Written by Jeremiah Chienda (Senior Developer at Digital Arts Malawi)
In a world where Technology is increasingly permeating every facet of society, you would think that the private sector would be all too eager to partner with IT professionals for profit maximization and innovation. Well, you would be wrong if you applied such reasoning to my home country of Malawi.
Here, it feels like the divide between business and technology is getting even wider. They, the fancy suited Vic Avenue Executives in their lofty boardrooms, delivering keynotes on a next-gen iPad Air and us, the technicians, locked up somewhere in a cold, poorly ventilated part of the company HQ – sharing the same value as the computers we serve.
Indeed, no one is spared – from Software Developer to System Administrator; Network Engineer to Data Analyst. It is probably only the IT/Project Managers that are treated with the respect that the field demands. Yet even among them, you will hear stories about how, during the last Senior Management Meeting, IT was given the least decision-making power.
And then you swipe your phone and look at news headlines elsewhere. You see the vast adoption, the almost popularization of all things Computer Science. You see the White House working together with Silicon Valley to improve public service delivery. You see Governments the world over encouraging Computer Programming to be taught in school as fundamentally as Mathematics and Language. You see Financial Districts as tech savvy as basement Start-ups. You see companies not only filling up a CIO role, but two of them – one Information, and another Innovation Officer. You look close enough and you see an emerging pattern – innovate or die!
Let’s come back home, where your Software Development Manager reports to the Head of Finance. Isn’t it ironic that the same banks that are laying off people in the name of cost-cutting fail to adopt the computational potential at their disposal that can help them achieve more optimized methods of running the business? Do we not train talented Mathematicians who can solve fundamental business problems such as fraud detection? Do we not have skilled Statisticians who can work hand in hand with Programmers to provide insightful predictive analysis of our markets, tobacco and otherwise? Surely the E-Class-driving Chief [insert fancy business title here] Officers should know about this, right? Or should they?
I think it is easy for the IT professional to shift the blame. I do agree that a good number of our board chairs are unaware of the real potential of IT and Computer Science. I also agree that a few of them are apathetic, almost dismissing of its disruptive nature. And so they are more comfortable with viewing us merely as managers of machines, rather than innovators: modern oracles that need to work hand in hand with the business, instead of merely reporting to it.
Dear Head of Finance, we feel hurt by this demeaning. Many of us cannot speak (I am not even sure you listen to our proposals during meetings). And those of us who can simply have too much to lose.
So our colleagues lower in the ranks feel betrayed that their four years of mastering Garbage Collection in C++ or the TCP/IP layer, are reduced to configuring Microsoft Outlook for your secretary.
But I don’t blame you entirely, Mr. CFO. I think the huge problem lies in the Malawian ICT profession itself. For start, we simply aren’t organized. We do have professional groups, and I can say now that they are trying to clean up shop. But let’s face it: there is too much division within the ICT community. We lack singularity and standardization without which the discipline can never be taken seriously. Look at our friends in accounting, law, medicine. These guys swear by their profession. And we? We are happy with anyone calling themselves an [ICT Specialization] Engineer willy-nilly.
Should it be the responsibility of Business to enforce a Software Acceptance Testing Strategy for us? Should they really be the ones pushing us for Network Performance Analytics? Where is the ethics in ICT? What are the rights, procedures, or policies that we are guided by? And more importantly, do we adhere to them? It is our responsibility to take ourselves seriously. Until we are comfortable with paying substantial Association subscription fees, we will not be motivated to meet as an industry. We will fail to enforce International Standards and to create ICT Frameworks that other professionals can look at and use in their understanding of how things ought to be done.
Until then, we will continue to see IT tenders in the newspapers, whose requirements are so outdated that they make you cringe when preparing your bid. We will continue to see IT vacancies from big companies where the roles to be performed are inefficient at best, and simply irrelevant on average.
So, dear IT professional, the ball is in your presently working directory. It is up to you to put some respect on your name. Become Internationally Certified. Actively contribute to Open Source Projects. Participate in your local Associations. Establish Meetups and Technical Conferences. Compete in the global market. Or be satisfied with being the company “cable guy”. Even the Good Book tells us that a house divided against itself cannot stand. And on that note: Happy New Year!