Humans turning robotic – robots becoming human

I enjoyed being part of an engaging panel session at the CompTIA Annual Member & Partner Conference in London where we talked about skills and employability, and how employers continue to struggle to find the people to meet their needs.

Well how about the baby boomers (born 1946-1964) and Generation X (born 1965-1976)? We have the time, wherewithal and the experience, and more often than not the resilience to compete. That determination is manifesting itself by standing our ground – we won’t give in easily, to age or to retirement plus we can handle the demands placed on us.

I suppose technology isn’t helping us, but is it really tech’s fault? Haven’t we brought this on ourselves? Are we just obsessed with being online and staying connected for more and more hours throughout the day, waking at 4am for a sneak peek at email and responding to the last of the day’s messages with drooping eyelids 20 hours later? Moreover, if you are in a business that covers all time-zones of the world, does it ever stop?

We need to remind ourselves what humans are good at and take a good look at the work and roles that machines cannot do as well as humans in future. We need to reassert and take control, yet isn’t it ironic that we have become robotic in automating our lives, at precisely the time that robots endeavour to become more human.

A 3-layer cake worth sharing

cakeI recently returned from participating on a global advisory board on education and certification and we debated not just the future but how we can pin it down long enough to be able to describe it and build a strategy around it.

Tech refuses to stand still and while it isn’t quite the bedlam that the comedy series Silicon Valley portrays, it isn’t a million miles away. On my journey back I deliberated and concluded one thing for certain – the larger the audience we try to reach, the simpler the message has to be, otherwise it flies over our heads along with the rest of the information box labelled “overload.”

So what is the next wave? I summarised it as a 3-layer cake with all manner of ingredients built around intelligence, security and people.

The first, top layer, a segment called ‘intelligence,’ is the topping that will propel us into creative new spaces – AI, AR, VR, 3D, (already too many acronyms), drones, robots and my favourite internet of things. This will lead us towards everything cloud, everything connected and everything mobile.

The foundation or base is the security that will be necessary to hold things together, protect the safe business transition to the above and without which we can expect a myriad of challenges that could well hold back progress.

The flavouring in the middle, always the best bit, is where we come in – the people and the skills that underpin the change, the brainpower to drive it forward and the mindfulness to ensure things are done correctly, competitively and for the long-term.

The daily treadmill – getting back our time

Many people are commenting on the future of email this week, predicting it’s slowdown and demise. Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook fame, declared that “we don’t think a modern messaging system is going to be email.”

Technology has increased the pace of everything. We are never offline and once we get on that treadmill, we cannot stand still. If we stop for a moment, we invariably go backwards. But whilst it needs to slow down and we need time to think and reflect, I do agree with him. Email is growing largely due to the sheer volume of new users in Asia, but for the younger demographic, email doesn’t cut it. Our kids want something faster and easier than e-mail and amongst teenagers email usage is down 59%. How often do you see kids wandering with heads down clicking away on Blackberry Messenger?

As most people know, I am a big supporter of giving youngsters a chance. At a recent event in Brussels at the EU, a minister said if every small business employed one person we would have no unemployment problem. Easier said than done of course, but I took on a few apprentices/interns at CompTIA and it made a difference. What’s more, I unearthed a couple of real diamonds with great futures ahead of them, just buy committing to giving somebody a chance. We should all do it – it is very rewarding.

A bigger issue I have, however, is these kids and their career choices. We are too easily led by the glitz and the glory of TV fame, and it is unrealistic. 25 years ago, the three primary career choices were Teacher, Banker and Doctor; today, they are Sports Star, Pop Star and Actor. This is the X-Factor generation and there will be a lot of disappointed young people out there.

Now I love technology and continue to take an interest in its evolution. More notably, since I resigned from my current role at CompTIA (my favourite place of work to date), I have had a couple of weeks to do things for myself and email has reduced to a trickle. What a joy! How I have used my time has opened my eyes to how we should work, think and be creative ordinarily. We should not have to stop work to get access to this quality time but factor it into our daily routines – I for one will be doing this at Pearson when I join.

