Gearing up for the new generation of IT skills

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January 5, 2015 12:32 AM

The focus of educational institutions has to shift from mass output of potential coders to niche programming talent with the new skills in demand...

India has managed to build a $120 billion software industry from scratch over the last 30 years. This stupendous success has been feasible due to the early founders of this industry recognising the importance and the opportunity for skills in programming. The resource intensive and huge scale of demand to cope with myriad opportunities for computerisation of records and transactions in the initial decade, to the next phase witnessing networked environment and globalisation of information access fuelled by proliferation of Internet has resulted in the demand for more variety and sophistication for relevant programming skills over the years.

The lack of aptitude for such jobs in large numbers and the resultant shortage of such skills in the western countries proved to be a great opportunity for India to scale the software industry rapidly with the support of large number of educational institutions coming forward to offer programmes in computer science. This boon, which catapulted the nation to taking up an irreversible position of advantage with the Y2k phenomenon, resulted in the creation of an average 150,000 new jobs and about 600,000 indirect jobs  in other sectors such as real estate, hospitality, automobile, FMCG, educational institutions and others each year, for the last 10 years. The question to be asked now is, whether this trend will continue in the next decade and more importantly, is there a continuous opportunity to multiply these jobs in the IT industry and proliferate the success to cover larger parts of the country.

To answer this question, we have to examine the dynamics at work in the traditional bastion of application development which has been the reservoir for job creation for the industry. Over the decades with the maturity in the industry, processes becoming more standardised, reusable library of codes being accessible and several innovative tools being developed to reduce time and cost in developing large systems, resource intensive programming processes are giving way to automation led programming systems. This trend will continue in the coming decades and will impact the demand for software programmers.

The rate of growth in the demand for software programmers is not likely to keep pace with the overall growth for software applications due to high rate of automation. Demand will shift to the need for lesser number of programmers but with a sound foundation in programming construct, familiarity with automation tools and skills to create precision driven secure systems. We are already saddled with the problem of not more than 15 to 20% of engineering talent meeting the industry requirements. Further to this, with the emerging demand pattern for the new age programmers, the focus of educational institutions has to shift from mass output of potential coders to niche programming talent with the new skills in demand.

Developing applications is no longer a pure play technical task. With the emergence of multiple devices, form factors and customer experience are the additional elements that form a part of the system development approach. Thus application development would become more and more centered around continuously understanding and enhancing human-machine interfaces. Therefore the study of computer science has to be integrated with subjects such as psychology, design, user interfaces, fine arts, security and the construct of devices. Merely introducing these subjects will not suffice, it is necessary to cue the student to think and integrate the principles of humanities into the core of computer science in
order to make their programming efforts a success.

The other strand of opportunity lies in analytics with the volume and complexity of data increasing by the day for each business. Instead of fulfilling the demand of the industry primarily through computer science and engineering programmes, there is a huge opportunity for creating interest among the youth in core subjects such as mathematics, statistics, econometrics and commerce as there would be an increasing demand for what if scenarios, virtualisation and projections based on modelling and simulations of data very specific to domains and businesses. Thus familiarity with the business domain along with exposure to the tools available to extract relevant data and data interpretation are the skills that would be in demand.

With the increasing demand patterns for diverse and unique skills to be brought together for the purpose of a project from within the organisation or tapped on demand from outside, the role of project manager will become more crucial and thus project management capability will remain in demand for a long time to come.

Internet of Things (IoT) is the other emerging area which has the potential to inject new energy in the study of every discipline of engineering studies. Study of social media and creating the competencies to extract the most out of this medium for business benefit would be another area that would be hugely in demand. From being a mere fun tool, social media has now become central to the business strategy for growing and influencing the customer database. Therefore a comprehensive study in social media aimed at becoming social media specialists—as artists, scientists and technologists would be required to be planned.

In order to continue to keep pace with the industry trends and the requirement for talent, academic curriculum should be redesigned to cover the new areas. The general computer science curriculum has to be broad-based to include the specialist skills outlined. Continued success and preeminent position in the global software arena for the Indian IT industry hinges on the availability of the talent pool that is rightly skilled. The demand shift from just programming talent to a whole range of specialist skills is a great opportunity for academic institutions to diversify and for the youth with interest and aptitude in a variety of subjects to build successful careers aligned with the growth trajectory of the software industry.

In order to take advantage of the exciting opportunities that the digital world is throwing up, understanding of industry trends and speed and innovation in curriculum design and implementation would be the critical success factors.

The writer is CEO, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions company.

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