Women can be nerds, too

The technology management sector is buoyant again, says Andy Sharman, and it's looking to fill its ranks with female techies

To clarify, there are two sides to an Information Technology manager's job. The first is infrastructure. "I'm responsible for all the boxes and wires at the company," says Phil Stunt, European chief information officer at Computer Associates. "I need to ensure that we have the security, capacity and capability to support the business and its growth. But, secondly, I'm required to look at how we can support this growth: driving through change, looking for new markets, and doing business faster and more efficiently."

And it's clear that for a sector invaluable to modern business, the time to shelve the double-Dutch is upon us. "Traditional IT managers were technologists," says Stunt. "But now you have to be credible to the business side as well as the IT. If you can't be articulate on both sides, you can't function properly."

The quandary of IT professionals having the right knowledge but lacking the right skills was recognised last month by e-Skills UK, the employer-led organisation responsible for IT skills development. With the support of the Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly, and several blue-chip companies, including IBM, Ford and British Airways, e-Skills launched its Sector Skills Agreement (SSA) for IT.

The SSA proposes to respond to dismaying research, which reports that, among other things, only 20 per cent of the IT workforce is female, and that a quarter of British businesses lack employees with the everyday IT skills to do their jobs. To remedy the former, e-Skills has set up Computer Clubs for Girls, an initiative funded by the DfES, and aimed at transforming the attitudes of 10- to 14-year-olds towards IT.

To correct the latter, and arm a new generation of IT workers with business world expertise, e-Skills has laid the groundwork for a new degree to be offered this year at four universities (Leeds Metropolitan will make it five next year). "We found that graduates were coming into companies and taking too long to train up," says Sue Stevens, the e-Skills UK programme manager. "This was not necessarily in terms of technical and product-based knowledge, but more in terms of business project handling and communication skills."

An employer curriculum forum set the tone for the new BSc in Information Technology Management for Business, which will be available at Reading, the University of Central England, Greenwich and the high-flying new University of Northumbria. "This course is a step in the right direction," says Dr Tony Venus, the programme leader at Northumbria, where the IT management degree completes a suite of three courses, with the existing business IT and business information systems programmes.

"It responds to employers' needs, in giving students team-working skills, project management skills and so on. We're piloting this as a way to fast-track your career. The students will do a business case project where they meet with real clients and try to solve their problems. We want a more balanced IT graduate."

The course will focus on four areas: business skills, project skills, interpersonal skills and technology. Appropriately, given the aims of the degree, each area is weighted equally. The course will be partly taught in "guru lectures", where prominent IT business professionals will discuss topics at one university, and via webcast to the other participating institutions.

"I think it's a re-education of people to understand IT as more exciting than people think," says Stevens. "IT is everywhere now, in all companies. IT managers need to be involved in the business processes rather than just the bits and bytes of computers. Graduates of the course will be able to communicate and sell themselves, and will be better at working with and managing projects."

To be a graduate is practically a sine qua non of IT management, especially as it now means cosying up with boardroom clientele at top companies. To anyone wanting to get into IT management, Stunt says: "You've got to like technology - be excited by it. If technology leaves you cold, you're in the wrong job." And after a flat five years, IT companies are courting investment. "The market is lacking good IT professionals. If you've got the right skills-set, you can command a reasonable salary."

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