The digital economy has the potential to open up opportunities for millions. This reality has become possible only in the last few years.
When I entered the IT industry in the 1990’s, the market was much different than today. The world-wide-web existed but companies really had not adopted it yet. Enterprise software and corporate IT were surrounded by high walls. You needed CS degrees, expensive certifications and software licenses just to “learn”. This put individuals in a catch 22: you needed employer sponsorship to support the learning; you needed the learning to support getting a job with the employer.
Walls started to crumble
I distinctly remember the first big crack in the wall came with the Y2K crisis. At that time, every company needed an army of COBOL and RGB programmers. They also needed people to replace the networking equipment and servers that their companies were buying while the tax benefits were good. DeVry and Chubb jumped in and offered affordable apprentice-style IT training programs for people who would have been locked out of the new economy. This provided the ability to get a decent paying tech job. I have many friends who went through those programs. They are still thriving in well paying IT jobs today.
The crack became a bigger hole with expansion of the world wide web and the availability of more open source programming languages and numerous online training sites. Within 10 years, it broke wide open: general purpose web collaboration tools like Youtube and Github and made it free to learn any technology you wished. Getting matched to opportunities that knew you could apply the skills was still the rub though.
I have been blessed with a prosperous career in I/T, tech, digital (call it what you wish). I’ve met countless folks whose Computer Science degrees offered zero preparation for the development of business applications and websites that awaited them. When asked, they typically give a common set of answers about what would have helped them:
- Real problems to solve
- An opportunity to learn directly from other people
- Ability to learn on the job
- Subsidy of their education so they should put more time into their jobs instead of worrying about tuition bills
New opportunities for everyday people
I’m encouraged by a new generation of firms that facilitate apprenticeship, particularly in geographies not necessarily blessed with a large number of firms to drive mass employment. It will be exciting to watch how firms like Techtonic and Catalyte can build talent pools of hard working Americans in locations were you can afford to live well at a fraction of coastal housing prices.