Today’s Tech Jobs: Skills More Important Than Knowledge

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New tech jobs require workers skilled in the use of technologies and able to handle the complexities and interconnectedness of today’s world.

Since about 2000, when growth in and use of the internet exploded and began growing year on year, technology has radically changed many parts of our society. More than half of the world’s population is now online, and the information age has meant leaps and bounds for technology innovation. This has, of course, meant the birth of new sectors and tech jobs, such as data engineer or machine learning engineer, but it has also meant that almost every sector has now gained a need for workers skilled in the use of technologies and able to handle the complexities and interconnectedness of today’s world.

The need for parallel development of policy and education methods

This advance in technological development has, in fact, been so rapid that the necessary, parallel development of policy and education to meet these advances and account for them has not necessarily taken place. Where a large portion of employment opportunities are now in tech jobs across almost every industry, and where it will increasingly do so as technology further advances, the only people who stand to gain are those with specific training and skills in the various areas of and skills in digital jobs. Reform, particularly in the realm of tech education, needs to happen if we are to have a hope of preparing more of the population to meet the requirements of the tech world head on. If we are to supply as many people as possible with the same opportunities as those who are already skilled in this field, education needs to be accessible and aligned to what makes a candidate successful in a 21st-century tech job.

What the inability so far to meet these needs might mean for the tech job market

Many processes will soon be much cheaper and much more efficient if performed by technology as opposed to human beings: this has the potential to make millions of today’s jobs carried out by humans redundant. We’re already seeing this with the pandemic. And it isn’t as though there aren’t courses out there for those seeking to reskill; there are, it’s just that many of these are based on learning models which aren’t particularly conducive to the working world and to what employers are actually searching for. Many courses operate on the basis of knowledge transmission as opposed to skills cultivation, i.e., a lecturer lectures the students in a classroom-type setting rather than the student doing the tasks themselves. The classroom-type learning was designed for high schools and universities dating back to a point in time when the most advanced technology was the printing press – before the steam engine, penicillin, the telephone, the automobile, and the personal computer.

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What do jobs in tech demand

If you scan the job requirements for any active tech job, the words  “skills,”experience,” and “proven ability” are constantly repeated across postings. Take the following job description for a role as a software engineer (and most criteria can be found across thousands of similar job postings for hundreds of companies)

  • 3+ years relevant experience in software development, preferably with exposure to transaction processing systems such as stock control or accounting (knowledge of retail would be an advantage).
  • Proficient in relational and non-relational database/datastores/caches best practices and challenges
  • A good understanding of all aspects of the SDLC
  • Expert understanding of the object-oriented design and programming concepts
  • Experience in C/C++, C#, Objective C, Go, or Python
  • Proficient in Git, CI/CD, and testing before deployment
  • Quickly master new languages and technologies
  • Excellent communication, interpersonal, problem-solving, presentation, and organizational skills
  • Proven ability to work with a team, give inputs, coach (and be coached), and support colleagues

As you can see, out of the eight criteria here for a successful applicant, all but one seek ability, skill, proficiency, over knowledge. These kinds of abilities, skills, proficiencies are only built through active learning, through doing, just as an athlete, a surgeon, or a carpenter builds their skills through learning by doing.

What then is needed in terms of tech education?

The tech education that is needed, then, is formed on the basis of active learning, project-based learning, and learning by doing: science and researched-backed learning methods, the efficacy of which has been proven, and the result of which is true preparation for work in tech jobs in the 21st century. It’s clear that companies want skills and are moving towards skills-based hiring, so it’s well past time that education moves into real skills-based learning.

Outside of ‘hard skills’ learned through these active learning methods, ‘soft skills’ such as creativity, teamwork, problem-solving, and critical thinking are a natural part of these learning methods. Soft skills are as important to the world of work in tech as are the ability to write quality, readable code, and are as prevalent in tech job descriptions as any of the hard skills. Any good engineer is a structured problem solver, a skill that must be developed through practice and hands-on learning.

It’s time to reduce lectures, knowledge transmission, and computer science exams where you code on paper and never actually deliver quality, production-ready code. In the 21st century, it’s time to redesign education to deliver what makes us successful in industry today, not what made sense a few hundred years ago.

Kwame Yangame

About Kwame Yangame

Kwame Yangame is the CEO and co-founder of Qwasar Silicon Valley, a global leader in innovative, 21st-century training for technical talent. With over 15 years of work in diversity-focused IT education, Kwame co-founded internationally recognized IT school 42 in Paris and in California and launched France's leading private IT university Epitech over the last 20 years.

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