The CIO as teacher: A great way of giving back

Working in this industry rewards us well, both in intellectual challenge and providing a good career, with compensation that allows a comfortable life style. For most of us, we believe that reward comes with an obligation to give something back, not just because of what we’ve received, but also because we see a need to nurture this industry so it can continue to provide those satisfying and rewarding careers for ourselves and our staff.  

There are many ways to give back. Some are opportunities to share our experiences and a love of what we do with others, through professional activities, mentoring our own staff, or teaching in your local college.  If you haven’t considered teaching, perhaps you should. Colleges and the continuing education programs of most universities are very interested in having experienced IT managers as part-time instructors in their technology and business programs. For them, it’s a way to add breadth to their faculty to ensure that their programs give their students a practical, useful education that employers will value. As for personal challenge, teaching will stretch you in ways you’ve never imagined. Teaching is a great way to learn.  At a more fundamental level, it’s in your own self-interest to influence how that pool of talent that you compete for is trained in the technical and people skills you need, knows how to keep themselves current, and understands what business is and the role IT plays to contribute to its success.   

Teaching is not the same as mentoring your own staff. To start, the audience is different. Students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and exposure to business and technology. Many are straight out of high school and trying to decide what they want to do to earn money and how that will fit into their lives. That thinking is part of a generation gap that you’ve already encountered in the workplace, but only with those who already made up their minds about how they will live. Many of your students are still shopping and evaluating their life decisions. Feel passionate about seeing more women in IT? Well here’s your chance to make a difference.   Will your students see you as a male dinosaur, a woman who has succeeded by out-boying-the-boys or as an example of how a person can build a career that is interesting, fun, and allows work-life balance?

Your students will be looking to you for those answers, not so much in words, but in how you relate to them, how the course materials relate to their use of technology and their interactions with business as a consumer, and how you manage the class. After all, you’re one of the few instructors in their higher education they’re going to see that is a real world IT practitioner and manager. Long before they take a structured work term or summer job, your students will be learning what the work place is like by your conduct in the class, the relevance of the lecture to their experience, how you evaluate them, and how you answer their questions and accept their views. In short, while you’re grading them on mastering course content, they’re grading you on the value of a future in IT.   

There is another audience in the classroom: students training for their second career with anywhere from 5 to 30 plus years of work and life experience under their belts. Many are dealing with the uncertainty of not having a job, juggling finances and family issues, and relearning how to go back to school, study and take tests. Unlike other students, they aren’t shopping for a career, they have it targeted. They’re very focused and struggling with the education system’s structured approach and time needed to get that certificate/diploma as the entry back into the workforce and to be productive again.  While often easier to relate to than the fresh-out-of-school students, even when you have similar aged kids of your own, mature students require different approaches to motivate and evaluate them. For example, some may not have experience with basic office tools or use technology beyond casual email or text messages.    

Another way to give back is to work with your staff and local college to provide work-term opportunities for students. Work-term gives you a “free” employee for a few months who brings classroom knowledge and lab experience ready to be put to use in your environment. It gives you an opportunity to try-out a potential employee at no risk and depending on the circumstances, take advantage of new skills or methodology. The student gains in seeing the “how the real world works”, earns credit and a grade for their work, and starts building their technology resume. 

Advising on curriculum is an additional avenue, offering an opportunity to work with the faculty of a technology or business program to ensure that its content is and will still be relevant to your needs and the needs of the industry when those students enter the workforce. For example, what skills will you need in two years to support cloud computing? Virtualization? A mobile device based workforce? Security and access control? The next great thing? Your insight and feedback is essential for the future success of the students and the educational institution’s programs. It is equally critical to your success, because the people with the skills you will need will be available for you to hire.

Ready to pay it forward? Start with a call your local college industrial liaison office, technology department or university continuing studies program. Find out what they’re doing and ask how you can help. 

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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