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The Sorry State Of IT Education
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LawrenceGarvin
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LawrenceGarvin,
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4/25/2014 | 12:46:34 PM
Re: Will Companies Spend on IT Employee Training?
@Number6:

No, the employer did not pay for any specific professional development formal instruction, but then that was not actually the purpose of the exercise. Reimbursement was available for certification fees and, in some cases, certification courses, although I'm not aware of any instance where a staff member claimed that. The purpose of the directive (and why it was only 4 hours/week), was to explicitly instill the discipline of self-directed development. How the staff member faciliated that, whether reading books, trade journals, attending in-person events, etc., was at the discretion of that staff member.

Regarding the universities which had curricula in the 1950s and 1960s, an important distinction needs to be made between those which were engineering-based for the design of computing hardware, and those which were more geared toward the use of computing devices, in the realm of operations and programming.  There's no doubt there were EE programs available, lest the machines would have never been built in the first place. Nonetheless, I believe you'll find that most of the *programmers* of those mainframes in the 1960s were not college trained. In fact, it was a particularly rare employee who had even attended college in that time frame.

 
LawrenceGarvin
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LawrenceGarvin,
User Rank: Author
4/25/2014 | 12:25:03 PM
Re: Sorry State of IT - Lawrence Garvin
>> Just to start, I don't think the S/38 existed when Lawrence Garvin tested his RPG program in 1974

Thank you for reading the bio, Terry, and I checked. You're absolutely right, and I've mistaken the system that was in place back when I was a teenager. Based on the chronology, that would have actually been an IBM System/3. The bio will be corrected.
LawrenceGarvin
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LawrenceGarvin,
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4/21/2014 | 5:52:46 PM
Re: Forcing education
All of those other professions also have accreditation boards, professional associations, state licensing, etc., who actually administer those continuing education programs, and association membership, board certification, and state licensing is a requirement to maintain employment in those professions.

Do we need to be forced to get continuing education. I certainly hope it never comes to that point; but there's no doubt that we need continuing education. We also need the awareness of our employers that continuing education is a necessary part of the job. It's no problem telling the Managing Partner of a law firm, or the Chief Administrator of a hospital that their staff lawyers and doctors need time to engage in education -- that's a de facto nature of employment in those fields. Unfortunately it's a very big problem to convince employers of IT pros that this is necessary. As pointed out elsewhere, not only is this a problem in itself, but business owners have become loathe to invest in IT pros in any form or fashion, the conventional wisdom being that they can just "buy it" when needed. That may be true today, while demand is fairly low; but when the price of those resources quadruple because there's a shortage of qualified people in the industry, it will be those very same business owners who come out on the short end of the stick. (Well, and those undertrained IT pros who can no longer find relevant employment in the industry.)

If you don't have continuing education, you won't stay relevant.

That's actually relevant itself. If the employer an IT pro works for is oblivious to the currency of the skill set of that IT pro staff member, it's not just the IT pro that's falling behind, it's also the employer. If the employer cannot be assured of implementing technology in a manner and form needed, because the staff members entrusted to do that are clueless about said technologies, then the employer is also at risk. To my point above, when buying the skills on the demand-market exceed the financial resources of that business, the business also becomes irrelevant.

The purpose of this article isn't to remind IT pros about what they should already know -- that failing to keep current can be a career-ending move -- but to remind employers that failing to create and maintain a work environment that facilitates and encourages the ability of that IT pro to stay current can also be a business-ending move.

 
LawrenceGarvin
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LawrenceGarvin,
User Rank: Author
4/18/2014 | 10:57:57 PM
Re: Engineers
Gary, I totally understand the mentality that results in the scenario you describe.

And, aside from noting how inefficient it is in the "replace part; try again" scenario (although, to be real, in some cases, "replace part; try again" is absolutely the correct approach), I think it's important for us to understand that this approach will not work in the future when everybody is working in a multi-discipline environment.

The "replace part; try again" scenario has always been an option of last resort. If we think back to the type of hardware diagnostics we did in the 1980s, a lot of that was the only approach that worked. Pull all of the expansion cards. Reboot. Plug 'em back in one at a time, and see what happens. Same approach applies to software/services. Disable all the services. Turn 'em back on one at a time, figure out which service is causing the problem. These are all DIAGNOSTIC tools!

