CompTIA’s Tim Herbert Says Don't Panic About the Skills Gap in Tech Thinkstock

CompTIA’s Tim Herbert Says Don't Panic About the Skills Gap in Tech

Big data. Artificial intelligence. The Internet of Things (IoT). If you’re like a lot of practitioners, you’re probably wondering how in the world you can enter these fields without paying top dollar to hire a subject matter expert (SME). Tim Herbert of CompTIA says not to panic.

If you listen to all the thought leadership in the IT channel, you might come away thinking that if you don’t have a data scientist or a dedicated cybersecurity team on staff you’re dooming yourself to obscurity within just a few years. With a talent shortage all around and the growing price of vendor certifications, you might even feel that there’s no hope in sight. But you need not fret about developing advanced skills in every area, says one industry expert.

At ChannelCon, CompTIA senior vice president of research and market intelligence Tim Herbert sat down with The VAR Guy to talk about where these emerging trends and our current skills shortage converge. “Some of these skills gaps over time will work themselves out,” he says. “A lot of these skills will develop naturally.”

Nothing new under the sun

Taking a step back and looking at the big picture, it seems as though history is repeating itself. Consider the following:

The demand for highly knowledgeable and skilled managers and workloads places enormous pressure upon companies to improve or update their current knowledge and skills. This is particularly important in small and medium enterprises (SMEs), as compared with their larger counterparts, they are often described as ‘lacking the expertise needed to set up the technologies necessary, despite having a great deal to gain from doing so.’  

While this sounds like something from a trade journal published a month ago, it’s actually from the Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology published more than 10 years ago when the demand for software developers outstripped the supply of programmers. Think that’s an anomaly? Cast your memory even further back. The panic of the mid-2000s was an echo of the one that occurred in the late 90s when the rise of ecommerce combined with a decline in university enrollment in information science programs. The combination sent the tech world into a tizzy. The Information Technology Association of America issued a report in 1997 that said a “conservative estimate” of the number of unfilled IT jobs was about 190,000, and 68 percent of tech companies cited a lack of skilled workers as a serious impediment to growth. But the ITAA took it a step further, saying that the absence of sufficient IT workers would slow economic growth in the tech sector as a whole, which, in turn, would impede technological advancements that other industries needed to thrive, leading to a nationwide decline in job growth and wealth creation.

In other words, we’ve been saying the lack of skilled IT workers will bring about the IT apocalypse for at least the last 20 years. And yet, it hasn’t, despite the fact that each time a significant new technology emerges, we experience legitimate shortage of technology professionals.

Be aware, not worried

Why no collapse? Herbert says it’s because we quickly learned to adapt as a collective whole to a world in which internet technology went from something new and intimidating to something we all gained a high-level understanding of. We can adapt similarly to the IoT, big data and cybersecurity. While large enterprises will continue to recruit chief data scientists and in-house security experts, Herbert envisions channel partners piecing skills together in teams, and technology workers in fields that aren’t data-specific learning to integrate analytics into their own functions.

For example, graphic designers will naturally develop skills that lend themselves to data visualization, an exploding field. IT admins may not learn how to write the algorithms that help them make sense of their big data, but they’ll learn how to use pre-written programs that provide those ubiquitous “actionable insights” that everyone’s marketing collateral is clamoring about. Long-term, Herbert believes that sectors such as retail, manufacturing and healthcare will come to depend on analytics the way that financial services and insurance has for some time.

And while data science will always center on numbers, Herbert points out that it’s not just hard analytics skills that will be in demand for professionals in the field. The really valuable skillset goes beyond finding the answer to a question. It’s figuring out which questions you need to be asking in the first place. Workers with backgrounds in sociology or anthropology will be in high demand for their ability to look at the big picture and determine which lines of inquiry will lead to organizational improvement or which trends are applicable to a business.

In any case, Herbert says it’s unrealistic for smaller partners to think they’ll be experts in every area of data. After all, you have a business to run, sales teams to manage, devices to install and connect and business continuity to maintain. And that’s okay—despite headlines to the contrary, you’re not going to go under without a data scientist on staff.

The same goes for security. There are cybersecurity firms out there whose entire business model is built on identifying threats and building defenses against them, and they’re all turning their talents toward safeguarding the IoT. If you don’t have a vast amount of security expertise, just partner with one of these firms and let them do the heavy lifting. The important thing to understand is where cybersecurity touches your customers’ businesses and which vulnerabilities present critical threats. Just like we don’t need to know exactly how Outlook Exchange works in order to appreciate the benefits of email, we aren’t all going to need advanced cybersecurity skills in order to guard end users’ data.

So while the IoT will necessitate a growing cultural understanding of how data analytics and security work to make our digital world turn, don’t panic if you don’t know how to write code. The channel didn’t come to a grinding halt when the internet created a demand for web developers or the software boom a decade ago caused us to mourn the lack of programmers, and it’s going to survive even if we don’t create tens of thousands of new specialized data and security workers in the next five years. As long as you stay up-to-date on technology offerings and emerging trends, you should be able to navigate the new landscape just fine. 

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