Everything You Know is Wrong

With the Open Group testing the waters to extend its reach beyond enterprise architects, we were part of an inaugural offshoot from their EA conference that discussed the role of what the group terms IT Specialists. It’s part of a kickoff to a new certification program for the people who are considered the unsung heroes of IT: those who work at ground level to get projects done.

Ironically, the name “IT Specialist” is something of a misnomer as the goal of the Open Group’s certification efforts is to create specialists who become, in effect, more like generalists. That is, you retain your technical specialty, but develop an awareness of technology disciplines that you routinely intersect with. For instance, an application developer who regularly deals with architects, DBAs, and QA. And the certifications are also supposed to emphasize cultivation of so-called soft skills through an evaluation process that accounts for actual experience in delivering project or non-project work to fruition.

We had the chance to address the session with a presentation describing why, at the end of the day, soft skills are becoming more critical to IT professionals because of the necessity to position themselves higher in the value chain in a globalizing market where traditional heads-down programming skills are increasingly available offshore at a fraction of the cost. (We’ll post our presentation online in a few days.)

We also had the chance to moderate a spirited discussion involving Phil Stauskas, who runs IBM’s IT Specialist program (which, along with Cap Gemini’s, is what the pen Group’s program is largely shaped after); Ron Tolido, Capgemini’s Northern Europe CTO (and a former UNIX geek who obviously broadened his horizons); Scott Radeztsky, one of Sun’s principal engineers; and ebizQ contributor Beth Gold-Bernstein.

A recurring theme was the inadequacy, if not obsolescence, of university computer science programs that tend to emphasize language and engineering skills at the cost of learning how to work within a business setting. Tolido suggested the notion that Java developers who were once the toast of the dot com world could become obsolete as more powerful, easy to use tools backed by frameworks like Spring that hide complexity transform development into a higher-level, less programmatic task.

Nonetheless, few on the panel bought into the notion that tooling would become so easy to use as to eliminate the need for developers – in spite of the hype surrounding new mashup offerings. Gold-Bernstein maintained that for every simplified front end, you would still need adults to build and maintain the robust, governable back ends that could support all the easy stuff up front.

Later in the afternoon, IBM’s Sheila Thorne delivered a highly personal presentation with the provocative title, “Dealing with People You Can’t Stand,” which provided useful pointers on how IT professionals – who are not exactly known for their people skills – could more successfully win friends and influence people. Almost acting like a plant in the audience, an obnoxious developer peppered her with instant trash psychoanalysis during the Q&A, providing ready proof of the challenge that remains in getting geeks to simply grow up.