The deal went something like this: Apply yourself to mastering the technologies that increasingly underpin the world, and your future will be without limits.
While the deal was not written down as such, that was the message delivered to students over the past decade. Now we are nearing the time to make good on the promise. But in a recalcitrant economy—where the Information Technology Association of America (www.itaa.org) recently reported what most of us already know, that tech jobs are at best holding steady—delivering on that promise will be a big task. What advice would you offer a student asking you today about the wisdom of embarking on a technology career?
I was thinking of this question in Chicago recently at eWEEKs annual Excellence Awards dinner, which was cosponsored by CDW Computer Centers. As part of the program, we presented a $10,000 check to each of four organizations serving young people and using technology to advance their goals. Those organizations—iMentor (www.imentor.org), Youth Tech Entrepreneurs (www.yte.org), Make-A-Wish Foundation (www.wish.org) and Plugged In (www.pluggedin.org)—face additional economic obstacles this year. However, the students taking part in the programs remain as committed as ever to the promise of technology.
Caroline Kim Oh, executive director of iMentor, based in Brooklyn, N.Y., uses e-mail as a way to keep mentors and their students connected. Oh said that students who dont have advanced English skills often prefer to communicate via e-mail since they can polish their messages. Nereyda Selinas, chief operating officer of Youth Tech Entrepreneurs, in Malden, Mass., said technology skills, such as those used to build a Web site or solve a network problem, are immediately usable, unlike some other academic disciplines.
When I asked eWEEK Corporate Partner advisory board members what their advice would be for a teenager thinking about a career in technology today, I thought their remarks were spot on.
"Make sure your heart is in this area. Dont go into it because it is a way to make lots of money or play with cool toys. Its not all fun and games like playing with computers at home. Discipline is important," said Robert Rosen, CIO of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Skin Diseases, in Bethesda, Md.
"Given that technology is ever-changing, I would advise that person to keep in mind that choosing technology as a career is more demanding educationally than many other career choices. In technology, the initial process of finding a job is basically the same, but once you find a job, the demands on education are significantly different. Choosing technology is a commitment to ongoing education and questioning your prior beliefs of what is possible. If you dont continue your education in this field, you will more than likely find yourself replaced as technology moves past you," said Carl Ashkin, CEO of The Darby Group Companies, based in Westbury, N.Y.
Good advice, especially in the current business climate. When I asked if the lackluster economy would lead them to provide advice different from a couple of years ago, Randy Dugger, president of Dugger & Associates, in the heart of Silicon Valley—San Jose—said, "With the tech times in a slump, now is the perfect time to upgrade your skills and prepare for the next upswing. The tech business is cyclic, with its ups and downs. Ive seen this happen three times now in Silicon Valley."
Corporate Partners were of one voice in naming good growth areas. Wireless, security and storage topped their list. They agreed it takes more than technical skills to advance in the corporation. "Technical skills to get in; business understanding and social skills to advance," Rosen said.
Just as contrarian stock pickers often seem to have the best track records, my guess is that those suggesting embracing technology when the majority are questioning tech careers will prove correct. The next big areas of technology advances do include security and wireless, but they also include integrating systems that incorporate computing, location and identity. Those systems have yet to be invented. It will be the students who take concepts like those from idea to reality who will find that upholding the technology career deal was in their power from the very start.