Television show far removed from IT reality

The IT Crowd won't do much to attract young people to IT, says Frank Hayes

Coming soon to a TV near you: a show about corporate IT. No, really. Last week, NBC announced that its new show The IT Crowd would be a “mid-season starter”, which is network jargon for “As soon as one of our other new shows gets awful ratings, we’ll put this one on the schedule.”

Will this be an exciting depiction of life in IT that makes us look as good as the doctors on ER or the cops and lawyers on Law & Order? Well, no. The IT Crowd is a remake of a British comedy about the nerdy denizens of a windowless basement IT shop (The British version was screened in New Zealand a while ago). Funny? Maybe. Exciting? Not likely. And definitely not something that will change the image of IT for the better.

But maybe, just maybe, that won’t matter.

At least not if the Society for Information Management keeps hammering away at the problem.

Back in March, I wrote about how SIM is trying to get high school students interested in IT careers. SIM has targeted college students for some time but now is trying to get to kids earlier. I wished SIM luck, but I didn’t think it had much chance of convincing kids that there’s a great future for them in this business — at least not until we reinvent IT.

But I underestimated SIM. It turns out the organisation’s goal is, well, to reinvent IT — and to encourage kids to go after careers in that re­invented IT world.

For SIM, that means actually sending CIOs out to talk to students about the business side of IT — what former SIM president Stephen Pickett described to me as “the soft side of the business”.

It also means working to push university IT programmes to focus more on the business-end of IT and encouraging IT education for students headed into business programmes such as marketing and finance.

And it includes a slew of SIM programmes to help bring CIOs up to speed as business leaders, including research, training and leadership skill building.

This is a very, very smart approach. SIM isn’t out there giving potential IT recruits a happy-talk song-and-dance designed to polish the image of technology. Students wouldn’t believe it anyway, but more importantly, that’s not what IT needs now.

IT needs people who understand the technology and understand the business — people who can talk the business talk and walk the technology walk.

That’s the kind of IT that delivers maximum business value. It’s also the kind of IT that doesn’t get shipped offshore.

That means it’s not only what corporate IT needs as we face the future. It’s also what students need as they face their future. They know a pure-technology career is built on quicksand. But a career where IT meets business is a sweet spot. It’s valuable, it’s flexible, it’s much needed and it’s got legs.

That’s the IT future that SIM is presenting to students — and, at the same time, working to create.

Yes, I’m impressed. Instead of moaning about the loss of CIO clout and the decline in IT enrolments, SIM is doing something about both of those problems.

Last year, SIM’s CIO volunteers talked to 4,000 students. This year, they have 13 sessions scheduled all over the US. With more volunteers and funding, they could reach more students. But that depends on whether more CIOs are willing to do something that matters to address the future of IT.

That’s the real world. Meanwhile, back in television land, it turns out there’s actually another NBC show coming soon that’s about IT. Well, sort of. That would be Chuck, in which the title character accidentally downloads government secrets into his brain, then keeps his day job in a corporate IT shop while he moonlights as a superspy fighting assassins and international terrorists, partnered with a sexy CIA agent who’s also Chuck’s first date in years. That darn reality TV — it’s everywhere these days.

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Tags managementSociety for Information ManagementThe IT Crowd

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