Stormy Sea

In a recent survey from CompTIA, one of the world’s largest technology associations, nearly half of the 600 IT and business executives polled said skills shortcomings within their organizations had grown during the past two years.

While these skills gaps widened in a variety of domains — marketing, sales, business development, accounting and finance, etc. — perhaps none of these deficits is as troubling as the one in the IT realm.

In brief, some analysts say at least half a million open IT positions are going unfilled. Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts IT occupations will grow 10 percent by 2026, when many existing tech professionals will begin retiring. In combination, these factors could create a national tech talent deficit with negative consequences for workers, employers, and our entire economy.

My organization, CompTIA, believes tweens and teens are a key part of the solution to this looming crisis because they already make up a quarter of the US population and will account for more than 20 percent of the workforce in the next five years. Plus, my organization’s research indicates many in this group have the temperament to become more than technicians who write software and make hardware; they will be technologists — people working with technology of varied types in companies of all shapes and sizes across the country along a broad spectrum of industries.

Workers with a technologist’s mind set, which optimally blends hard technical skills and relationship acumen (often called “soft skills”), are well-suited for today’s fast-paced, continuously evolving digital business environment.

However, there are issues at work that confound and complicate the task of raising the next generation of technologists. Seven myths about technology careers discourage potential technologists and their parents. In my position as leader of a philanthropic organization dedicated to creating on-ramps to tech careers, I consider busting those myths not only a duty, but a pleasure.

In this series of articles, I will tackle these seven myths one by one. For the first installment, I’ll start with the biggest misconception of them all:

Myth No. 1: Technology Is All About Coding, Math, and Science

manCoding: Tech entrepreneur success stories always seem to revolve around software and coding. Plus, starting salaries for web and software developers are relatively high. While these facts might inspire many teens to consider tech careers, they can also discourage those kids for whom coding is neither easy, nor accessible, nor interesting.

In reality, as more businesses and households connect more devices to the internet, more data will be gathered that will need to be protected and understood. We will need more technicians, network specialists, cybersecurity pros, and data analysts to handle these tasks. Plus, we will need sales and marketing pros to match these technologists with the consumers and businesses who need their services. Of course, we will also need project managers and other expert technologists to direct and maintain these transactions and relationships. Coding is only one aspect of technology.

Math and Science: Resourcefulness and common sense are the real predictors of success in a technology career, much more so than how someone does in math and science classes. Soft skills such as problem-solving, empathy, entrepreneurship, active listening, and clear communication are all critical to the tech field.

True, good grades are important for anyone working toward any future career because they demonstrate the ability to learn and develop. Yes, solid grades in math and science certainly won’t hurt any aspiring student’s chances of finding a future position in technology. But for technologists, grades only tell part of the story. Curiosity and motivation are more important than an impressive report card.

In short, the education of a technologist must include STEM classes without being limited to them. Access to tech classes in school at any level should not be dependent on how well a student scores in math or science. Every school should offer opportunities to learn and work with technology that are broader than traditional computer science curricula, and all tracks that involve working with technology should weave cybersecurity into their syllabi.

In my next piece, we tackle the next-biggest myth about tech careers: “Working in technology requires a four-year college degree.”

Charles Eaton is executive vice president of social innovation for CompTIA and CEO of Creating IT Futures.

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