5-year shelf life of an IT pro?

Seafood comboLike Bernard Sia (love reading Digital News Asia), I’ve had my fair share of interviewing for IT positions in Malaysia. However, I won’t claim to have his per year record. I however think I have to refute some of his points. I end with a challenge to Bernard’s career – why did he stop being a hands on engineer?

Line managers? Experienced engineers who are still hands-on aren’t rewarded properly. The idea in Malaysia is to be a great engineer, get promoted to a team leader, and keep on climbing. I’ve seen in the IT world that there are “price caps” for great engineers, but the cap is immediately lifted if you become a “project manager”. 

No one likes earning the same salary or working against a cap, so the natural thing to do is to start focusing & improving in terms of management. What suffers then is lack of hand’s on skill. The IT world moves quickly as you might imagine, so after a while you’ve got great project managers who used to be able to do hands on programming in Java (some five years ago), but now is finding it hard to grasp .NET. You get the drift.

This problem is caused by none other than the employers. Pay your stars well for what they do well, not make them jump thru career changes. There is one other minor point: naturally someone who’s 20 years old will likely want to code for 12 hours a day. Remember at 30 years old, he may only want to code 8 hours a day – commitments change. Companies are constantly fighting against deadlines, and this is where you can’t expect so much from a person.

Army of operators? Push-button engineers are common in Malaysia. Let’s thank the education system for this. Most are taught to mug even at diploma/degree level. We also have to thank industry lobbying at large for this. When Sun was around, the push was Java. Now its .NET. You get degrees in running Microsoft Office. I’m sorry, employers influence educational institutions to create folk that are generally useless in the long run. Gotta love lobbying, right?

Dearth of integrative thinkers? I agree. Many people I’ve had the pleasure of leading seem to be good at doing only one thing. You don’t get full stack engineers easily. And when they do pop by, they want rates that the CTO is getting paid.

I again point back to the education system. At the same time, integrated thinkers cost more – are companies willing to pay for this?

As an aside, I’ve seen this problem not only in Malaysia but worldwide. 

Freedom to move within ASEAN come 2016? Great, we’ll face a larger brain drain in Malaysia. Multinationals are already leaving in droves, the only one’s that seem to be sticking around are servicing large customers (other multinationals) or the government.

I’m glad the conclusion Bernard comes up with is similar to what I’ve said:

The worst of the findings are technical personnel, usually with around five years of experience, lamenting that they can no longer do technology; the money is not there, they’ve reached a ceiling and need to be a manager – more often than not, in broken English.

Broken English? Need I point even more fingers towards the education system?

Bernard cops out by not blaming the government. The failure is due to government policy. Policy is made by delinquents who pander to lobbyists. Lobbyists very rarely have the long-term interest of the nation at their helm.

I ask Bernard what his career span may look like: graduate in IT, software engineer/systems analyst, project manager by year 5, manager/technical director by year 8, now head of strategy looking for IT pros but probably not coding any longer. I doubt I’m far off from this estimate.