In Nigeria, it’s difficult to detect who to hire for a position that has to do with computing of any sort. Unless the person has a CV that proved that he has successfully worked in similar position in the past. Everyone seems to think that there’s a lack of qualified ICT professionals, and that the reason is that there aren’t enough people entering the field with the required skills. There is a fallacy behind that thinking, though. People think that ICT is a stand-alone discipline, but it is actually a discipline within the computer field. Treating it otherwise is a mistake.
Most of the people, who have been in the IT profession for more than a decade, including me, entered the field without a degree. We might have certifications, but we don’t claim that those certs are the source of any expertise we may have. We believe in the solutions that lay beneath our brains. So sad that most Nigerian youth who are talented in ICT has resorted to illegal activities using computer because they couldn’t get a job without certifications.
My own experience is not atypical. In all of my years of working, as an employee or contractor, for Systems Noah, Pintojet, Greenmils, Haventry, Great Grace, KloeTech and other creative agencies, I never performed specifically what would be considered as computer work.
In fact, I didn’t even start out in the computer field at Systems Noah. I was a web developer who hated his job, so a friend introduced me to one computer systems intern program. In those days at Systems Noah, I couldn’t find enough programmers as I expected, and so it created an avenue for me to develop my instincts myself. Although I later became known as a creative professional, I was never given any specific IT training. Instead, I had years of on-the-job and formal training in good technical and operational practices. My later success in web app development, cloud computing and system maintenance was mostly built on detecting the absence of good practices.
So sad, in Nigeria, you would think that organizations would realize this, since they apparently pass over people with computer degrees all the time. I’ve spoken to dozens of people with computer degrees who can’t get hired because they don’t have the technical skills and abilities required for low-level positions. But bad as it is that computer degrees are not technical enough for entry-level security positions, they also are usually not technical enough for any entry-level positions in the computer field. It has almost become a norm that you don’t get hired in a technology job in Nigeria if you don’t have any computer degree which is far different from what is obtainable in western countries, especially in public service.
In any case, IT positions are not entry-level positions, and if you treat them as such, you will have terrible technological turnaround. The best IT practitioners have experience in the technology and processes that they are supposed to develop. The earlier we realize this in Nigeria, the better for us. One thing is that; If you are not an experienced developer, you do not have the standing to tell people how to secure the code they write. If you have no experience as a system administrator, you cannot maintain the security of a system. If you have no experience as an administrator, you cannot secure a database. If you have no experience in designing a network, you cannot competently design a secure network.
IT professionals are developed over time, just as it happens with experts in every profession, including all of the other disciplines within the computer profession: You are assigned a position that is consistent with your skill level, learn on the job and receive appropriate training. It is that simple. You can “create” an IT professional by finding someone with the required minimum skills — usually a computer professional with experience — and then having them learn the specific industry skills required through on-the-job training, mentorship and formal training.
The approach that seems to prevail these days — seeking a new hire who already has the right skills and experience or hiring them away from another organization — just doesn’t work. But it is why so many people believe there is a shortage of security professionals.
I can promise you that a competent computer professional with five years of experience will be more effective than a new graduate with a computer degree. I’m not saying that training, including computer science degrees and certifications are without value, but they rarely are a match for hands-on work experience. If we should have this type of mindset in Nigeria, to hire people based on their skill set and abilities and not by the paper they carry, we are likely to save loss of time taken to hire them, salary wasted on them if they were employed and the disappointments that follows.
One of the approaches to fix this type of situation is for organizations to look internally for skilled computer professionals who, despite having no stated experience in IT, can quickly adapt to technological routes. Those people do exist, and their real-world experience goes a lot further than any number of certifications or degrees to organizations where they find their selves.
Sure, it would be great to have lots of people with the necessary computer skills clamoring to fill tech positions. But unless you have a program to identify competent professionals within your organization and offer them jobs and training that will arm them with tech expertise, you are creating your own technology skills shortage. Don’t moan and groan that these people do not exist when your organization is just too cheap or narrow-minded to look internally and offer training.
Left for me, it’s about high time we forget about finding people with computer degrees. Forget about hiring people who are computer theorists. Look for the people with a willingness to expand their skill set. I guarantee that the resource skills bank of Nigeria will increase, foster our technological growth, advance our economy and create way for investors to maximize our potentials.