Education

How IT workers are losing the battle against nerd stereotypes

The IT industry is still dogged by the cliche of the geeky and socially inept IT worker and it's putting off young people from a career in IT.
One of the world’s youngest billionaires may work with computers but the stereotype of the geeky tech worker still seems to be putting young people off entering the industry.

Tech workers believe they are still dogged by the geek stereotype.

The majority of 576 IT professionals surveyed by recruitment website CWJobs.co.uk believe that new entrants are deterred by the cliché of the nerdy tech worker. Compounding the image problem is a perception that IT is not a fun career, according to more than one third (39 per cent) of those surveyed.

Their perception that young people are shying away from IT is borne out by the figures, for the last 10 years no more than three per cent of undergraduates in the UK have chosen to study computer science.

This lack of enthusiasm for IT is despite industry and government-backed attempts to entice students and school pupils to study tech. These include the Behind the Screen programme, launched by IT industry skills body eSkills UK last year to develop an engaging and rigorous IT curriculum for GCSE and A-Level.

Richard Nott, website director for CWJobs.co.uk said the problem is that young people do not associate the technology they enjoy using every day with IT.

"There seems to be a disconnect between what young people perceive a career in IT to be and an acknowledgement of how this translates into the gadgets, smartphones and consoles they use on a daily basis," he said.

Linking the IT profession with technology young people enjoy - such as social media, mobile and gaming - will help destroy the geek stereotype, techies told the survey.

Education is key to persuading young people to pursue an IT career, techies said, with nearly half (49 per cent) saying that kids should be taught IT from the age of eight or under. The UK government has promised to scrap the national IT curriculum, which was criticised for its focus on office skills, and allow teachers to teach IT in more interesting ways.

The IT industry is also not doing enough to attract young people into the profession, according to the majority of those surveyed (64 per cent). Industry should offer more apprenticeships, better promote the industry to young people and sponsor more university degrees, they said.

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

22 comments
entnow
entnow

have been in I.T for 8 yrs and as a career its a complete waste of time,get a biz degree

jhorton
jhorton

If you are attempting to ascertain the lack of interest for any subject in a student body, why on Earth would you ask only those who are already in that field? Wouldn't it make a bit more sense to ask the students? While I agree that IT tends to have a bit of an 'image' problem, I hardly think that geek-o-phobia is the primary problem. IT is, in general, a high stress and relatively low paying industry. Putting lipstick on the pig with references to social media is hardly the answer. Unfortunately, I have no wisdom to bring to the table. I have been in IT for over 30 years and every one of my children opted for healthcare/science careers (which doesn't suck, by the way). Obviously, the daily exposure to IT didn't turn the trick. In my opinion, for what that is worth, IT is like any other technical or science field: it will attract certain types of people while the majority shun the career as a choice. The 'image' of the field has almost no effect on those who desire to enter it. Any attempt to make it 'sexier' in order to attract greater numbers will surely be doomed to failure because the career is what the career is.

&ltDTECH;
&ltDTECH;

about this nerd idea of IT, what people need to realise is that IT is here and being developed everyday so if it should be chosen as a career needs to be paid every interest and forget about the whole nerd criticisms.

anonymous99
anonymous99

What's the point learning something with high initial investment in education and no job after graduations, and knowing that most companies outsource for cheap labor? There are plenty of educated professional in US, and companies had been whining about a short of qualify technical competent, that is just pure BS. They just don't want to pay overhead and be able to manipulate labor pool till they can suck bone dry. Therefore, why should any kid want to be an IT and knowing the reward is next to non? Of course, there are always nerds who love to do if for fun, myself as an example, but how long will it last? To be hornest, if some of the corrupted gov official, still in bed with corporations, the economy won't be fixed anytime soon, and not just only IT field, but most of the education, will have no future unless one has connections.

wholeness
wholeness

It's funny, in Canada the IT job market was flooded by people looking for IT jobs because everyone took IT in college/university during the Dot Com boom. Now there is a shortage of skilled trades since all the people who used to go into skill trades went into IT instead. But if your statistics are right, that's great, it means less competition for IT jobs which means higher demand for my skills which means more money for me :D

imanother
imanother

To me, a nerd is a bit of a twit, whereas the geek is the opposite, a tech wizz. Disclaimer: I'm neither one not the other.

