Archive for March 2012

Why Don’t We Train…? (yet another entry)

March 18, 2012

It seems that I’m not alone in my concern for our industry re: training programs (at every level).

Rob Preston (VP and Editor-in-Chief, Information Week) is the latest astute observer to challenge our institutional neglect of All Things Educational.  Responding to the oft-heard complaint that skilled workers are hard to find, the eminent Mr. Preston rightly points his editorial finger back at the executives who moan-and-groan about the skills shortage yet fail to fund training budgets and/or support career development plans for their current employees.  From his February 29 editorial (http://tiny.cc/ytcdbw)

If “people are our most important resource,” as employers are wont to proclaim, why do most of them expect this precious asset to show up gift wrapped on day one, and to increase in value with little effort on their part? In InformationWeek‘s most recent IT Salary Survey, whose full results we’ll release in April, only 28% of the 13,880 IT pros we polled said they expect to receive additional education or training as one of their employee benefits this year.

Something’s wrong here, and it has nothing to do with a skills shortage.

My experience, as the readers of this occasional blog already know, has focused on a sub-set of this issue: the paucity of consistent management training in an industry that cherishes technical skills but is confounded by the inability of supervisors to adequately manage those that have them.   Mr. Preston’s over-arching sermon equally applies to leadership:  good managers do not “grow on trees” nor are they miraculous fruit from profitable company orchards.  While some of us have greatly benefited from an association with management excellence in our careers and have learned by modeling those behaviors, the great majority of technology managers stumble through their crisis-ridden workdays, wondering (sometimes aloud) why tech teams (projects/schedules) go so stunningly awry.

One engineering manager recently told me, “I’ve never been coached,” and his supervising director sidestepped his responsibility by confirming that he had never attended any trainings, either.  “We learn by making mistakes,” he said unapologetically. 

In another department of the same company, I asked a 9-person management team (averaging 5+ years in their current role) if anyone could identify the 3 primary decision-making methodologies, and when each was appropriate.  No one could answer the question, nor could their COO – in fact, the only person in that company (as I expanded my inquiry) who knew the answer explained that she was previously a lawyer and prepared for her interview by reading a Gartner article.

15 year-old students are given a Driver’s Handbook. 

17 year-old grocery clerks understand prioritization when they re-arrange cereal boxes for maximum sales. 

Even young Little League umpires are matched with a volunteer mentor in their first season wearing blue. 

And yet, we’re likely to promote our most senior technologist (whether or not they aspire toward management) to leadership positions on the assumption that peer respect can alchemically transform new managers into sound business decision-makers.  And we wonder why so many projects are late, so many products have bugs, and so many startups fail within 24 months.

As with any profession, management in a technology environment has a set of skills (i.e., learned behaviors) and our literature is replete with lists and guides and handbooks that go largely unread because every new manager is thrown into the fray without time to learn, even if they are motivated/inclined to do so. 

I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that a country in which the quality of public education is at an all-time low, and in a state (California, for those readers elsewhere) in which education funding has been dramatically reduced for twenty years, businesses also reflect this short-sighted disregard.  But as Rob Preston as scolded, there is something quite wrong with this disregard for training (at all levels). 

And it has nothing to do with a skills shortage.