At the time of writing this, it’s late April and the NBA playoffs have commenced. We won’t have a champion until mid-June. As a basketball fan, I find this two-month span feels agonizingly long. Let’s just have Cleveland and Golden State start the rubber match of their championship series, which is what most fans expect and want to see.
As the CEO of a philanthropic organization in the IT industry, I have a similar sinking feeling when I consider what business magazines and newspapers call the “tech skills gap.” Per some sources, there may be as many as half a million unfilled IT jobs in the U.S. at any given time. Layered atop this challenge are predictions by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that IT occupations may grow 12 percent by 2024. Then there are the looming retirements, which may mean the exit of hundreds of thousands of IT employees over the next several years. If so many tech-related positions go unfilled today – and their numbers keep swelling – can the tech employment gap ever be closed?
Contemplating this vexing scenario inspires me to think about basketball again, as a pleasant distraction. One of the great joys of the NBA regular season was watching Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder play like a man possessed.
Westbrook recently broke a 56-year-old record held by Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in a season. A triple-double – double digits in points, rebounds, and assists in one game – is a truly Herculean feat in basketball. Even to the game’s elite, the goal must seem unattainable when the season begins. While achieving this record, Westbrook averaged a triple-double across the regular-season schedule, which, again, only Robertson had done in the past.
Yet the debate still rages over whether Westbrook deserves to be named the NBA’s regular-season MVP. Hoops enthusiasts are making compelling arguments for other contenders, such as the Houston Rockets’ James Harden or the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard. Which star ultimately wins the designation will depend a lot on how we define the term “most valuable player” and what we expect from our MVPs.
I suspect intangibles will carry more weight than technique or metrics when it comes to naming this year’s MVP. After all, what I enjoy most about watching Westbrook play is the intensity and passion he brings to every contest and how he has his teammates backs at every turn. Yes, his basketball skills are impressive, but his impact wouldn’t be as great without these other elements. What makes him a game-changer are his basketball “soft skills.” Surely, Harden’s and Leonard’s fans feel the same way.
But what does basketball have to do with closing the tech skills gap?
Well, Westbrook, Harden, and Leonard have yet to hit age 30. In NBA circles, they’re not pups, but they are the rising generation. In the U.S. economy, we have a rising generation, too. Generation Z, the large, culturally diverse group of kids born during the mid-’90s and later, is ready to launch its careers. Gen. Z-ers already constitute a quarter of the U.S. population and will represent more than 20 percent of the workforce in the next five years.
How do we inspire Gen. Z-ers to choose tech careers and help us close the skills gap? We teach them how to work like MVPs.
What makes an MVP technologist? When I talk to business leaders about great team members, three intangible traits always rise to the top:
Problem-solving is the equivalent of scoring points in basketball. The best problem-solvers are the stars of the tech game. Solving problems means developing solutions that customers want and need. Sounds simple, but it takes creativity and nimble, adaptive thinking. The best tech professionals can see a problem from different angles and create a solution with a full understanding of the technology and the customer.
2. Collaboration and Communication
The assist in basketball is all about making your teammates better and enabling their success. In tech, collaboration and communication skills have increased in value as the field has moved out of dark rooms in office basements to front-and-center in nearly every enterprise. Winning solutions designed around the technology connect to the needs of people. MVP tech pros create those solutions by collaborating with teammates, listening to customers, and communicating throughout the process.
3. Dynamic Analysis
Rebounding is the dirty work of basketball. Rebounders don’t get glory, but they get respect from teammates, coaches, and opponents. Great rebounding is about seeing a situation unfold and positioning yourself for success. Even at 6’4″, Westbrook finished in the top 10 of all NBA players in rebounds this season because he knew how to be in the right place at the right moment. The same is true in tech, where the equivalent to rebounding is the dynamic analysis that makes a tech professional stand out. Dynamic analysis is a combination of persistent curiosity, predictive imagination, and relentless effort. MVP tech professionals are constantly learning and staying aware of the changing landscape.
When viewed through the lens of my favorite sport, the tech skills gap looks less like a no-win situation and more like an opportunity to discover the next generation of champions.
Charles Eaton leads three philanthropic endeavors for CompTIA, the world’s largest IT trade association. His first book, How to Launch Your Teen’s Career in Technology: A Parent’s Guide to the T in STEM Education, is available at www.tinstem.com.