Recently, there was an article published in Information Week in which author and former Department of Transportation CIO Nitin Pradhan posed the question: “Do we need a U.S. Department of Technology?” Pradhan lays out his argument for a U.S. cabinet level department of technology to promote technology education and technology jobs in the U.S. I disagree and would like to offer an alternate view on how we can address the same issue.
Mr. Pradhan argues that we need a centralized coordination point to retain our global technology lead and that we should combine current technology departments for efficiency and to have one strong voice. He writes, “Tech industries grow because of the availability of research and development dollars, a high-quality education system, a tech-savvy workforce, a large local technology marketplace and government incentives.” I agree with all except the last point, and that is where our thoughts diverge.
A business maintains competitive advantage by investing in superior research and by hiring superior people that can carry out that research. I believe the key to developing those superior people lies in early education. The key lies in providing an engaging and compelling education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). If young people are excited about these fields, then they will be excited about finding new ways to use technology. This is what will lead them to maintain our technological edge. Since early education in the U.S. is largely a public function, then I agree with Mr. Pradhan that we need some governmental coordination. However, this needs to be done in lockstep with private industry that are the beneficiaries of this new talent, and I would argue that the push should be led by private industry. Larger government programs would only hinder the progress.
Here is my early intervention proposal for increasing interest in technology and working to maintain our lead in the world:
- Bring real world technology applications and research into the classroom. This benefits the school by raising the awareness and interest of the students. It benefits the business by increasing their exposure to future employees and by garnering ideas from a broader audience. Crowdsourcing ideas from a middle school? Why not?
- Encourage post secondary education in STEM by providing high school job shadowing opportunities with people who are creating the future. These could be in information technology, bioinformatics, or technology research.
- The technology industry can step up to take the lead on creating this future. There are already several consortiums and associations formed to address various intercompany and interindustry problems. This education lead could be housed through one of the existing associations, to be co-led by an existing government agency.
The need exists and the desire exists to maintain our technology lead. The key is partnering to make technology exciting and fulfilling so that we can attract brilliant minds to help create our future. Do you agree? Are there other ways to reach this future state? Let me know your thoughts.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT topics that keep him up at night.