Professor8
Professor8

There's nothing wrong with being "nerdy". For a decade or more (I'd say 25 years, but only have citations for more recent research for corroboration) we've been turning out more new capable US citizen STEM workers than we've been employing as such -- 3 times as many have earned shiny new STEM degrees than have been hired into STEM jobs. But the USA has always had a lot of bright, largely self-educated STEM professionals, including software developers. A recent estimate is that we have 1.8 million able and willing US citizen STEM workers who are not currently employed to do STEM work. http://www.changinggears.info/2012/04/19/do-we-need-more-engineers/#more-14468 http://www.kermitrose.com/econ1998.html#19980204 "NSF's authoritative Science and Engineering Indicators finds that the U.S. graduates 3 times as many Americans with degrees in STEM fields as the economy can absorb into STEM occupations." http://blogs.sciencemag.org/sciencecareers/2012/06/more-good-news.html "the US economy has created [fewer] than 50K new engineering jobs in the past decade... only about half of those graduating with under-graduate STEM degrees actually work in the STEM-related fields after college, and after 10 years, only some 8% still do." http://spectrum.ieee.org/riskfactor/at-work/education/stem-education-in-the-us-is-more-or-less-needed

shawncollins24
shawncollins24

...is the curriculum. In the above article, it is mentioned that the UK is getting rid of its current IT curriculum. Many of my classmates love working in IT and aren't concerned with stereotypes. The above article indicates that kids today have trouble associating IT with the tech they love (smartphones, iPads, etc.) I'm majoring in C.M.I.S. (Computer Management and Information Systems). My classmates and I struggle everyday with trying to figure out why we are spending time with subjects that have nothing to do with IT. OK. Accounting and College algebra I can understand. I'll even give you History. These lower-level classes not only "thin the herd" but also make us more rounded individuals. At the upper level, however, we're still studying advanced mathematical analysis and managerial accounting. These have absolutely no practical application to our chosen field of study. Lest you be confused, this is not Computer Science. We are not programmers. CMIS involves you me (or my classmates) a problem. We design a system to help you solve that problem. CMIS, theoretically doesn't even involve implementation of that system; realistically, it would. System design is not programming. Having kept in touch with those already graduated from the program garners similar sentiments of much money wasted on classes taken only because they were required. Here is a story: A childhood friend got a 4-year-degree is a computer-related field. He was unable to find a job. He went to a tradeskill (for computers) and received hands-on experience along with that trade-school certification/degree/diploma/certificate of "Look What I Did!"/whatever it's called. The 4-year-degree got him in the door for interviews. The tradeskill experience and hands-on got him the job. The bottom line with universities is always money! Don't kid yourself. Lower-level students SHOULD take those history, math, etc. classes to become more well rounded. At the upper level, however, the focus should certainly be on adding more classes relevant to the degree and not simply on padding the curriculum with extraneous classes that are entirely irrelevant to the subject of study. I can't WAIT to take "Database Management"! Statistical Analysis/Aggregation, not so much. p.s. What used to be a compulsory "induction" into my university's competitive school for this field has recently been transformed into a 1-credit-hour, 1-day, 8-hour course. How ridiculous! The outcome is clear. 1-credit-hour X 100+ accepted applicants = $$$.

jkameleon
jkameleon

... as to fall for such PR spin. It's not about nerd stereotypes. It's about the fact, that a globally competitive IT salary can't clear a student loan.

