Is computer knowledge undervalued?

According to Bill Gates[1], IT skills are grossly underalued in business. BBC News reports that in a Microsoft survey, management types put computer skills in seventh place in their list of things that employees should be good at, well below such trivial matters as “teamwork”, “problem solving” and “flexibility”.

Now you might expect a notorious computer geek and Dilbert aficionado like me to be nodding at this and muttering about how silly those managers are, but you (like dear old Bill) would be wrong. “IT skills” are what people like me need. We’re the ones who install, support, maintain, fix, fiddle and plead with so that the people carrying out those lovely core business activities (you know, the stuff that makes the money that we get to spend on new toys vital business systems) can get on with doing what they’re paid for.

People need to know how to use the tools required for their jobs – for a lot of people, that will mean using computers. But the skills they need are not really “IT” skills. They’re analytical skills, communication skills, and all the other stuff that they’re supposed to have. Saying that the average worker needs “IT skills” is like saying the average driver needs to know how to replace the engine in his car.

If IT is done right, it becomes pretty much invisible[2]. For “normal” people, it’s just the way they need to work these days. The tools may be different, but for many professions the real skills and knowledge required are much the same as they’ve been for many years, way back when the most technological thing in the office was a manual typewriter. Suggesting that everyone needs to be trained in something called IT jsut adds a layer of confusion to people’s lives. Give people the tools they need to do their jobs, and make sure those tools work.

And that concludes this month’s serious post.

[1] Chairman of Microsoft or Prince of Darkness, depending on your perspective.
[2] Like IT people…