Monday, 27 December 2010

What does the wage data tell us about IT skills?

One of the underlying narratives of the last decade is the repositioning of the UK IT industry towards high-value IT work and off-shoring more routine, low-value work.

Advertised IT salaries as of 29 March 2010 (

As you can see wages for the mid-to-high end are in fact increasing (indicating increased demand). The low end is static and with a drop in advertised vacancies and increased moves to off-shoring indicates reduced demand. This is backed up by more detailed analysis in recent e-skills UK reports.

I put this up at careers events to impress on the audience (1) a realistic idea of the salary position and (2) that the low-end has been squeezed to the extent that mediocre simply doesn't cut it anymore. The story of an uncle who blagged a well-paid job in IT in the 80's-90's is moving into the realm of myth and legend.

The problem is the outside world thinks that the IT job market is help-desk and getting kit to work: not what IT professionals actually do. The irony is that the TV programme 'The IT crowd' should have been called 'The IT crowd who had their roles off-shored 10 years ago'.  

Even if some of the lower wage end is 'graduate trainee', there seems to be increasingly fewer positions for sub-degree entry (especially in a time of higher than usual graduate unemployment). So are we offering large numbers of IT 'vocational' qualifications in schools when there isn't a job market to absorb them? That is assuming that what is taught is relevant to even an IT, which isn't the case in reality (it teaches use of IT). Has the IT job market has effectively become a graduate entry market? Do we need to recognise this in policy, e.g. focus on intellectual development such as 'computational thinking', consider work-related focus largely as a motivator, assume that HE is the majority destination for post 16 learners in qualification design?

Or is the data hiding a different dynamic in SMEs, so we are are seeing the more visible behaviour of the corporate employers? Their recruitment behaviour for graduates differs in my experience.

The movement to a graduate discipline may be complete unless the next few years sees companies recruiting talented BTEC/A-level students from college directly and developing their IT trainees themselves (which used to be more common 30-40 years ago, say in accountancy and even in chemistry). Watch and see...

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Reflections on MIL Induction, Friday 1/10/2010

It's perhaps providence that I was inducting the first Master of Information Leadership students exactly 12 years to the day after I joined City University London as a lecturer. This was the most enjoyable 'anniversary' I've had.

The teaching philosophy of the MIL is underpinned on group learning, so the approach taken was to start small and bring in a select group and then add groups later to build the cohort. It also allows scope for innovation as its easier to try ideas with a select group - as I will blog later we see the students as part of the course team that drives its design.

Anyway, the only weekday that MIL students have to attend is for induction, as then we have access to the full administrative service (in case of troubleshooting) and student registration systems. Also the course is academically administered by the School of Informatics' Programmes Office. So we held the induction at one of the well-appointed meeting rooms on the Northampton Square main site (the weekend classes take place at the Cass Business School, as they are geared up to support a weekend executive masters).

First, we got the students their ID cards, then brought them down for coffee and danish before I did the course director talk: philosophy of course, logistics, assessment, that kind of thing...

The use of electronic resources was covered including our new Moodle installation at City University (we also have a virtual common room using Abode Connect). And then last but not least a presentation on our information resources from the library, especially the online journal resources as MIL students are only on-site for the teaching weekends.

In the background I was setting up systems, getting student IDs registered with the catering payment systems, checking bookings for later in the day...

Then remembering the event organiser's mantra that you need to get the catering right, we put on a nice lunch (the chocolate cake was especially well received!). It was also a chance for the MIL students to meet members of the course team.

The afternoon was taken up with professional skills development. We had the pleasure of Judith Pearle from Management Advantage who led a three-hour session on networking skills. Their course was attractive from my point of course as it was a nice blend of the practical and tGiven the use of external speakers from the information leadership community in the MIL and the general usefulness of this skill, it was an obvious choice for induction.

An aside, if you will. In designing the MIL we sought advice from Cass Careers. The profile of our students, though not dissimilar from executive MBA students in terms of seniority, differs markedly in terms of professional background (due to the IT focus), so it was clear that we'd not be sure of career devel (in later years we'll have a much better idea and can hard-wire more in advance). This lead to our decision to treat the MIL as a combination of an executive masters and coaching (more in later posts), with a budget set aside for professional skills development as we identify student needs.

When the (well-received) networking session was over - we went to the hotel! The MIL weekends are not residential - except for two exceptions. The first is the induction weekend so the incoming student groups can form and get to know each other, David Chan and myself. The other is the September professional skills weekend; this year this is planned to be on negotiation given its central importance to the CIO role (or as David Chan put it when we was a CIO, he was negotiating from breakfast to supper!). More on that nearer the time!

The evening was spent on a team-working session thanks to the underground cookery school; where we were taught to cook our own dinners and then eat then (with drinks, naturally). As we invited members of our External Advisory Panel, it was also an opportunity to put in practice the networking session earlier on.

