ManagementSpeak: For an IS individual he appears to have decent people skills.
This phrase, found on a candidate summary provided by Human Resources to an anonymous IS hiring manager, really doesn’t need a translation, does it?

I spoke recently at the Making Statistics More Effective in Schools of Business conference. My host, Jon Cryer, figured the odds were pretty good that I said something useful. Since he teaches statistics and authored a nifty CD-ROM to help with the teaching process, I trust his judgment.

Flushed with success from having talked to a bunch of professional statisticians I’m ready to take on yet another ridiculous statistic floating around the industry. That’s the supposed deficit of a-whole-lotta IT professionals we’re trying to overcome these days.

(Ironic tidbit: While lots of readers responded to my recent columns on Microsoft by restating the BIG/GAS theory (“Business Is Good/Government and Academics are Stupid”) saying government should just stay out of things and let business handle it, lots more are blasting the government for considering a bill that would allow more foreign IT professionals to compete for jobs in the U.S.A. I guess the government does have a role to play after all … protecting our jobs from a free market.)

What does the job deficit mean? As calculated, it means we create many more jobs in IS/IT each year than we graduate computer science students. Where, the doomsayers ask rhetorically, will the rest of the talent we need come from?

Answer: The same place they’ve been coming from since before I entered the field. As regular IS Survivalists know I learned to program analyzing data I collected studying the behavior of electric fish. My co-workers in my first job in industry were a former meteorology student and a former marketing analyst, and we built systems as fast and successfully as any of our co-workers.

Before you read any more of this column, take a look at your open job requisitions. Do they ask for a computer science degree? Probably. Does the job require a computer science degree? Probably not.

The people you’re hiring will analyze real world problems and envision solutions that incorporate information technology where appropriate. They’ll design system architectures, legacy system integration strategies and effective user interfaces. They’ll code, compile and test applications. They’ll help end-users solve problems, too, and troubleshoot network problems.

A few of these jobs would benefit … not require, you understand, but benefit … from a computer science degree. Many would be better off with a student of physics, anthropology, or international studies who figured out how to use computers creatively to solve real problems.

The position you have open may not require any college degree at all. Despite decades of evolution, we’re still designing databases, business logic, legacy system interfaces, user interfaces, and reports. Yes, these tasks require a level of sophistication. I’ve worked with quite a few trade school graduates who did a fine job at them.

You can fill other positions with “power users” — non-IS professionals who have learned to use computers on the job and figured out lots of innovative uses for them during the years IS ignored personal computers as pointless toys.

When you create a position description that includes the phrase “computer science” anyplace on the page, you’re begging human resources to screen out hordes of candidates who could succeed in the job. Think of it this way. We know we have a shortage of computer science graduates. We don’t know if we have a shortage of candidates who would succeed if we gave them the chance.

Some positions may go unfilled for three to six months while you wait for the perfect candidate. If you choose someone less qualified but who has the right smarts, attitude and motivation, you could provide enough training in a month to make up the deficit.

Then you’d have a smart, motivated, very loyal employee with a good attitude.