But even those tools seem to have been lost, from a logical perspective, in what I'm seeing today.

You are absolutely correct in that "critical thinking skills" are NOT developed on-the-job. Those are skills that are developed from classroom education and exercises designed to develop those skills.

Where I'll disagree, though, is that it does NOT take a "genius" to possess and use critical thinking skills. I truly believe that 90% of the people competent enough to work in IT in the first place, have all of the mental capabilties necessary to develop critical thinking skills; they just need a motivated mentor to help them do that.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
4/18/2014 | 2:32:02 PM
Re: Engineers
Thanks for sharing those resources, Lawrence. Based on your wargaming suggestion, sounds like hackathons could help teach some critical thinking, too. I am going to ask my Twitter contacts about similar resources on IT administration. Maybe we can come up with a good set. I'll report back.
LawrenceGarvin
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LawrenceGarvin,
User Rank: Author
4/18/2014 | 1:59:37 PM
Re: Engineers
Absolutely agree. Recently I've taken to describing this as the "throw mud against the wall" approach. The inherent problem with this approach though is I've seen a lot of people throw so much mud at the wall that they can no longer find the exit door. If it goes too far, that mud starts sliding off the walls and pooling on the floor making an even bigger mess.

The concept of "how to write a program" is one of the skills that the legacy four-year programs did bring to the table (even if they were still doing it with FORTRAN and COBOL well into the 1990s; a few introduced C in the 1980s). In fact, I daresay my undergraduate courses focused a lot more on logic and process development than it did syntax specifics. (Of course, pushing a card deck through a card reader for time-sharing on a System/360 definitely encourages you to minimize syntax issue on the front side. Exceptionally frustrating to get a source printout the next morning during the last week of class only to find out you missed a trailing semi-colon on a Pascal statement.)

To that point, and Laurianne's about MOOCs, Stanford University published course material on their three most popular Software Engineering courses, which I was able to obtain through Microsoft's now-gone Zune podcast library, but they're also available on YouTube:

CS106A - Programming Methodology [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkMDCCdjyW8]

CS106B - Programming Abstractions [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMzH3tfP6f8]

CS107 - Programming Paradigms [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ps8jOj7diA0]

I just wish similar types of courses existed for those in IT operations and administration. (Maybe they do and I've just not found them yet.)
LawrenceGarvin
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LawrenceGarvin,
User Rank: Author
4/18/2014 | 12:28:13 PM
Re: Continuing education
I think that MOOCs can make it easier for IT pros, but that still requires the IT pro to have the initiative and self-discipline to complete the course. The other thing I've long recommended for IT pros is an online library subscription. There are many other resources also available.

Stretch projects are definitely a great way to develop critical thinking skills, but also just wargaming a problem around a conference table that directly relates to the workplace and job can help. "If this <server> you're responsible for administering demonstrates <these symptoms>... what's your approach." Of necessity, however, this process requires three things: [1] a facilitator, [2] a mentor, and [3] a committment from the employer to invest the worktime on the task.

This could also be done on an individual basis. Offer a staff member a "homework assignment" that involves developing and exercising critical thinking skills. For some staff members, it may require some preliminary classroom education on the type of physical and mental tools that can be used in the process. I'm continually amazed at the number of IT pros who can find a public forum to ask a Level 100 question, but apparently were not aware or (worse, I fear sometimes) simply not willing to start with the basic resources: Like product documentation or a search engine.

But even more so than just continuing education to keep up with new skills, a notable number of first-year IT pros barely have the skills necessary to perform their assigned job duties. If it's the intent of the employer to hire a green candidate, that's great! Everybody needs someplace to start, and I applaud those employers willing to take the risk. But taking the risk also means committing to the investment in developing that staff member.

I'm reminded of a recent quote, which unfortunately I've lost the source for so cannot attribute as I'd like: Manager A: "What happens if we train 'em and they leave?" Manager B: "Worse, what happens if we don't and they stay?"
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
4/18/2014 | 11:28:01 AM
Continuing education
Lawrence, don't MOOCs make it easier than ever for IT pros to learn a new skill or brush up on an existing one? Seems to me online learning suits this need well. Less expensive than the training classes of old, too. On another topic, what strategies do you recommend for developing critical thinking skills in staff members? Stretch projects and what else? Thanks.


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