Overall, the induction went as well as a first instance ever could. There are some issues we'd develop next time. First, the students preferred their books to be delivered in advance (this was acted upon). Second, they'd like a bit more hand-on coverage on RefWorks - our reference; again easy to put in later inductions.

The residential nature of the first weekend was spot on: it allowed the students to gel as a group and with the course team. This paid off well during the group activities that weekend and has continued to pay back in later teaching weekends. An important part of the MIL is getting students to draw on each other's experiences and this definitely supported that aim.

Overall a great day - I love it when a plan comes together.

Bashing Bankers with Crypto...?

I don't go with all the recent 'banker bashing' that has been going on in the last year (it's intellectually lazy), however the industry does sometimes do things that make me despair.

I've just picked up that Prof. Ross Anderson has produced a robust reply to a request from the bankers trade association to take down a thesis that covers an exploit that is old news (disclosed in 2009).

Needless to say, I think Prof. Anderson's heart is definitely in the right place. If universities can't speak truth to power within the law then a very large part of what we are disappears. Without a moral function in civil society I'd say we would become little more than a teaching factory co-located with a research factory: hardly 'humane' places in which to work.

I'll close with the suggestion that this is more than academic freedom and that the role of professions in civil society should embrace a similar role in free debate. How we develop the IT profession to better take this role on is a challenge we need to consider and act on.

UPDATE: In response to Richard Veryard's amplify posting - the IT 'profession' is immature but it does show signs of early-stage development (I'll blog on this in future - but I deliberately used word 'develop' in the post). If we are to bring this along we need to start as a community modelling the behaviours we desire of a mature profession - that's the point I'm trying to make.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Xmas

In order to spread some festive cheer, I recommend two cartoons from the excellent xkcd.

Have a good one!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Press Update...

Despite the pause in blogging, I've been quite active in talking to the IT press on my interest in IT education and skills. See below (in no particular order)...

The Master of Information Leadership also gained coverage as a CIONet Magazine Article. My colleague David Chan as also been active - but that will doubtless come up later.

Why I launched the MIL

Obviously its been quiet here - launching and running an executive masters keeps one busy! It's been a great experience getting the Master of Information Leadership off the ground.

I've had some leave now and so feel able to write - its no longer painful to get out of bed and I've got my brain back in gear...:-)

I'm about to blog on the MIL over the Christmas and the New Year period. I'll be looking back and reflecting on how I have worked with others to deliver the MIL and the philosophy behind what I've been trying to achieve in developing our future information leaders - heavily influenced of course be colleagues within City and the wider information leadership community.

I'll also be having some comments (minor rants?) over more general IT skills and HE issues: e.g. Ofqual, student funding. So remember the blog disclaimer!..:-)

But first, it may be worth why I started the Centre for Information Leadership and the MIL with my colleague David Chan and others at City University London.

The germ of the idea stemmed from my involvement in the 2006 Developing the Future report. I was into my first half of MBA in Higher Education Management and increasingly feeling that there was something deeply misaligned between what higher education was doing and the direction of the II industry

A large part of the problem was that many computing academics were blissfully unaware of what a CIO is: our world (for a variety of reasons, some valid others bad) has become increasing disjoint with that in professional practice and has withdrawn from itself.  Sure some business schools were acting in the space, but its more than just business: the technology is important as the means to an end.

As I looked into it further, the underpinning intellectual issues became more manifest. There are debates around legal issues where the CIO community is unclear on how the law should be interpreted, or the forms of legal argument needed to have an informed opinion on making better law. The endless debate on whether the CIO should be business or tech focused was increasingly becoming a non-argument (put simply, if you don't understand why your skills will add value to on organisation on what else you need to learn to do provide better value, you won't get paid much). Our technologies are shaping the social dynamics in society, but the social science concepts and arguments that could allow the CIO community to take the lead in the debate to ensure that these are put to best use are not there.

We need information leaders (CIO, CTOs, or whatever the role) that have a rounded education that prepares then for the role (more on this in later posts). We also need universities to engage with the profession. These are areas where universities excel at when are are at our best.

On the upside, I was heartened to find we had a lot of relevant expertise in City across disciplines as wide as computing, law, information science, business, psychology and sociology that could be brought to bear. We also were geographically well-situated in the heart of Europe's IT capital and with close ties to the City of London.

So I was fortunate to get start-up funding to set up the Centre for Information Leadership and hire David Chan, one of the UK's first board-level CIOs, to help bring together the above and start one of the cornerstones of getting the future information leaders we need: the Master of Information Leadership, the UK's first open executive masters focused on the development of aspiring information leaders.

A year and a half later, course design/approval and first cohort being taught. And this is where we are now...