At the end of last week, I was fortunate to be attending Pluralsight’s EXP executive event in London. In case you don’t know, Pluralsight is an online courses provider offering cloud computing courses to budding programmers, network and security engineers, cloud architects, and in general, helping people break into tech — the company is also a GigaOm partner as, ultimately, a lot of what we do is building tech skills amongst technology decision makers.
The event wasn’t about deep tech but rather the nature of learning in technology-related disciplines — for example, speakers included BT’s Director of Leadership, Learning, Talent, and Diversity, Wendy James. In the midst of it, all were presented some stats about the need for technology-based talent in the UK and beyond — in the simplest terms possible; we’re short of it. Like, seriously short. There are 500,000 jobs in tech vacancies in the UK alone, and that’s likely to increase.
Mixed news for the tech industry perhaps — but thinking more broadly, just an hour after Wendy spoke, the Bank of England predicted the longest recession the UK has ever had, plus a rapid increase in unemployment. We have an online training company, a shortfall of skills, and an increasing number of people with no work. Now, I’m not the smartest person in the street, but even I can put two and two together and make something of this.
For sure, an opportunity exists for someone recently handed their papers to reskill and join the ranks of gainfully employed tech stars. But of course, it isn’t as simple as saying, “Oh dear, I’ve just lost my job; I know I’ll become an expert data scientist.” Neither is it inconceivable: across tech are tasks that would suit more administrative types or managers, people-facing and back-room roles, deeply nerdy engineers, and equally passionate creative brains.
And indeed, this doesn’t have to be all about tech. Wendy James pointed out that tech skills weren’t necessarily the hardest to acquire. Rather, it was softer, people-oriented abilities that needed more effort. Now, you could debate this point, but please do debate it with Wendy, who is working on this challenge day in, and day out.
I remember working with a neighbor who had been made redundant from their manual labor job a few years ago. Could he work in tech? He asked me. We talked about it, and shortly afterward, he applied to electronics retailer Dixons to join one of their tech support training schemes. He got in and never looked back.
He wasn’t young (he’s retired now), but sure, he was self-motivated, which helped. Equally, the bar to entry can be lower than you think — the ability to check a computer’s configuration or wire up a cable is already good, as is the ability to follow a standard set of instructions. I’m reminded of how Carphone Warehouse used to build training aids directly into their customer service scripts. Perhaps they still do.
I don’t want to be in any way patronizing, but all of this is to say you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work in the tech world. It’s a bit like people who say, “I can’t sing,” even though singing is a fundamental human ability; similarly, saying, “I’m not technical enough,” is unlikely to be true in the real, multifaceted world of IT that now exists.
The opportunity is there. (Of course) it’s not as straightforward as deciding to retrain those made redundant with a new set of skills. Employers should stop hoping they will get fully formed programmers, network engineers, and Helpdesk staff and instead start looking at what the people can bring at a human level with soft skills. Then, bring in technical skills as part of a development program.
And equally, the industry should do what it can to demystify many tech-related areas. Programming, for example, requires a certain set of skills that may be (understandably) unfamiliar but can nevertheless be made fully approachable. Writing programs, or indeed reading them, isn’t that different from creating or reading recipes — if you can follow Gordon Ramsay, chances are you can make sense of reasonably-written computer code.
Perhaps it’s not for you but never say never — if you’ve been made redundant and don’t believe that you have what it takes to work an entry-level cloud or software development job, try testing that assumption with a more technical friend or colleague. Just as my neighbor did years ago, a simple question could be all it takes to get your foot in the door with a fulfilling and long-lasting career in tech.