Your shout: Careers, skills and security

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Employers blinkered by commercial experience 

In addition to the career glass barrier of age mentioned by recent correspondents (Computer Weekly, 5 April), I am increasingly finding agencies specifying 'must have experience in a commercial environment' trotted out as a requirement for programmers. Having worked for both commercial and academic concerns, I struggle to see why this is such a priority.

On asking five specialist agencies what qualities this experience endowed, I received almost as many different answers, ranging from ability to work in an office environment to ability to respond to a client's needs.

The first sounds unlikely and I can't see why any programmer would struggle with the second. In my experience, the only difference between the programmers I met in the academic world and the commercial was that the latter turned up at 9am in snappy suits.

If anything, those from the academic background were the more able and worked to tighter deadlines. With the case for funding to departments having to be made every three years, there is no room for dead wood in academia.

It is now no longer enough to demonstrate an ability in a certain language to secure a job with a company in the FTSE top 100. One has to have x years in a commercial environment. With the traditional route barred to aspiring commercial programmers it is difficult to see where the next generation is going to come from.

They will find themselves 'top and tailed' in that they will struggle to break into the commercial side of things at one end of their career and by the age of 40 will find it increasingly difficult to continue their career in the IT industry.

Andrew Pickersgill


Is NHS nepotism giving talent the cold shoulder?

I read with some amusement the article about NHS skills shortages (Computer Weekly, 29 March) and related it to my recent experience of an interview for a systems trainer with the local NHS Trust.

My interview had been obtained after a telephone call to the selection panel, where I expressed my disquiet that my training skills and qualifications were well suited but my lack of NHS experience was the pitfall. This, I argued, could only be gained by employment by them. Also my unbiased approach to the training requirements could be a distinct advantage to all concerned.

I did not get the job, and feel that 'lack of NHS experience' was the real reason for no offer. The person employed had lots of NHS experience but no teaching qualifications.

The letters in last week's issue (Computer Weekly, 12 April) at least made me feel better and not that I was alone in my thoughts that there are many people out there who have vast experience in the training/skills requirements demanded by the NHS, but just lack the NHS experience that appears so critical to the employers.

The NHS is like a closed shop, acting as if it is afraid that people out there, like myself, are there to bring the 'company' down rather than help to improve the service.

The strange thing is, I see there are five more posts advertised in the local paper for systems trainers with the same 'NHS experience preferred, although not essential'.

Josh Peters


Training sharpens minds and the corporate body

David Pardo is absolutely correct to suggest that 'people are your greatest asset' (Computer Weekly, 12 April), and while an increase on training spend should be welcomed, training for the sake of spending a budget will not be valuable in the long term.

If training is to be effective it needs to be linked to the overall business strategy so that the skills gained not only help to develop an employee's career, but also address a company's needs.

 If it is linked to national standards - through certification - businesses can use training and development for benchmarking purposes, and employees can use it to improve their performance, to increase job satisfaction and as a tool for career development.

In an industry where technical skills are in such demand, businesses need to be sure that they are developing a workforce armed with relevant skills to give their business a competitive edge. This can only be achieved if both employees and employers develop in tandem.

Tricia Williamson, director, Chartered Management Institute


Staff education helps to plug holes in IP security

I read with interest your online news story, 'Quality and security hold back IP-telephony' (, 18 March).  It certainly highlighted that IT and telecoms managers must be alert to prevent new and existing threats typically associated with data networks, impacting voice networks.

After all, without diligent attention, telecoms systems will become the weak link in a network, leaving it defenceless against hackers. 
Effective defence against voice hacking isn't just about the technology an organisation uses. Threats won't be resolved simply by performing regular audits of things like voice and data calling patterns, or public and private network routing access. 

Much also depends on the behaviour of an organisation's staff and their ability to complete relatively mundane tasks. These include ensuring passwords to create voicemail aren't easily guessable and that they are changed on a regular basis.

The migration from perceived inherently safe TDM systems to IP is a process that requires careful planning: it isn't like falling off a log. The quality of service gleaned from an IP network reflects the quality of thought that went into its initial implementation. 

For this reason, companies must not rush, but migrate their communications systems to IP gradually. By leaving no stone unturned, companies will ensure that they are wise to all potential threats and that staff members have been sufficiently educated in how to guard against them. Organisations can then be assured that the holes that malicious attacks exploit are plugged, guaranteeing a high quality of service to end-users.

Craig Pollard, head of security solutions, Siemens Communications


On whether RFID could be used to invade privacy

In response to the article 'RFID: a threat to privacy?' (Computer Weekly, 5 April)

I agree with the comments that Quentin Archer and Gisle Salazar made about radio frequency identification and its implications for privacy. Indeed, privacy remains a concern.

In theory, retailers will be able to track customer progression throughout a shopping centre or high street. But if RFID is to be accepted, retailers will have to pledge deactivation as the customer leaves the store.

What RFID will do is deliver an unprecedented depth of customer information to the retailer. Once issues associated with the cost and size of individual RFID tags have been addressed to make the technology viable at individual item level, RFID solutions will enable the retailer to track the progression of a customer around the store: what they pick up, put down, how they flow through the store. This will enable them to attain an unprecedented insight into the buying-decision process.

The commercial benefits offered to retailers by the quality of customer information associated with RFID will undoubtedly outweigh any costs or negative customer perception of RFID technology and will drive retailers to pursue the technology irrespective of the barriers.

Retailers such as Tesco are already exploiting customer data extracted from loyalty cards to enhance their customer offers. But they are also using this information to generate revenue by selling it to consumer packaged goods manufacturers. Adoption of in-store RFID will continue to thrive as long as retailers can continue to exploit the value of this customer information.

Doug Hargrove, managing director UK, Anker Systems


On the promising rise of enterprise software

In response to the article 'Investment in enterprise software up 20% this year' (Computer Weekly, 22 March)

I was encouraged to read the latest Computer Weekly UK IT Expenditure Report predicting growth in major enterprise software implementations such as ERP and CRM this year of up to 20%. This proves that more and more companies are now examining the need to invest in business process software and services, due to the 'clear business value' being displayed.  

As mentioned in your article, IT directors in both the private and public sectors are under great pressure to cut costs and deliver quick return on investment from IT projects. In order to achieve this businesses need to look carefully at how they can generate the requirement for better control within the organisation, improving processes from top-down. They also need to choose a business application that will allow such control measures to be easily implemented leading to greater efficiency for all.  

In order for investment in enterprise software to continue growing, we need to avoid displaying a knee-jerk reaction to this up-turn in the market and focus instead on improving key business processes.

Brian Male, Lawson Software


On jargon strangling the success of e-government

In response to the news that the UK has slipped to 10th place in global e-government rankings(Computer Weekly, 12 April)

Surely the lesson to be learnt from the report is that the public is not yet aware of the services available to them online.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency to discuss e-government as a technology rather than a service. For the man on the street, portals are more likely to conjure up images of Doctor Who than hassle-free council tax payment. eBay isn't promoted as a 'new media marketplace' but as a great way to pick up a bargain. Let's reflect this jargon-free approach in the public sector.

Alan Gardner, Sx3 Managed Services

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