Weekly Word on the Street: White House Wants Tech Innovators

by Jim Staats | May 25, 2012
Takeaway of the week is a clarion call for the IT pro who never sleeps on what he or she knows amid an always changing technical landscape - and that goes all the way to the CIO. Who knows, show your tech skills and you could even end up in the White House.

Constant Learning Curve for IT Pros

Given the ever-expanding reach of technology, the smart IT professional will seek out ways to expand skill sets in comparable measures, says one industry veteran.

While the IT job market is doing somewhat better than other industries these days, executive Jim Ditmore notes in a recent commentary piece for InformationWeek that amid the rise of mobility and big data, it will be the individuals with a constant thirst for knowledge who will succeed.

"An IT engineer or manager who not only understands these new technologies but also can deliver solutions in complex business settings is far more valuable than an expert focused on one aspect of the technology portfolio," said Ditmore, CIO of Barclays Global Retail Bank.

Ditmore advised junior staff to take training to earn fundamental certifications while seeking out specific areas of expertise. Mid-level staffers, Ditmore said, should consider personal goals in deciding which technical areas to build upon while laying the groundwork for a good internal reputation.

Senior staffers should already have a solid foundation and path to either CIO or principal engineer status, but can always build upon ways to become an effective leader.

"Even in this tough economy, opportunities abound for those with outstanding skills, experience, and leadership," Ditmore said.

White House as Tech Incubator?

Sure, as has been noted in this space before, startups are percolating in Silicon Valley and burgeoning tech hotspots such as New York remain scorching, but what about the seat of the U.S government as tech mecca, luring talented superstars?

The White House going all in for super startup staffers is the goal of the recently launched digital roadmap and Presidential Innovation Fellows program announced this week by the government's top techie, according to an item on GigaOM.

U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park called out for "badass innovators" interested in "throwing their hats in the ring" for a select group of 15 coders, designers and other innovators for six- to 12-month fellowships in DC starting in July.

Five areas will be the main focus of the fellowship: open data, health information, the online system of MyGov, an RFP program targeting startups and a USAID campaign.

The announcement, made as part of the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in New York, underscores the government's focus to put technology to better use. An additional hope is that such efforts help the government work better with small, high-growth startups on tech solutions.

CIOs Must Balance Business and Technology Roles

Sure, it's more helpful in this era of fingertip availability of consumer data to be business savvy, but CIOs cannot risk going this direction at the expense of their technology roots, according to a consulting executive.

In a piece for CIO.com, Bernard Golden, head of cloud computing and virtualization consulting firm HyperStratus, counters the recent notion that future heads of IT will devote the majority of their time to marketing and finance matters over technology needs.

Golden said many of those describing this premise are under the assumption that technology will become so standardized and insignificant that it can be treated like any other area of a business. A vision, he suggests, that is shortsighted.

"Technical skills in IT management are important today like never before -- and that fact is becoming increasingly evident," Golden said. "In the future, CIOs will need deep technical skills. A CIO with even average technical skills will not be only inadequate for his or her job, he or she will represent a danger to the overall health of the company."

He said the "CIO as business leader" premise is simply nonsensical for it forgets the fact that "IT, too, is becoming increasingly complex."

New applications coming into the realm today require leaders who truly understand them as they become critical components of the success of many businesses today and tomorrow, Golden said.

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