Inspiration with Zenos

As a young man growing up, I followed many sports stars – Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalgish, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, but my sporting inspiration was Zinedine Zidane. He was so naturally gifted and so intelligent with the ball. This week, I found inspiration not with footballers, but at youngsters no more than 18 years old who won the apprentice of the year awards at the Zenos annual conference, where I also had the pleasure of presenting my view on the ‘Evolution of IT, Jobs and Learning’.

Zenos is a quite amazing company. 400 staff, mostly young and very dynamic, but what really stands out is the camaraderie, the culture and the ethos that drives this team of people led by Jason Moss and his management team. They live to help the next generation acquire the skills that will set them on the road to a new chapter in their lives, a career IT.

I selected Ashleigh Carr as the Zenos-CompTIA apprentice of the year.  He is 18 years-old. He has Crohn’s disease. Our CompTIA A+ certification helped him find himself and a job at the Royal Bank of Scotland in IT Support. Most of 400+ audience were in tears as I presented the award to him (and we gave Ashleigh a 3D LED TV as a cool gift to go along with his award). We must never forget, this is why we exist, helping Ashleigh and others like him to get a job and make progress in the world of technology.

I will always love football, basketball and most other sports, and I will always enjoy watching the best talent grace our stadia. But this week has taught me that our inspiration comes from these youngsters, who overcome adversity to achieve results and aim high, and get the jobs they apply for. If that is our future, there is hope. Presenting at Zenos this week, and handing out this award, was my finest hour at CompTIA. Thank you Jason, Claire, Nicky, Richard and all the fantastic Zenos team.

The routes into IT

The problem with IT’s image is not just that the opportunities aren’t well represented, but also that routes in are poorly understood. People assume they need an IT degree, then hear that lots of IT graduates (amongst other graduates) are struggling to find jobs.

I believe the focus on academia is misplaced for IT. IT degrees are good for some but are not the only way. For many organisations, hands on experience gained through IT trainers (eg QA, Just IT, Firebrand, Zenos) and backed by industry certifications count for much more.

CompTIA designs certifications with industry to identify the skills they need. Companies such as Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, etc, take much the same approach. Students we speak to who take certifications, such as CompTIA A+ followed by their vendor certification of choice, consistently land rewarding jobs.

When discussing IT careers – in IT lessons, careers advice sessions or the media – we should be clearer about how students can get in, and shift the focus away from IT degrees as the de facto route. This may work to our advantage – as education costs soar, a professional career with a recognised industry certification track may become very attractive.

Furthermore, we’d like to see this real-world focused approach throughout IT education, particularly GCSEs and beyond. We need to teach IT in a practical, exciting way which relates to how it is used in real life, as the aforementioned IT trainers do with great success. This will not only inspire more young people into IT and increase understanding of how to get there, it will also ensure they have the skills to get the jobs they want.

CompTIA has just completed a guide which hopes to help young people understand the many exciting options that a career in IT offers and can be viewed here. This blog post first appeared in Computer Weekly magazine.

Community update

CompTIA UK hosted our UK Channel Community last Thursday at the ICC in Birmingham and most of us agreed it was the best meeting to date.

A community operates differently. Whilst sometimes tempted to dictate the run of play, it was more productive and more satisfying to see members of the community step up and take the lead at different times during the session, each adding their own nugget of value to the collective. Our chair, IT consultant Richard Tubb, is well respected by all, and his effortless leadership ensured everybody in the room was included, particularly with the ‘30-second Best Practice’ session, now an institution at these meetings. Adam Harris launched the legal resource centre and shared why we localised it for the benefit of our UK members, and vice-chair Lee Evans, owner of Vital Technology Group, updated the delegates on the Quality Mark we are working on.

It was also pleasing to see some new faces take the stage, such Les Billing from HMD Electronics, who led the update on the Vendor Resources Portal and my favourite session of the day, ‘Connecting with Customers’ presented by Gareth Brown, MD of Sytec. Gareth told us that simplicity is the key for customers; that we often talk in our own ‘IT language’ which customers don’t understand, and how great it was to see his company’s mantra – “We Fix IT” – get a great response from the group. This was my biggest take-away from the day: all of us must “de-jargonise” and “de-fluff” our services when we market, and talk to, customers. Great phrases!

