As technology is increasingly permeating every facet of society, you would think that the private sector would be all too eager to partner with IT professionals for profit maximisation and innovation.
Well, you would be wrong.
In the country, it appears the divide between business and technology is getting even wider. They, the fancy-suited executives in their lofty boardrooms, delivering keynotes on a next-gen iPad Air and we, the technicians, locked up somewhere behind a poorly ventilated part of the company headquarters —sharing the same value as the computers that serve us.
Indeed, no one is spared—from software developers to system administrators and network engineers to data analysts. It is usually the IT or project managers that are treated with the respect the field demands.
Yet even among them, you will hear stories about how, during management meeting, IT is given the least decision-making power.
And then you swipe your phone and look at news headlines elsewhere. You see the White House working together with Silicon Valley to improve public service delivery. You see governments worldwide encouraging computer programming to be taught in school as fundamentally as mathematics and language. You see the chief information officer is the new chief financial officer. You see an emerging pattern – innovate or die.
Here, the software development manager reports to the head of finance. Is it not ironic that the same banks that are laying off people to cut costs fail to adopt the computational potential at their disposal to achieve more optimised methods of running the business?
Do we not have skilled statisticians who can work closely with programmers to provide deep market insights and forecasts?
It is easy for IT professionals to shift the blame. A good number of our board chairpersons are unaware of the real potential of IT and computer science. A few of them are indifferent and they seem more comfortable viewing IT professionals as managers of machines, rather than innovators- modern oracles that need to work hand in hand with the business, instead of merely reporting to it.
Dear head of finance, we feel hurt and demeaned by this. Many of us cannot speak. And those of us who can simply have too much to lose. So our colleagues lower in the ranks feel betrayed that their four years of mastering Garbage Collection in C++ or the TCP/IP layer, are reduced to configuring Microsoft Outlook for your secretary.
But I do not blame you entirely, Mr Chief Finance Officer. I think the problem lies in the Malawian ICT profession itself. For a start, we simply are not organised. Yes, we have professional groups, but there is too much division within the ICT community. We lack singularity and standardisation without which the discipline can never be taken seriously.
Accountants, lawyers and doctors swear by their profession while we are happy with anyone calling themselves anything.
Is it the responsibility of businesses to enforce a software acceptance testing strategy for us? Should they really be pushing us for network performance analytics? Where are the ethics in ICT? What are the rights, procedures or guiding policies? Do we adhere to them? It is our responsibility to take ourselves seriously.
Unless these issues are addressed, we will continue to see IT tenders in the newspapers, whose requirements are so outdated that they make you cringe when preparing your bid.
We will continue to see vacancies from big companies where the roles to be performed are inefficient and irrelevant.
So, dear IT professional, the ball is in your court. It’s up to you to put some respect on your name. Become internationally certified, actively contribute to open source projects and participate in your local associations. Establish meetups and technical conferences. Compete on the global market. Or be satisfied with being the company “cable guy”. n