Invigorating the image of IT

By Jamie Grant

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Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

What did you want to be as a kid? A footballer? Astronaut? Rockstar?

It’s a tough choice to make, but when I look back on my own education, I can’t help thinking – were we actually presented with all the options? How do people end up working in IT?

Featured in the Telegraph, a study analysed the aspirations of children (aged 5 to 10 years old) and compiled them into a top 10. I can’t decide if I’m surprised or not by the top spot. The number one thing kids want to be when they’re old is rich!

There are a great many things I’d love to explore around this point, but I’m going to put them to the side for now. Let’s just take that kids want to be rich as a starting point.

Everyone knows the quickest route to being astronomically rich these days lies in technology. There are stories every day on the rising success of technology companies and leading entrepreneurs banking billions. The barrier I see in this is that children don’t necessarily see the correlation between the technology they use on a daily basis and a career that could pay the bills and then some.

When we’re small most of us have a limited idea of what’s out there. It is shaped by the exposure we have – the people that have a big impact on us and the standards and social expectations around us
(Career coach Meredith Haberfeld)

With new tech heroes in the media, combined with today’s youngsters being technologically equipped to seek their own answers to questions, I think we might see a shift in their aspirations in their later years. We live in an age where technology is more accessible than ever before and it’s only going to increase. The struggle is for the education system to keep up with this barrage of new and emerging solutions.

When I was at school (and it wasn’t that long ago) there was little to a computing class to hold anyone’s interest; the technology was outdated and the teachers knew less than my classmates and I. Without trying to be too disrespectful, that kind of teaching did little to inspire anyone into a career in IT!

In an industry dominated by ‘nerds’ and ‘geeks’, some could say it’s an uphill battle. That thought of spotty, skinny, pale people in a darkened room living on pizza and frantically bashing a keyboard in front of a glowing screen isn’t one most people would want to emulate. If you had asked me when I was younger – and I’m a little ashamed to admit it – I’d have agreed with this stereotypical view, but now I’m a little older and a little more involved in the industry I know that this perception couldn’t be further from the truth.

There are those in the industry who’ve done much to dispel this blanket stereotype – Steve Jobs I’m looking at you. It’s tough to shift an idea after its inception but with technology making its way into everyone’s everyday life it’s becoming (dare I say it) cool to code. Apple creates products that are not only functional but are sexy enough to seduce the skeptics. Add to this the likes of Jessie Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake’s portrayal of the Facebook-spawning trio of entrepreneurs in The Social Network, or the shift from James Bond’s gadget-toting Q being transformed into a young hipster-type genius and you have the makings of a winning new image for the 21st century.

Are we really equipped to quench the thirst for knowledge?

What about those more gifted; those more driven in this area? There have been improvements in recent years, with coding being added to the UK curriculum, and in Scotland computer science is being rolled out across almost all local authority primary schools for those aged 6 and over. There is information available in the form of open source projects for those savvy enough to know where to find it, but for those in the void between early computing classes and university, there just isn’t the same support in schools.

It looks like we’re going in the right direction, with technology, education and exposure being more accessible than ever before, but there’s still plenty work to be done as things are moving at an unstoppable rate.

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