Jeff7181
Jeff7181

I think the focus is on the kids and what they think, when quite honestly, they don't have the life experience to make life decisions. Someone called the kids dumb... ignorant is a better term as they simply don't know any better. Their parents are the dumb ones for not educating them.

misguidedkid
misguidedkid

If the kids today are still so worried about labels that they'll run from a promising, fun, and possibly lucrative career because of others' opinions and words, so be it. To be fair, I try to educate folks on the difference between a "nerd" and a "geek" (I consider myself the latter), but I can assure you that I don't really care what you call me while I'm looking at my check stub. If the younger generations want to leave the industry to mine, I'm okay with with returning to the IT bidding wars of the late 90s and early 2000s - and the offer letters that come with them. I started my IT career in 2002 making about $10/hr, but that hard work mentioned above has pushed me so much further up the pay scale. Well that, and there being a general shortage of qualified and competent IT folks in the area. As for their shock at their iWhatever/Social Media skills not translating into IT, I'm not sure I'd support someone going into IT with that sort of narrow vision; I'll have to lead those kids when they hit the workforce. It's a sort of paradigm shift back to the turn of this century, but Newton's 3rd will bring balance back at some point. For now, let the geeks teach and mentor our children, nephews, nieces, etc onto a successful career if they're interested. We'll reap the rewards later. Remember - they're the ones who are going to choose our nursing homes...

andrew232006
andrew232006

The problem with IT education is it comes with an expiry date. Can you imagine how useful IT skills would be that you learned when you were 8? I don't see me working on a commodore 64 any time soon.

hokay89
hokay89

If kids dont want to be apart of one of the freshest most alive industries in modern times because they are afraid of being called a "nerd" then they are simply dumb. Everyone seems to overlook how abundant this industry is at the moment, and the demand and security of being knowledgeable in the field will only continue to increase in value. There are so many fields, so much opportunity for younger generations. I got into the game at 21. Once i discovered this career, i couldn't believe i didn't think about starting sooner. Social categories should never impact you from disregarding a excellent career choice. Especially IT. Sure we may be nerds, but we got more money, and are better equipped to handle the 21st century than the next guy. Thats power.

Jeff7181
Jeff7181

It's no surprise to me that kids don't associate iPhones and iPads with the IT Industry. The profession lends itself to certain personalities. Coincidentally, those personalities are viewed as "nerdy." I would argue, however, that being viewed as a "nerd" is not deterring kids. It's hard work that is the deterrent. Except for entry level support positions, it takes a lot of hard work to obtain a position in the IT industry. For the past 20 or 30 years, public schools have been teaching kids it's OK to be stupid by giving awards and medals just for participating and not keeping score. In the working world, let alone the IT industry, we keep score; so you better know how to play.

sidor
sidor

There are plenty of jobs in IT. And you don't need to go to an expensive school for IT. Where do you get your idea that MOST companies outsource their IT people? In fact, the trend is now to have in house IT/CS people, because the outsourcing to India hasn't worked as well as it should've. Language/cultural barries, corruption, you name it. It's just not worth it, since while the price is cheap, so is the quality of the software and work.

sidor
sidor

I have a Electrical Engineering/Computer Science 4 year degree. And I had to take the history, philosophy type of course, which I didn't mind, and mostly enjoyed. However, none of those courses helped me in finding a job, or keeping it. In fact, looking back at my education, only about 2 of the 4 years in college really were applicable to what I do daily (software engineering). The rest, while nice to know, were unnecessary. This is the big lie that universities tell you. That you need 4 years to learn CS, or IT. When in reality, 2 years is more than enough to learn what you need to learn in CS/IT.

