IT – Use the Force

  • NYTimes: Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out (Neal Stephenson)Scientists and technologists have the same uneasy status in our society as the Jedi in the Galactic Republic. They are scorned by the cultural left and the cultural right, and young people avoid science and math classes in hordes. The tedious particulars of keeping ourselves alive, comfortable and free are being taken offline to countries where people are happy to sweat the details, as long as we have some foreign exchange left to send their way. Nothing is more seductive than to think that we, like the Jedi, could be masters of the most advanced technologies while living simple lives: to have a geek standard of living and spend our copious leisure time vegging out.  If the “Star Wars” movies are remembered a century from now, it’ll be because they are such exact parables for this state of affairs. Young people in other countries will watch them in classrooms as an answer to the question: Whatever became of that big rich country that used to buy the stuff we make? The answer: It went the way of the old Republic.

While IT people already think of themselves as the Jedi of the world, a big part of the reason students are shunning tech fields is because of the lack of entry level jobs.  As the US outsources tech jobs to other countries, more experienced tech workers are forced to take lower pay and do more work.  Students in college see the low level of jobs and look elsewhere for a degree.

I think there is also a prevalent notion that every IT job is the same and that IT people are replaceable by each other.  If you know networks, you know programming and desktop support.  While IT fields are related by their platform (computers), they should be thought of as similar to medical specialities.  If you have a brain tumor, you want a neurologist to help you, not a general practioner or a heart specialist.  Since people view IT people as interchangeable, they think they can have fewer of them to do more varied work at less pay (because IT knowledge isn’t seen as valuable).