In 2017, make a focused investment in your staff

In 2017, make a focused investment in your staff

It's 2017, and IT departments don't really need training budgets, 'cause everything's already available on the 'Net.

Know them by their works

Do you believe that? I certainly see organizations that act as though they do. I recognize that many wonderful resources are only a few keystrokes away; freely-available text and video introductions to Python topics, for instance, are remarkable.

More than that, judging what training is worthwhile is a challenge. IT is a fashion industry more than you might realize, and plenty of IT managers give up on deciding between jQuery and React, let alone targeting fine distinctions of version and styles of usage.

At the same time, I see at least three under-appreciated reasons decision-makers should explicitly plan training for IT departments.

If you don't know where you are going ...

Stipulate that it's hard to make the right choices about what to learn. That means leadership is all the more important. An organization that leaves its sysadmins and programmers to pick up what they need on the street is likely to find even the most upright and best-intentioned employees prioritize what looks good on a résumé over what makes for reliable and manageable operations. An organization needs to trust its employees--but they deserve clarity from the employer in the latter's mission and methods.

Confidence isn't expertise

Imagine a department standardizes on specific technologies; pick HTML5 and CSS3/4 as instances. It's easy to find what one needs within those fields, right?

Plenty of people believe so. That doesn't make it true, though. Sobering counter-examples abound. In particular, "Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning" deserves to be required reading for us all. Careful social research reveals a profound divergence between consumers' comfort with on-line information sources, and their judgments about the accuracy of what they read. The "digital natives" of younger generations are, in the words of the researchers, particularly "easily duped." The consequence for IT: even a clear statement that HTML5 is a coding target leaves many contributors writing sincere but deeply flawed Web pages, in imitation of the bad tutorials those coders have found for themselves.

Soft skills

Left to themselves, many junior contributors assume that the skills they need are technical ones, and often techniques chosen from a narrow range: the hot technologies that other programmers or operators boast about using. Not only does this neglect fundamental but unsexy tools such as source-code management, SQL, and static artifact analyzers, but it entirely overlooks "soft skills". Plenty tech specialists, in fact, focus predominantly on soft skills when they report "Five Lessons I Learnt in 2016 ..." or "At a large company, most of the hardest problems are bureaucratic."


Does your organization seriously believe its workers are an "asset", in any constructive sense? If so, it better invest in planning what that asset learns, and spend enough to make sure the learning is worthwhile and sticks.

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