is assumed that because you have a website you are actually working.

Part of the problem with IT in this country is that it is the most misunderstood of all of the “industries.” In most cases the people making the decisions regarding who is hired, what projects get done and how resources are allocated lack the understanding of IT to be making such decisions. Most people like to think they are tech savvy but have little understanding. And most projects are doomed before they even start because of it. The stories I could tell…

First of all, there is no IT shortage in the US. That is a myth that has been floated by corporations who have sought to undercut IT workers here using the H1-B program. H1-B for those of you who may not know is a program that essentially allows employers to hire someone, mostly from India, to perform an IT role within an organization. It first started out where that was allowed only if they could not find a person in the US with similar skills, hence the myth of an IT shortage. The thing with H1-B is that employers pay these people far less than the going rates for IT skills in the US, thus undercutting US workers. At the same time, “outsourcing” became popular, wherein on any given IT project; they would send portions of the project, like the programming, quality assurance/testing and other components to shops in India, where they would charge far less. A programmer in India can be paid $10/hr and that is considered high. That same person coming here will get paid more than that but far less than what a US programmer is typically paid. The perspective of the H1-B worker is I make my money here and send it home. When my H1-B visa expires, I go home and live like a king. Companies would hire H1-B workers over US workers simply because of the up front cost savings.

But long term there has been a cost associated with overuse of H1-Bs and outsourcing. In many cases the projected cost savings were eaten up in rework of application code, in inadequate test plans that produced software with many bugs that required fixing after a system is in production, which is always more costly. This happens mostly because of the language barrier and also in some cases because of the time difference and coordination of meetings with key individuals that don’t happen because of it. I have been called in to “fix” many projects that have been outsourced because of the adverse effects of some or all of the above. The reasons these lessons are not being learned as quickly as one might think is because in most organizations IT is a service and the purse strings are held by those who require the service of IT and not the IT organization itself. They tend to call the shots and in too many organizations it is still not understood that when it comes to some decisions regarding how monies are to be spent, that MUST come from IT, or IT at least there has to be considerable input, if they want that money to be spent most effectively.

I have worked for myself as an independent contractor for over 15 years. In that time I have worked every role there is, from programmer analyst to software engineer to systems analyst and project manager. In most cases I work as a lone wolf, but in some cases contracts I take on require a team in which case I bring in my own people as subcontractors. On many of the projects I’ve worked on I have worked with H1-B workers, and, for want of putting it better, just because the person is from India doesn’t mean they are better, even though for many hiring managers that is what it comes down to. While I have worked with some very smart H1-Bs, I have also worked with some not so smart, and even the cheap rate they accept is not worth it. But the perception is entrenched. On the flip side, I can honestly say that some of the smartest people I have worked with in IT have been African American.

And speaking of hiring managers many of these gate keepers are clueless not only about how to properly evaluate the skills of prospects, but also do not understand the technical requirements for the projects and departments for which they seek to hire. I’ve had recruiters call about projects and ask the most ridiculous questions that have no bearing and indicate that the most they can do is say words and little else. If anyone asks you “where do you see yourself five years from now,” you may as well stop the interview right there, as I can almost guarantee you it’s a waste of time. The changing dynamics of technology and working in general makes that question just plain stupid.

In short, the biggest obstacle to the US IT industry is the US IT industry itself. We have skilled workers here who can fill a lot of these roles but for the desire of corporations to go cheap. We can’t nurture a strong IT workforce here if we continue to put people in a position where they cannot make a living. In a sense, we are ceding our homegrown technical edge for the short-term gain of profit. In the long run it’s not worth it.

That said, here’s the advice I would give to persons of color in the industry or just starting out and seeking to get in.

1. The most successful IT person today is going to be one who understands the Big Picture. You should understand the SDLC, e.g. software development lifecycle process, and how your role fits into that, as a programmer/analyst, business analyst, systems analyst, QA analyst or implementation person. That means you understand not just your role but the roles before and after yours in the development process.

2. Strive to not be a one trick pony. Many people will bill themselves as a .Net Programmer, for example. Hiring managers are looking for people who can do multiple things, like write documentation, specifications, understand database design, etc. Focus your professional development on skills that are ancillary to yours.

3. If you are someone in college seeking to get into the industry, the best place to be is a consulting firm where you are likely to be exposed to different technologies. Experience is favored over education. Most managers will take any day, the person who has experience in, Unix shell scripting, vs. someone who just completed a course. The person who has a diversity of skill sets is going to be the person most attractive to hiring managers. If you hire on to a company early on in your career that is wedded to one technology after only a few years your market value may be in jeopardy, as what is “hot” technically changes all the time.

4. Develop on your “soft skills.” I tell people I mentor all the time: the IT industry, more than being about technology, is a “people” industry. People tend to hire those who can demonstrate confidence in their abilities and have the ability to develop trust. Verbal communication and body language is very important. Also understand how to be a team player as well as a leader; someone who can put together and run a meeting, as well as thrive in a team environment. Develop the skills to be a “self-starter” and that is someone who has a clear grounding in #1 such that they do not need to be told what to do in most cases, they already know. Look for ways to “add value” above and beyond your role.

5. Invest time in networking. Join local chapters of IT organizations; create profiles on IT-related sites that promote networking. If someone passes a job to you that is not a good fit, think of whom you can refer it to.

And here is the problem with a lot of the academic programs. The curriculum that many offer for Computer Science degrees are just outdated and/or inadequate. Students come out of some of these schools and they lack the skills to even get in at an entry level. And the vast majority of the people that I have worked with have not had CS degrees. Back in the day before there was such a thing as Computer Science, if someone wanted to get into computing they would seek a degree in Electrical Engineering. I would still recommend that as engineering curriculum better prepares a student for being able to diagnose, analyze and solve problems, which is a big component of what an IT professional does. An IT professional, if nothing else, is a solution provider.

Early in my career I have often been the “only black.” The problems I encountered with that is a big part of the reason why I went out on my own, and in retrospect it’s been the second best decision I ever made (marrying my wife was the first!). But you don’t see much of the overt racism that we dealt with back in the day, although its still there it’s not as blatant. In many if not most cases, the cost of IT services is such that most organizations cannot afford the foolishness of race, and while hire and promote those that can deliver, regardless of race or sex. Speaking of my own experiences, I’m still not ready to say if that is the rule rather than the exception though.

I would advise and encourage the preceding statement(s) as it is (in my opinion) one of the most prolific and profound statement and explanation that I have heard in a very long time. IT/BI students should especially take heed to what my friend(s) have said. One day it could be you that is searched out for the absorbing of knowledge and guidance.

For individuals who have found themselves out of work and receiving UC Benefits, use the Internet to gain employment contacts. Do not allow anyone to sway your diligence in the pursuit to gainful employment. The one thing that U.S. workers have as a financial backup is the Unemployment Compensation Insurance Structure. Thank God for its existence! Many of us would be ruined without it!

How many of you have initially applied to companies and/or the various organizations with a paper application? Today’s job searching platforms just don’t allow it! It doesn’t matter to what organization…everyone is utilizing the Internet for the hiring process! Don’t believe? Try it for yourself…let us know if you can still apply for a job in today’s market without the utilization of the Internet, regardless of the profession, business, and/or industry.