What it means to be a Canadian IT professional.

While I have the soap box, bear with me till they shut me down.

One of my big pet peeves these days is dealing with US corporations and their silly views of the IT professional in Canada.

I live in Vancouver. The amount of R&D, small nascent IT companies in this geographic area is staggering. With the exception of a few larger shops like Business Objects or Electronic Arts, very few companies here would even hit the mark for anything but the Small office/Home office (SOHO) and Small and Medium Business (SMB) designations for most IT vendors in the US. And that means the sales reps if any for the area won’t return your call or give you the “free” training materials they give to their US clients.

The trouble with this attitude is that these organizations entirely miss the importance of the Canadian market and it’s fast adoption of new technologies. They also miss the value of the Canadian IT professional as a result. As a general rule, Canadian companies and the people who work art them are unique. We are unique because unlike the Asian, European and US markets we are by default small, nimble and will be the next big thing if what I see at the Vancouver Enterprise Forum ( http://www.vef.org/web/index.asp ) is any clear example.

The challenge is that from a global perspective there is little if any attention paid to the Canadian market place outside of the larger centres. You may, if you are lucky get a vendor doing decent a presentation, or be able attend a technology conference in one of the larger centres like Vancouver, Calgary or the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto triangle. Other than that, for the Canadian IT pro, it means we do most of our learning the hard way, on the job with our sleeves up.

There are reasons larger firms miss the Canadian IT scene, and it usually has to do with revenue. The challenge however is that they are also missing what makes the Canadian IT professional so unique in North America. The secret here is that we as IT professionals need not only to be Jacks-of-all trades, but also Masters-in-all-trades unlike our colleagues in many parts of the world.

The calibre of Canadian IT talent in my opinion is vastly superior to that that comes from Asia, Europe, and the US. And the reason is simple and as unique as Canada itself. Geographic diversity forces us to be self reliant.

Here’s an example. I worked for a small (by US standards) engineering firm with 22 Canadian offices. They were spread all over Canada. During a server and desktop renewal program, I tried to contract with a reseller or VAR to do the work. Unfortunately places like Cranbrook, Prince George, Yellowknife and even London Ontario surprisingly just didn’t register with them as a spot where IT support services were needed or could be effectively provided. Our only option if we wanted their services was to pay exorbitant travel fees for multiple “senior contract people” do the job or train our own staff. Well with the cost of airfare in Canada, I chose to train my own staff instead. That meant each staff member over a 4 week period had to be trained in physical cable installation procedures; installing and configuring Windows servers and workstations; disk RAID technologies; E-mail server deployment; client software packaging; software distribution; patch management; disaster recovery procedures; VPN concentrators; Active directory security management; back up and recovery procedures; helpdesk… well you get the idea. They became true jacks of all IT trades.

Not everyone became an expert immediately obviously, but over the course of that year, the small geographic teams did become well versed in all aspects of deploying and managing a small IT shop. Over the next year they optimized their processes and figured out how to contract with people for their local services, technologies and to manage their own small scale projects on a go forward basis. They got so good, that they could outfit a brand new field office from the time the paint was starting to dry to when the doors could opening for customers in under 2 weeks. Within the next year, these same “low end” IT staff were being cherry picked by the larger Canadian and US VARs because they were so valuable and versatile.

We have to start realizing the quality of the people we have in these small IT centres and delivering the technology training and support resources they need to make them power houses. The advent of web-ex style presentations is a definite improvement. The challenge here is that even a decent DSL line can be a luxury in these centres.

Those of us in the larger Canadian centres also need to give these smaller centres their due. These are the up and comers and the ones who will be challenging us next. Mark my words the next Google or Facebook is coming, and it will be from someplace none of us can pronounce right now.

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