The Snowball Effect (or, how #GoTech came to be)

This morning an innocuous observation on Twitter sparked what would turn out to be (for me at least) a far-reaching discussion concerning the teaching of Information Technology and its related fields in New Zealand. For background, the statistics referred to by @littlehigh (Paul Reynolds, not the Telecom CEO) come from this NZ Herald article.

The following is something of a synopsis of the conversation to help people get on the same page – the take out on this is to lend YOUR expertise to the conversation and help us do what we, as an industry, can collaborate to entice new blood to join our ranks.

You can follow (the latter part of) this conversation via the tag #GoTech and see how things are progressing over on the GoTech website (thanks again to @SKnightly for setting this up)

The conversation started with a question asking if there was a need to get schools, politicians and the IT sector to get together to address the halving in numbers of IT graduate students over the past four years. Ben Young responded declaring the graduates need to turn into facilitators to make up the numbers and I joined in stating that prospective students need exposure to what else (other than code and screwdrivers) falls under the banner of IT, and asking for exciting stories. In parallel, Paul pretty much said the same thing.

The problem facing IT is the Geek Stereotype reinforces a sense of social awkwardness and places those in IT as outsiders. And, as Nat Torkington pointed out, the next generation is less likely to want to study IT and work for a living when society is pushing finance and real estate as the ‘easy money’ careers of choice. At about this point in the conversation, there were a couple of linking posts which drew in more of the NZ Twitter space and then things really took off.

Graduates are getting (or taking) more options in their education – more bachelor of Commerce students major in Computer Science and also take a business side to their degrees. The next evolution of quaternary production seems to be branching to both a knowledge and an ideas economy. For New Zealand to truly be successful in this space then, the whole education system needs an overhaul – currently, the focus is coming too late in the piece and looks only at Tertiary or Secondary schooling. Kids need to learn and understand programming – and they can be taught from a young age.

A bit of discussion ensued around the teaching of things ITish to primary school aged children, the result of which was – while some schools ‘get’ and embrace this, there is often little scope in the curriculum to provide this education and, teaching becoming what it has, if it’s not on the list it won’t or can’t be taught. Perseverance, patience and volunteering was the suggested approach to solving this immediate issue.

Given the noise this conversation was making in the NZ Twitter space, both Steven Knightly and Brett Roberts chimed in with suggestions of capturing these thoughts and a forum where some traction may be found.

The ‘capture this conversation’ branch subsequently went on to agree on #GoTech as a way to mark future discussions after dismissing words such as ‘Geek’ – After a bit of contention of course 🙂

The ‘what and where should NZ more to in IT’ conversation branch went on to cover such things as if we could or should try and compete against other coding countries, having a local team to implement ideas, outsourcing and/or working as part of a global team, perhaps leveraging New Zealands GMT+12 timezone difference with call centers or out of hours coding / SaaS fixes

And that is about where the conversation ended – we picked up some additional interest and offers of help to discuss and move these ideas along. The current feeling is that we need to address:

  • The audience and influencers (how and who we sell the message to)
  • The approach (current methods are just not working)
    • Getting in touch with schools, universities to visit and talk at career days etc. to highlight that there is more diversity to IT than programming and repair.
    • Anecdotal evidence from a recent graduate was 50% of his class dropped out because the content was boring and they couldn’t see the relevance, or be excited by the prospect of making IT a career.

So, where to from here? Well – the domain is setup, there is a forum currently available until the scope and direction is sorted so, respond there as I don’t want to fragment the discussion too much – so I’ll finish with by quoting the opening post on the GoTech forum from Steven Knightly:

The problem: The topic of the skills shortage in IT, engineering, technology, R&D in New Zealand has been going on for a while now, but is something that people in these industries feel passionately about. Yet the problem persists.  See the latest NZ Herald article ‘IT grads halved over last 4 years’‘.

What been done so far:

  • Some discussions about the issue on Twitter, agreeing that we need to share more real stories and reasons with people
  • The decision to use the #gotech tag to track great stories about real people with great technology careers
  • This domain and a TEMPORARY forum have been set up

Next steps/Discussion: What is the best tool to use for this website?  Sure, some of us can track discussion using #gotech tags in twitter and elsewhere, but not everyone can.  I reckon we need a website to a) allow people to post to directly, b) somehow track twitter and blog posts and aggregate them here.  I propose that this forum is only TEMPORARY, and be replaced by something better with your input.

How should this site be structured? Cool Tech Career Stories, Reasons/Arguments, The Problem, Resources (links for those that want to get into Tech)

How should this campaign roll out?  The campaign: #1 quickly agree how to structure this site, #2 brainstorm Stories & Reasons, #3 Vote for the Top 10 Stories & Reasons, #4 Challenge contributors and others to share that Top 10 with others (especially people borderline interested in tech).

My hat is off to the New Zealand Twitter community for getting behind a potential solution to a looming IT problem. Head over to the site and be part of the solution.

Edit: I do have a capture of all the Tweets which I saw around this subject if anyone thinks it’d be interesting to publish them for the sake of context.



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2 responses to “The Snowball Effect (or, how #GoTech came to be)”

  1. NZRob Avatar

    Hat tip to Brett Roberts who posted this entry on his blog relating to this issue.

  2. follower Avatar

    It was interesting this conversation happened in parallel to one on a local Christchurch mailing list that discussed the College of Computing at Hagley not running in 2009 due to low numbers.

    My two cents: I think a mailing list with an archive is a better venue for discussion than a forum–I like the content to come to me, not the other way round.