Patrick Booth: Technology makes tech roles obsolete Credit: Image credit: wistechcolleges via Flickr
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Patrick Booth: Technology makes tech roles obsolete

Big data makes many traditional technology roles obsolete, argues Patrick Booth, Talend’s VP of UK and Ireland in the short lightly edited Q&A below. This may be the standard fear about automation but what does it mean for data roles, tomorrow’s jobs and the IT skills gap?

 

What does the shortage of technical specialists and engineers mean?

At Talend we see this problem differently from many other businesses. In fact, skills shortages present an opportunity for us because Talend’s solutions are designed to address this very situation.

Look at the rapid growth of big data. If you try to run that environment using traditional tools and hand coding, it’s just completely unscalable, expensive and needs many resources to make it work.

Talend offers a tool-based environment and behind that some incredibly smart technology with built in data integration. So you can do much more with fewer people. The fact that there’s not enough skilled people just improves the market for us.

 

Do you think the situation is worse in some countries than in others?

We are faced with technologies that evolve quickly so most countries are facing very similar challenges. The UK is an innovative place so there are bound to be skills shortages, but that’s because there are always fewer people at the cutting edge. Other countries where there’s no strong IT legacy or history of training people, will also find the problem more acute.

 

Many people are expressing concern about a skills shortage, but what can the industry as whole do to fix it?

Over the years, the industry has always used technology to accelerate how it is being used by businesses. If you go back to when everybody used mainframes, they used to hand-code all their own application software; everyone wrote their own system.

Then it became more effective to have companies such as SAP and others build the application. But then what you don’t do is use resources to actually tailor a standard package. You don’t get an organisation managing data in databases – you build a whole range of products to manage it or instead of managing one organisation’s security you find a way to manage tens of thousands of security profiles in one go. The industry has always had to use technology to address the issues of scalability. Now it’s about putting skills, expertise and experience at the right place -into products.

Need a crisper message here. Software has always been used to allow companies to exploit Moore’s law, where storage and compute power have increased exponentially. For example, people use packaged applications and business intelligence platforms rather than code everything from scratch. There would simply not be enough skilled people to hand-code, manage and maintain systems if they did. The same applies when managing data in a data driven company – you need a trusted, scalable data fabric platform to manage the huge scale and complexity of the data, and in real-time.

 

How can we prepare young people for future jobs when we don’t know that they will be?

This is a really interesting question. My oldest will be 16 soon; I am relatively tech-savvy, but I know who teaches who when it comes to technology.

It was only around 10 years ago when parents were pushing for their children to have laptops and to learn how to use them because IT was where the jobs were. But actually, that was all a bit of a waste of time. At the level of those coming up through education now, we really don’t have to worry about their familiarity with technology - what we do need to make sure that the technology that they are going to be using has that degree of usability to it.

This goes back to what I said before. If people are leaving university to write complex code then you are still going to have skill shortages. In an environment where people are using tools with relatively familiar interfaces to do these things, they can do whatever they want to do.

Young people also need to be taught critical thinking not just learning by rote, so they can work out their own answers.

 

Do you struggle to find the right kind of data specialists?

I think that because our world is actually very innovative, especially around big data, we are creating new challenges and experiences that people just wouldn’t have had a few years ago. So, by definition there are fewer people at the cutting edge, because it’s a new thing. Big data has changed over the last three years – and will do again in the future, so the skills needed are changing all the time. We are helping people focus on the data rather than the complexity and diversity of the underlying systems that hold the data.

 

What do people most misunderstand about data roles?

I think that most of the general principals of working with data are relatively straightforward, but data has risen in importance. There’s an increasing demand from businesses that recognise they need fast access to the right data for agility to transform their businesses, so it’s now a strategic ‘must have’ rather than a ‘nice to have’ and this must be reflected in the roles.

So rather than a misunderstanding, it’s more of a lack of awareness. We used to say, for example, that retail banks were really just data processing computer systems with some high street branches attached. Back then, the data processing was the business. It’s the same now but with many more sources and dimensions of data which need to be managed and understood. So now it’s so much more - efficiency, customer service, competitiveness, marketing, compliance, fraud reduction and innovation for example.

 

What kind of skills do you think will be most valuable for the future?

We need more IT people with business skills and vice versa – the gap between IT teams and business shouldn’t get any wider. Businesses need to have a deeper understanding about how technology and data can be used strategically.

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Kathryn Cave

Editor at IDG Connect

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