I was recently asked to talk to a group of parents and students who are currently completing a one year IT course. The topic of discussion was mainly around whether the students should choose between completing the networking or programming track. One of my colleagues discussed networking while I focussed on programming. The talk was held in front of around 40 parents and students, with ample opportunity for questions.
The talk turned into a slight debate between my colleague and myself. The reason for the debate was surrounding the levels of success achieved in the IT Industry based only on completing the courses and more importantly the writing of exams. Although in principle I agree with my colleague, who is in itself very passionate about the industry and is also very successful within it, I couldn’t help but wonder how much of what we discussed during the talk was pie in the sky and how much was truly real.
I have been a long time activist around the topic of academic achievement. The IT industry in South Africa is full of young students, who leave school and study IT because of the misconception that the IT industry is a get quick rich scheme. I find it ironic that 15 years down the line it has joined a place of importance next to careers in Law, Medical and Business Management. The one item of debate was how quickly you can earn a proper salary, and for me this is an unnecessary thorn in my side. Especially considering that most students leaving tertiary education never end up working in the IT Industry.
I studied when I left school, but failed my first year at tertiary education and ended up working full-time for a small retail store in my hometown. My time there was a massively important learning experience, as my love and passion for the IT industry was well cemented by the time I left. Over the last 14 years I evolved in all major fields of IT, including sales, support, networking, programming and now training. During that time I have had exposure to various technology stacks and honed my skills by applying myself to everything I could learn while working.
However all of this came at a price. 18 hour working dates was the norm, not the exception. My personal life was none existent and my family was always at the bottom of the list of responsibilities. In return for these sacrifices financial gain was also not impressive, with a good 5 year gap of my life never seeing an increase or bonus of any kind. Looking back I had often wondered why I was doing what I was for the money I was earning, and rather jealously looking at some of my then peers and colleagues wondering why I couldn’t be in their shoes.
About 2 years ago the picture changed, when a company hired me based on my experience and knowledge, offered a descent salary package and provided with all the required tools to continue growing as a person and within my field. I have since also become extremely passionate about the IT community, becoming involved in as many user groups and academic drives I can find, and trying to guide students and industry professionals through the interesting and exciting world of IT, while at the same time remaining honest and impartial to the false pretences set by those with no understanding of the industry.
As I listened and took part in the talk it came to me that the only place I have to compare is my own experiences, completely different from any of my colleagues. I was left in the process of attempting to convince these students of what choice to make, wondering whether the quick growth of the industry, and the perception created by community members like myself, is in the end not the exact reason students enter the IT field, believing that the successful public figures in the industry is the norm, rather than the exception.
In this process, am I, through my involvement and interaction, not just adding more fuel to an empty and false perception of one of the most exciting industries in the world?