Professor8
Professor8

"kids today have trouble associating IT with the tech they love (smartphones, iPads, etc.) I'm majoring in C.M.I.S." That's always been the case. There's always been a sort of tension between academia and more down-to-earth students who just wanted to go straight to being able to do the things they wanted to be able to do. MIS - miles wide and a nanometer deep. Their aim seems to be to turn you into a not-so-super user ratter than someone who actually understands the "tech they love", maybe make you someone who follows the terminology just well enough to administer contracts. So, it's not so surprising that most B-school grads have no grasp of what accomplishments required a great deal of creativity and work resulting in a great achievement vs. off-hand things that required little thought or effort resulting in little of merit (and why they have the bizarre tendency to shower praise and rewards on the latter while giving short shrift to many of the former). CS, OTOH, has always been focused on the abstractions behind the "tech they love" rather than actually how one might go about implementing or extending it. The CS profs were always rather resentful about having to teach actual programming languages and software development tools, which they saw as a necessary evil to be rushed through to get to their pie in the sky abstractionisms about "computability", "validation"... while most of the students just wanted to get to the point where they could design and develop killer apps (including games, hardware/software systems for various purposes...). But then the same can be said about econometrics; to a great extent, they're an attempt to make the field of economics "rigorous" by applying mathematics in an attempt to emulate actual sciences like chemistry and physics, even when it is totally inappropriate. Now, the biologists are starting to revolt against artificial demands for their work to always be focused on mathematical aspects.

sidor
sidor

IT, which generally includes Software Developers, Architects, DBA's, and the hard IT like Network Admins, etc, is generally a good paying field in Western type countries like the US, and I assume the UK. Assuming you're competent, there's no reason why someone with a IT degree can't earn well above the average salary for a given country. If an IT person can't afford their student loan, then they likely went to a school that was too expensive. People put too much stock in a school name/reputation. Yes, it can help get you that first job, but if there's a shortage of IT people, you'll get a job regardless. So, save that money, and choose a good school, not the most expensive/famous one. After that first job, it really doesn't matter which school you went to, it becomes all about your experience.

misguidedkid
misguidedkid

I learned a ton of neat stuff about electronics and other foundation tech when I was tinkering with my TRaSh-80 and my first PCs, plus encouraging the basic curiosity and critical thinking skills you need in IT. My mad BASIC coding skills aren't much use today, but it did give me an understanding of how computers interpret commands and made scripting a little easier to learn later.

Professor8
Professor8

It has been clear that they will not be rewarded for hard work. It will drive down their GPAs. It will mean, while they are attending university, a losing trade-off between their work to pay the tuition an fees vs. the work on the classes. It will mean a "career" that will last an average of 15 years or less, while the rewards during those 10-15 years are likely to be less than the expenses while they're in university, let alone provide them the wherewithal to survive an 80 year life expectancy at birth without long periods of extreme poverty. For the last 25 years, tech execs have been teaching children that, even if they are gifted or even geniuses, they need to look elsewhere for the prospect of prosperity.

spdragoo
spdragoo

That's what I ran into when I graduated with my IT degree back in 1998: inability to even get an entry-level job. And that was with my college sponsoring interviews on-campus with local recruiters. All I kept hearing was, "Sorry, we're looking for someone with at least 2 years of work experience". Well, sorry, but not all of us can afford to "work" for free while going to school; we have utility bills, rent & food to buy in order to survive, and working for free as an intern just doesn't cut it. The primary benefit my IT degree provided me, beyond enhancing my already-high comfort level with computers? It meant I only needed to go back for a certificate in accounting, instead of a full associate's or bachelor's degree.

jkameleon
jkameleon

Education is the biggest investment most people make in their lifetime. It's investment of time, effort, and money, in tuition as well as opportunity costs. When making a decision about study, young people have to plan long term. It is reasonable to presume, that in the long term, IT jobs will become more mobile, and thus more offshoreable. > IT, which generally includes Software Developers, Architects, DBA's, and the hard IT like Network Admins, etc, is generally a good paying field in Western type countries like the US, and I assume the UK. Assuming you're competent, there's no reason why someone with a IT degree can't earn well above the average salary for a given country. The short name for the situation you've described is "skill crisis". IT industry is doing its best to alleviate it.

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