Can 'Geek Chic' Help Reverse IT Staffing Shortage?

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Many folks in the technology industry have the same low opinion of CNN commentator Lou Dobbs as Dobbs has of offshoring.


In a MercuryNews.com article, Phil Bond, president and CEO of the Information Technology Association of America, singles Dobbs out by name. In it, Bond says pundits like Dobbs have helped create a negative -- and erroneous -- impression of dim prospects for folks pursuing careers in IT.


Many companies are actually adding IT staff in a job market that a Robert Half Technology VP says is "as healthy as it's been in a while," with 14 percent of CIOs saying they'd like to bring on new hires this quarter, Baseline reports.


Such healthy hiring, combined with a steep decline in enrollment in college computer sciences courses, is creating a shortage that has companies and professional organizations scrambling for ideas on how to attract more young folks to the field. e-skills UK, for example, is launching an initiative called Revitalize IT, according to silicon.com. The association hopes to encourage pro-IT attitudes among young people and to promote closer relationships between tech companies and universities.


The problem with such well-meaning efforts, opines Bond in the MercuryNews.com article, is that they are "almost unavoidably un-hip." He offers a more novel suggestion: Offer a $1 million prize to the middle-schooler that can come up with the best idea to interest his peers in math and science. Make sure he or she uses video to sell the idea, so it can be disseminated on YouTube, MySpace and all of the other sites cool enough to appeal to young people.


Bond even has a patron in mind to fund this initiative: Google, of course. After all, he writes, "if (it) can find $30 million to help launch the next moon shot. ..."


Oddly enough, network TV executives -- a group not exactly known for their hipness -- may have beaten the teens to the punch. "Geeks are the new cool," says an NBC Entertainment executive vice president in a recent Wired story.


NBC has what the story calls "perhaps the most hotly anticipated, new geek TV show" in this fall's lineup with "Chuck," a sitcom whose protagonist is a computer nerd. Among the new shows featuring similarly geeky characters are "The Big Bang Theory" on CBS and "The IT Crowd," a British show expected to migrate to the United States.