The most fulfilling piece of all however, was seeing the members come together, engage in conversation, laugh out loud, talk about the markets, economy and trends, even about their cars, but most importantly build connections and enhance the community.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and sometimes the beauty is just to step back from the conversation and watch the magic happen.

Everyone should be a part of IT

Carlota Perez, leading economist at Cambridge University and an expert in global techno-economic paradigm shifts, explains that every 70 years, a disruptive technology emerges that alters the foundations of the economy. The 5 ages of transformation to date include the industrial revolution; the age of steam and railways; the age of steel, electricity and heavy engineering; the age of oil, cars and mass production; and the age of information and telecommunications.

It interests me to see the technology changing so much and so fast. Will technology ever reach a settling point or just continue to evolve ad infinitum; it cannot be too long before it becomes a utility much like electricity and gas, and I can see just one global and seamless wireless network where every device we purchase is connected.

Technology has been a catalyst for taking away precious time – by being better connected we are working longer hours. On the train to London this week I counted as many people on their smart devices as those reading or sleeping and you can just see the frustration as we travelled through a tunnel and they lost connectivity! I look forward to when my fridge has sensors and RFID chips embedded in its doors that recognise when I am out of bread and milk and can order it on my behalf, when my camera (or phone) automatically uploads my photos to my piece of the Cloud immediately as I am taking them and my casserole tells me which ingredients go next into the pan – all so I can get back some of the previous time that technology has taken away in the first place!

So where has the week raced away to exactly? It included a long trip to South Africa for the CompTIA member conference in Johannesburg, a great networking and education event for the leading IT vendors and training companies, and then swiftly back again to host meetings with some of our largest partnerships in Europe: Zenos, the UK’s leading IT apprenticeship provider, the Oxford and Cambridge examinations board (OCR) and Intel. Intel are diversifying into some cool new areas, look forward to seeing more of that. Is there a connection between the people I met this week, regardless of location and business focus – there clearly is. Each party is looking for ways to improve the skills of their staff, customers and partners to differentiate them in the workplace. Technology appears to be accelerating change, and yet we don’t have the skills we need to even keep pace with the demands. There is a common recognition that unless we have the skilled people in place to manage and develop this technology, and to put it to effective use, we may not get the best out of it from all quarters, and quite possibly never get the time back that so many people crave.

The two fellows in this picture were idling away in the sunshine at the Lion & Rhino Park in Johannesburg earlier this week – not a care in the world as we drove past. I wonder if they heard about Steve Jobs’ announcement of the iCloud! 

CompTIA Member Conference

Strange feeling you get when an event is over for another year. All the build up and hard work, I didn’t want it to end. Our CompTIA Member Conference 2010 was a success. Great people, great exchange and great networking. To see 400 delegates work the floor, make new contacts and engage in conversation made me very proud. Our role at CompTIA is all about bringing the IT community together, to learn, network, engage and explore, and I felt we achieved that. Lots of focused roundtables and panel sessions with real quality and industry expertise. My personal highlight was the brilliant keynote presentation by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, peppered with humour, ace delivery and the very best in storytelling.

CompTIA Breakaway 2010

The 2010 Breakaway conference is almost at an end. What a great event. More than 1,000 participants, very good speakers, great entertainment (especially Tuesday-night rodeo) and a high-quality industry awards dinner. The theme of course was technology – trends, products, an emphasis on IT healthcare – but it was that old chestnut that won the day for me, people. When you get people face-to-face to talk, network and do business, the dynamic is incomparable.

Chicago Week

Facilitated the global sales meeting in Chicago this week. Lots of creative ideas, dialogue and exchange by a team of people who flew in from 10 regions around the world to strategise and focus activities for the rest of the year. Marketing, events for our members, product strategies and social media were the highlight of the week. Pictures above contrast a team concentrating on the sessions during the day and a night out at the United Centre seeing the Chicago Bulls play Utah Jazz one evening. A very satisfying week.