Gadgets key to engaging young people with IT

School programme shows why, says Frank Hayes

How often do you hear about a programme promoting IT careers to young people that's so popular that kids who aren't part of the programme are actually trying to sneak in?

That's what the Society for Information Management has going in Memphis.

At SIM's recent annual SIMposium conference, the organisation talked about how its Memphis chapter has partnered with the local public library to run a set of "technology camps" where 12-to-15-year-olds get to play with bright, shiny gadgets — and meet IT people who talk to them about how the technology is used in businesses.

For example, that can mean using digital cameras to create webcasts, or explaining how tablet PCs can be used in hospitals.

SIM's Teen Tech Camp sessions have a limited enrolment — 12 to 18 attendees — and the kids have to write an essay and be recommended by a teacher before they're accepted. The result of that selectivity? Other kids try to sneak in. Now that's an attitude we want to see when it comes to IT careers.

It's a great idea, one that SIM hopes to spread to dozens of other cities.

But it may give you pause. After all ... gadgets? Is that really what we want to tell these kids that corporate IT is about?

Actually, yes. And not just because those gadgets inspire a passion we sorely need in the next generation of IT people.

That passion matters. We all know there aren't any "safe" careers in IT, not anymore. The boring, workaday IT jobs are fodder for outsourcing. And bored IT people don't have a future, because they're not interested enough in the technology to search constantly for how it can give business users a competitive edge. Which is what a corporate IT shop is supposed to be doing.

These kids aren't bored. They're interested. They're curious. They've grown up steeped in technology, surrounded by gadgetry. Telling them that they can make a career out of looking for new ways to use these things, not as toys but as business tools — that's certain to pull in the kind of engaged, motivated young people we want for IT.

But there's more to it than that. Gadgets really are the future of IT's biggest value to the business.

Think about it. More and more of the technology IT has to support and manage is the gadgetry users bring in to work. And users don't just drag in the smart phones, handheld web browsers, cameras and other gizmos for fun. They've found innovative uses for them, ways to leverage that technology to do their jobs better.

For us, that's a pain. These gadgets are hard to support, hard to secure and really hard for us to control.

They also happen to be the technology that provides users with real competitive advantage.

Sure, the IT shop's technology is important, too. The code we write, the wiring we pull, the firewalls we manage and the datacentres we run — they're all critical to the business.

But they're infrastructure. And they're pretty standard stuff. Our competitors have bought or built the same things. They don't give us an advantage. They just let us stay in the game.

The real advantage comes from the things our competitors don't have. And one of them is the edge users can get by using gadgets cleverly.

In the next generation of IT, a big part of our job will be to help users get that short-term competitive advantage from those gadgets.

Sure, the gadgets will be obsolete in a year or two. So will the advantage they give our users over their competition. Putting those gadgets to innovative, productive business uses fast will be critical — and that will require all the curiosity, engagement and passion we can get from the next generation of IT people.

Which brings us back to SIM's tech camps. No, gadget tech isn't all there is to the future of IT.

But if it can keep kids trying to get into IT instead of running away, it's a pretty good place to start.

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Tags managementgadgetsITyoung people

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