The shelf life of IT pros: A response

  • IT pros can’t be solely blamed for having to respond to the market reality
  • Govt and employers are the ones setting the rules and framing this reality

The shelf life of IT pros: A responseLIKE Bernard Sia – who wrote about the state of IT professionals in the country, and how very few engineers maintain their hands-on experience  -- I’ve had my fair share of interviewing for IT positions in Malaysia. 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 too – why did Bernard stop being a hands-on engineer?
Line managers
Experienced engineers who remain hands-on just aren’t rewarded properly. The idea in Malaysia is to be a great engineer, get promoted to a team leader, and keep on climbing.
In the IT world, I see that there are ‘price caps’ for great engineers, but the caps are 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 and improving in terms of management skills and experience.
What suffers then are the hands-on skills. 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 are now 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 through 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. At 30 years of age, he may only want to code eight hours a day. Commitments change. Companies are constantly fighting against deadlines, and this is where you can’t expect too 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 the diploma/ degree level. We also have to thank industry lobbying at large for this.
When Sun Microsystems was around, the push was Java. Now its .NET. You get degrees in running Microsoft Office.
I’m sorry, but employers influence educational institutions to create workers who are generally useless in the long run. Gotta love lobbying, right?
Dearth of integrative thinkers
I agree with Bernard on this one. 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.
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
Great, we’ll face a larger brain drain in Malaysia. Multinationals are already leaving in droves; the only ones 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 at the education system?
I disagree strongly with Bernard when he does not blame 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 interests of the nation at the helm.
Colin Charles is a businessman and open source software guy. Find out more at This article was first published on his blog, and is reprinted here with his permission.
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