Fixing the Skills Gap

11 Jan 2016

As technology evolves, those tasked with building and maintaining it must continually learn new skills or risk being left behind. But have we now reached a crunch point where only a very small elite can grasp the skills needed to make technology work? If so, what does this mean for the majority of technology professionals and the businesses they work for?

Web = Complexity

Common technology visions struggle to deliver their promised benefits. Ideas of modern CIOs delivering their services with means of various web technologies, saving money through lower operational costs and engaging customers with a responsive web design – are not always attainable. This is due to people’s ability to understand and operate technology, manage risks, co-ordinate dependencies and work together effectively. People and time are the limiting factor.

Abstraction promises to reduce the skills needed by the developer, with technology such as JavaScript offering reduced complexity. However to truly understand and optimally deploy these new frameworks, it requires a great deal of time and skill. Networking and backend services need to be considered, alongside inconvenient basics like authentication, access control and performance. These factors increase complexity by an order of magnitude and require an entirely different set of skills to those used in the web browser.

User interface designers and business process analysts are needed to ensure the solution works when used by real humans.

Finally, using agile to co-ordinate all these people works well with a small group of talented individuals motivated and focused on a simple tightly defined task.

Problem Solvers

Many entering the workforce are not adequately prepared with the problem solving and initiative skills required to thrive in the technology industry.

Recruiters and HR professionals are increasingly under pressure to fill roles from a limited workforce. The capability bar is lowered and increasingly mediocre people perpetuate technology problems rather than solving them.


Here are some thoughts on how to start fixing the issues:

Focus technology projects on fixed price and fixed specifications written in terms of business outcomes, not technology components.

When assessing the business value of a technology project always double time and cost estimates given by the people who will actually do the work.

The selection of new technology no matter how small should be subject to rigorous evaluation based primarily on business benefits.

If you don’t need to use web technology, don’t use web technology.

At interview ask web professionals to use notepad to write some basic HTML and CSS. Those that can’t, don’t really understand it.

When interviewing developers ask them to write the pseudo code for a divide and conquer algorithm, bubble sort, or linked list.

If being really good at one technology is hard, then keep the number of technologies used to the bare minimum.

CIOs and CTOs who come from a business rather than technology background are increasingly common. Make sure they’re supported by a strong and experienced technology leader who does understand the technology.

Testing is very important.


By reducing both the complexity of the technology deployed and raising the capability of technologists, the problems the technology industry face will start to be addressed. Both short term and longer term actions are the responsibility of technology leaders, who need to make more time available to address these challenges.

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About the Author

James Rosewell has 23 years’ experience working in the IT sector in almost every role imaginable. He founded and is CEO of 51Degrees, a small technology business specialising in device detection, producing open source solutions used by more than 1.5 million web sites globally. 51Degrees tools simplify creating web sites for mobile, tablets and desktop devices ensuring business return on investment is optimised. Clients include Unilever, eBay, Microsoft, IBM and 1000s more with case studies on-line.


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