Today’s educators and mentors have a more essential role to play in the ongoing digital skills crisis than most give them credit for. Of course, some would advocate for better training resources and programs, and these do help! But without the proper motivation and drive, IT professionals won’t have cause to upskill and overcome obstacles to their success.
No, the solution to this business problem is a human one. And it lies in today’s educators, who possess the capacity to inspire curiosity and desire to improve in future IT talent. Besides imparting technical proficiency and knowledge, here are some unconventional – but critical – areas of inspiration educators and mentors should focus on:
1 Nurture a “Sense of Code” in Your Students
Not every IT professional needs programming skills. Some of us prefer to work with hardware or provide support, and this is okay! But every IT person must possess a strong “sense of code” – the ability to digest lines of code and explain their function—even if they can’t write or compile to save their lives.
It’s like learning basic math. At some point, most of us realise adding two positive numbers equals a larger positive number. This simple principle or law was all we needed to leap forward. Similarly, having a sense of code helps professionals better understand the tech and solutions they use. Educators can instill this sense by getting students to reverse-engineer code, both good and bad, to learn the rules of certain functions. Soon, a sense of common patterns or commands develops, allowing budding IT talent to discuss technical issues or better solve problems.
2 Touch on Common Proficiencies and Fundamentals
After some time in the larger industry, decent IT professionals eventually pick up several general proficiencies and skills not related to their speciality but critical to business operations. For instance, this might include knowing how to create, turn off, or even delete cloud instances. Alternatively, it might mean understanding subnets or routing rules or knowing how to secure Simple Storage Service (S3) buckets, all of which makes IT pros invaluable to any team.
How can you impart these critical proficiencies to your students? First, ensure there are spaces in your curriculum giving them the freedom to explore these paths. Connect them with online resources or practicing industry experts who can teach them the right skills or set them in the right direction. Help your students realize learning opportunities are everywhere. Not everything needs to come from you!
3 Help Them Develop Interpersonal Skills
Everyone knows the common stereotypes of an IT professional: the antisocial programmer who’s hard to communicate with or the developer who’s frustratingly aloof. All these stereotypes are unfair because most of the folks I’ve worked with are pleasant and professional! Yet these stereotypes persist because they hold a nugget of truth – many IT people do stand to benefit from more mature communication skills.
This means instilling the importance of developing soft skills and teaching the basics of interpersonal communication, like the courtesy of ditching technical speak when speaking to the non-IT crowd. When it comes to teamwork, reflective listening is critical – knowing the difference between “me” and “us” messages often stops discussions from devolving into heated arguments. Most importantly, future IT talent should be taught to be less dismissive of business needs or requirements resulting in project rescoping or budget cuts. This leads us to the next point…
4 Expose Them to Basic Corporate Finance
This may be controversial, but it’s critical, especially in this economic climate. I don’t think IT professionals can get off scot-free for not knowing how businesses work, since their department’s budget constitutes a big chunk of business spend. Successful professionals understand IT’s end goals are closely tied to the business objectives of operational efficiency, profitability, and expansion – these take precedence over anything else.
This means future IT professionals must learn what businesses require so they can better propose solutions or improvements aligned with real business needs. One idea is to get IT students to take joint classes with their accounting or business counterparts. This lets them see the decision-making processes involved in business purchasing firsthand and can expose them to crucial financial instruments, such as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA); earnings per share (EPS); return on investment (ROI); gross vs. net profit; and more.
5 Instill in Them an “Always Learning” Mentality
If there’s one truth I know, it’s technology never stays the same. Though knowing the fundamentals and improving upon them is important, educators, students, and future IT professionals should adopt a mentality of lifelong learning. This means constantly challenging what you think you know and understanding mastery of a certain skill or field isn’t the end. Instead, it’s the beginning of an opportunity to collaborate with professionals in other fields of tech or industries with the hope of gaining a new perspective.
After all, isn’t this how our predecessors like Turing and Lovelace overcame all odds, closed the digital skills gaps of their time, and created today’s innovations? Perhaps a combination of this mentality, along with the areas above, could similarly help us overcome the challenges of our time.
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