Archive for November, 2006

What are Italian schools delivering?

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

Some days ago I reviewed the study plans of one of the ITIS (Italian Institutes of Industrial Technology) that I had been interested in when I still was not a certified IT professional.

What shocked me (and what is frightening almost everyone who is interested in becoming an IT professional in Italy) was the unbelievable gap between what students are learning at schools and what the real IT world needs from them! It’s enough to read the index of an Information Technology learning plan delivered by these institutes to realize that nobody who spends five years (or even more) in such environments will ever be prepared to work in a real IT staff, no matter what role (developer, sysadmin, sysop, …) he/she will play.
The currently adopted study programs seem to be designed for filling the student’s head with all the mathematical theories so far developed by the human race, without considering at all the main aspects of today’s Information Technology implementations.
I’m not saying that isn’t important to know about the foundations of Computer Science, nor that it is enough just to teach Active Directory designing or the Lotus Notes setup in order to create an IT professional. What I want to say is that there must be a combination of both theory and practice.

What are today requirements in preparing a good IT professional? The answer is not as complex as it might seem, obviously that is if you have a well-focused idea of what being an IT professional means!

First of all, there must be some cultural elements from which all other further analysis should start: everyone know that until a new technology can be fully understood and accepted by both users and the community of professionals, there is no chance to see it working and improving the way we live, work, play or do business. A tablet PC for today’s students must be as much as a familiar tool as pen and paper were for me some years ago (obviously while at the same time not ignoring the “old” technologies that humankind has used so far to research, learn, store and transmit knowledge).

While the first step is making new technologies part of the whole education environment, the second one is to prepare the right people for the right environment: it is important to identify as soon as possible the specialization field which best fit each student abilities and desires, and to help him or her to develop the competencies required to work in that field, in the real world.

Information Technology has evolved quickly so far and this pace is expected continue in the future. So to achieve both today and tomorrow’s goals we need not only more and more specialized skills, but also people who are ready to change and adapt their way of studying, working and living. Such an ability is only possible if they have a clear vision of what they still cannot understand, prior to what they think to know.
Every professional knows that humility is the first and single essential requirement for operating correctly and to be successful. Schools must educate before they teach and they must prepare while they train. Until trainers and administrators identify with these requirements, there will be no opportunity for Italian schools to generate what the IT world is asking for: real professionals. And they will go on producing hundreds of thousands of graduates who will never have a chance of succeeding, as is going on in this very moment while you are reading this post.
If anyone among the readers has ever had a good experience in his or her academic studies regarding this argument, I would be glad if you would let me know about it. I hope not all schools operate like the ones I have spoken about in this short review!

Technical Racism

Monday, November 27th, 2006

Did you ever notice there is a universally accepted discrimination about professional roles in IT staffs? All of us have surely heard the expressions “first level support” and “second level support”, what it does stands for you?
When I was first employed in an IT staff at a big company I noticed that there was no awareness about how to have the team structured so that it could do its job, an example of which was the different value recognized to a helpdesk operator against a systems administrator. It is clear to everyone that the efforts and the skills requested from a sysadmin are definitely different from what is expected from a support technician, but… do you truly believe that the role played by the first one is more important than the second one?

What I’ve learned from my long experience in managing high demanding IT environments is that each team member, especially in groups with multi-layered skills, plays the same critical and irreplaceable role in reaching the entire team’s goals.
Years later I found that, beyond the sense of inequity I had perceived, there was an incorrect vision of management, and I realized that the root of the problem had been in the lack of knowledge about the IT governance philosophy.

The time has come for all IT or project managers to understand that among their staff members there are different layers of technical, relational and organizational skills, but they should not be valued differently. Each member has its own weight in the group, and losing only one role means the failure of the whole team: what can a sysadmin do without a reliable network infrastructure? How can a consolidation project succeed without the work of a professional first‑level support staff?
The same statements can be applied when looking at the offering of IT professional services: why considering that a low skilled IT manager may be enough to carry out the need of a small-sized company, while all of us know that Information Technology has became a strategic asset for business, regardless of its size?
I do not believe that different business sizes need different IT approaches, if high quality service is always a requirement. I think that a more open approach must be used in attaining a profitable IT governance, regardless of the size of the company: we must try to comply with business and IT regulations before weighing personal, political or corporate operations.

I often speak with “IT pros” who misunderstand their own role: they believe only to be a sort of replaceable part in a mechanism which they have no way to influence. Thus, we should consider the “People Ready” initiative as another stupid marketing campaign by uncle Steve? It might be, of course, but I do not think so. What vision do you have about your job role?

What is IT?

Wednesday, November 8th, 2006

In my previous post “A case of Innovation” I wrote a little bit about what I do and how I do it. Some readers, who do not know me, might have been a little confused about me showing a successful IT project as a rare innovative case history, so I would like to explain one of the reasons.

For people who are not professionals in the vast field of Information Technology, the terminology used to describe it are widely unknown, and unfortunately also for concepts they do not even know that exist. That’s not much of a problem, you may think, but the shocking fact is that also most of the people considered to be “IT professionals” have no idea about what their roles are and how their jobs should be carried out!

So, what is Information Technology about? What are the roles and the skills IT professionals must have to be true “professionals”? The first subject is too vast to speak about in this short post… but I can say here what IT should be in a business environment, which is what I think you are expecting from these articles.

Information Technology, as some programs show, is considered by some as a teachable discipline, in which the procedures of which can be collected and learned in the same way a recipe can be followed by a chef, see for example the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) publications or the Microsoft Operation Framework (MOF) or Microsoft Solution Framework (MSF) blueprints.

Obviously I do not intend to say that there is no need to create and maintain some procedures so as to better understand and administer IT services in an enterprise or in a service provider scenario, nor should the IT group in a company operate as a free artistic circle. I have learned there must be a simple approach so as to obtain the benefits expected by the business or by any activity, which needs to be empowered or supported by new technologies. I have learned that the so-called “IT service management” should be viewed as any other human activity which needs a team of people to carry it out. Thus, each member of the team must have a set of well defined roles and tasks by which successful results can be achieved, and each team member must be coordinated by a manager, who must have a clear vision of the objectives, responsibilities and needs of his group as they apply to the corporate business strategy.

So, taking for granted that we have some good professionals in our IT group, there still must be a clear vision of how it should be structured and managed and here is where the decision makers in a corporation usually get lost.

If you have ever look at the history of Information Technology, you would know that for some time now we have had to split all the matters into a range of “abstract layers” in order to evolve at the speed we have become use to and Information Technology will never be the same, because the skills needed to work at each layer have grown through the development of very complex and specific solutions, thus it’s impossible to have a complete knowledge and competencies in all of the different IT fields.

The need for specialization has not only come about because the scope of the skills has widened, but also because the mandatory skills to succeed in each field have become much different from each other.

That’s the reason why understanding how such a team must be setup is the most important thing that we have to consider during the process of building or restructuring a professional IT staff. Thus specialization and high-technical skills should be the goal in finding the right members of a good IT staff, while a comprehensive vision of both the technologies and the context in which they will be applied is the distinctive responsibility of an IT manager.

Do you believe that Information Technology is like any other human discipline, and thus can be looked at in the same way we look at other professional role? Or do you believe there must be a multi-staged approach to what is actually a multi-layered collection of technologies and techniques which drive the innovations that we hear about more and more often?