Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Episode 6: The one where the cloud went to school

The I.T. industry in Ireland has a near-100% employment rate right now, yet there are so many jobs are out there being advertised that have few takers. A growing area in the jobs market is the search for cloud-savvy employees.

Recruitment agencies are scouring LinkedIn for people with 'cloud' experience. Anyone with 'cloud' in their details is getting contacted several times a week for opportunities from various recruiters up and down the country, and if you're lucky, one or two from further afield. My LinkedIn inbox for the last month has been brimming with contacts from various recruiters wanting to talk to me about cloud opportunities, because I am listed as someone who has worked in the sector.

One thing that struck me was that many of these recruiters didn'tt seem to even understand the concept of cloud themselves, or that there are sectors within the cloud such as IaaS, SaaS and PaaS. The perception placed in the media about cloud also doesn't make any real distinction. I recently had the pleasure of being invited to a chamber of commerce B2B meeting, and despite cloud being a relevant buzzword and hyped as the saviour of our woes, many came to me afterwards and admitted that they still didn't know what the cloud was. In many encounters with people interested in the cloud, the same sentiment was often expressed; 'what exactly is the cloud?'

Enter Cork Institute of Technology (CIT). It was announced on Tuesday that CIT had, under consultation with cloud system heavyweights EMC, VMWare, Cisco, GreenPlum, RSA, and SpringSource, developed a two year programme (which I am assuming is a national certificate course based on length and it being CIT) to allow people to attain an actual qualification specialising in the field of cloud computing, as opposed to say a grouping of certificates from various companies; i.e. Cisco accreditation, VMWare VSP etc.

Recruiters up and down the country, along with people seeking to see if they can join the cloud-train professionally, will have welcomed this announcement, just like the political bandwagon-jumpers who instantly latched themselves onto it.

Some people viewed this pairing of the IT industry and third level education as a first step towards Ireland building our much touted 'knowledge economy'. But like many things in Ireland within our education system, we're late adopters. A school in Mayo recently announced the option of children using iPads instead of books. This has been done since the iPad turned up in the U.S. in some school districts there.

To give an example closer to home-fields, heavy industry involvement in education has been done for several years successfully in Sweden, home to the ultimate award in educational fields; the Nobel prize. Academia is taken very seriously there, and for years its academic leanings have been treated like a business sector; being innovative, very closely tied to business to deliver the kinds of graduates businesses really need, and all courses are constructed and operated with rigorous quality control.

Sweden also heavily subsidises it's third level education programme to the point where even foreign students can go and study almost for free, so they offer the best courses at all levels to ensure they have the best people educated in the best way to better serve Swedish industry needs regardless of industry.
For too long in Ireland the IT courses have served the IT industry poorly.
Our education system must come to meet with the people investing in our country if they are to stay in our country. It cannot be left to these large multinationals to train people in skills they should already have while trying to grow their businesses – it's just not viable, especially given the speed IT moves at.

The flip side of this is Irish IT businesses are generally extremely poor at up-skilling, providing training and bringing people along in their education through their professional career. Yes, some request you keep your Cisco certification up-to-date, or your MSCE in-date, but in general they're not pro-active about training staff or doing in-house uptraining. Large U.S. Multinationals in general are almost obsessive about this, and understand the value of training their people, keeping their education in their field refreshed, and actively investing in their staff's educational needs.

Once upon a time, biotechnology was hailed as the next big thing and the hype failed to deliver in Ireland from a few years ago when it was billed as 'the next big thing to generate thousands of jobs' that ultimately never materialised. Is this course welcome? Yes it is. Is it overdue? Very much so. The real test will be what it delivers, what the uptake is, and whether it actually delivers value to businesses outside its progenitors.