Educate to innovate – IT Skills and appdev in the digital age

Staying Connected

In the digital world, everything is connected. Unprecedented choice of technologies, devices, interfaces and data flows are creating a meteoric growth in user expectation. This hyper-connected world of unprecedented nodes and interdepencies is proving harder and harder to manage. Put another way, our digital world is a complex world.

All that complexity requires a bewildering kaleidoscope of IT skills to support it. Many of those skills are specialised in nature, which suggests staffing levels that are larger than many organizations can tolerate. This creates a major skills headache for each organisation, and no more so than in the appdev front.

Getting Special

Keeping pace with changes in appdev technology isn’t easy. A smart move might be to train staff on the emerging standard technologies to ensure IT has enough technical staff to deal with all the innovation. However, even agreeing the right technical skills is tricky. The right “standard” is a largely subjective view in an ever changing IT skills market, as a random selection suggests:

  • Coding Dojo recommended learning Python, JS, Java, PHP, C#, iOS and Ruby
  • TIOBE suggested learning Java, C, C++, Python, C#
  • Jaxenter thought languages “worth learning” were Java, C++, Python, Ruby and SQL

The variety and complexity is blurring the lines in IT. Over time, IT technology investment has produced a multifaceted picture, and enterprise organisations need to balance many combinations of technology simultaneously.

One thing most organizations and commentators agree on is the impact of DevOps, which as a process is a skill sought after by many organizations. Rackspace reported adoption is at 51% while another third are in planning, suggesting that DevOps usage is very much mainstream. This is another skill that needs acquiring.

Mid-Term Report – Must Try Harder

The future is only as good as the plans we make today. In terms of how the industry is coping with the IT skills challenge, the underlying statistics are worrying.

First is the concern about the volume of technology graduates emerging from academia. The number of computer science courses taken in UK universities fell by 28% from 2005 to 2014 (Universities UK), while in the US the Debt of Labor reports that by 2020 there will only be enough graduates to fill 29% of available technology jobs.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, industry bodies echo the concern. In the UK, the CBI says 39% of firms are struggling to recruit workers with STEM skills (UK BCS), while the US Career Advisory Board reported that only 11% of organizations feel universities are providing graduates with the right technology skills. Reinforcing that belief, according to Indeed Recruitment, 44% of the hardest-to-fill roles are for application developers.

Getting Real

Depressing statistics make it difficult to imagine a viable solution. However, the reality is far from gloomy. Look at these real-world stories of how others have overcome their appdev skills question.

  • Our first example concerns an intern at a major technology corporation. As any good intern should, they were looking to expand their skills. Their skill-base was Visual Studio, C#, .NET, and other Microsoft tools. But they wanted to absorb other languages – and the opportunity came during a train ride in Canada. They downloaded a free COBOL product (Micro Focus’ Visual COBOL Personal Edition), used the online tutorial, and learnt enough to build themselves a small application. Before the 6 hour journey was over, the new app was complete. For the intern, the COBOL skills challenge is a simple case of rolling their sleeves up and figuring it out.
  • Elsewhere, in a large US-based insurance brand, there was a question about IT skills too. The objective was to determine if the managed code appdev team could be used to support some additional COBOL development activities, which were missing a few key staff. The senior developer put themselves through a COBOL self-learning activity. Within a few hours he was writing and debugging COBOL, using the same IDE as his colleagues. This model became the basis for an appdev team unification, which resolved the long-term skills question and short-term bottleneck.
  • The third example is from Europe, at IT services provider Sopra-Steria. They were trying to find a way to provide a wider range of skills from their team of app dev consultants. Some knew Java, some COBOL, but there was no much overlap, which was inefficient in terms of placing consultants. They used the same IDE and technology to provide a single environment for all consultants and enabled cross training across all required languages. The average age of the consulting team is now under 30.

A successful strategy

What did each of these examples illustrate? Simple – the solution is a combination of attitude and the right technology.

The attitude to change means seeing skills as part of a strategic planning task. “Skills are amongst 3 top priorities for CIO”, said the Redefining Connections paper, from IBM. They added, “91% of torchbearer CIOs are putting more effort into developing skills to support the IT of the future”

The technology is available, today, to those who need it: contemporary technology that supports modern-era COBOL analysis and development is available on the market. Cross-training talented developers to pick up modern languages alongside COBOL, underpinned by standard IDEs and DevOps tools and processes, is far simpler than many would imagine.

See for yourself

Micro Focus offers a global academic program for those looking to build business-ready IT skills. Aligning contemporary languages, IDEs, trusted COBOL application development and new methodologies such as DevOps and Agile, our easy-access program is ideal for academia and self-starter technologists alike.

Take a look at what’s possible in AppDev – join Micro Focus at an event near you to see for yourself. Experienced by over 2,000 developers worldwide, Micro Focus #DevDay is the technical event for enterprise application delivery professionals. Save your Seat at the next upcoming event and get access to a range of training materials and technology.

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