We must turn 'nerd' into badge of honour

Why would any young person not wearing an anorak seek a career in IT? Traditionally the defining reasons for young people embarking on any career have been three-fold: their excitement with the subject, their academic inclination or ability, and the encouragement of their parents.

Why would any young person not wearing an anorak seek a career in IT? Traditionally the defining reasons for young people embarking on any career have been three-fold: their excitement with the subject, their academic inclination or ability, and the encouragement of their parents.

Our first problem is that in the same way that I have never wanted to be a car mechanic, but love driving, a very large proportion of young people do not want to understand how computers or software work.

They just want to use IT and they can get the performance they want without any understanding of what goes on under the bonnet. If you look at all the advertisements for IT products, they are strong on the advantages of having the new technology, and very weak on how that new technology works.

Next, we have a fundamental change in education over the past few years. Education no longer challenges and stretches our up-and-coming IT professionals. Schools allow pupils to choose soft subjects that have no relevance to our industry.

This encouragement for young people to have a lazy route to insignificant qualifications does not make them want to use and challenge their brains. They therefore do not want to work in IT, where they will have to understand, think, evaluate and innovate - to name but a few of the skills required.

Finally there are the parents. Why on earth would they guide their children to enter a profession that is constantly lambasted in the press and is very likely the department within their own enterprise that carries the least regard? Would you want your child to carry the tag of "nerd"? Would you want your child to be part of a disrespected, disregarded and much maligned industry? I don't think so.

So what is the answer? We should return to the first principles of education and rebuild the discipline of teaching and thought that encourages youngsters to enjoy being challenged and sometimes defeated.

Out of that will come the computer "mechanics" of the future, who will be enthralled and excited by the subject and want to go further with it in their education. This does, of course, assume that our education system will offer academic qualifications at least equal to the UK plc's competitors.

Finally, the industry must clean up its act. How can we expect parents to encourage their offspring into an industry that they neither trust or respect?

Parents see so many IT failures in the press on a daily basis. We must find ways of capturing their interest and encouraging them to feel that their children have a future in an essential and respected industry.

We must promote an environment that not only delights our children in the sort of day-to-day innovation that captures customers, but also enthuses them to get involved in innovation for the benefit of future generations. We must make "nerd" a term of both respect and affection.

Carolyn Kimber is chairman of the Communications Management Association

Related article: Getting better value with graduates

Related article: Best Places to Work in IT Awards 2007 winners

Comment on this article: computer.weekly@rbi.co.uk


 

This was last published in March 2007

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