by Todd R. Weiss

Where Will Your Future IT Workers Come From?

Jul 22, 20118 mins
CareersCRM SystemsERP Systems

Finding the right IT people with the right skills is critical to keeping your business running smoothly. So what are you doing to groom the next generation of IT workers for your future hiring needs? It's time to mentor some kids through groups like Teens In Tech and TechGirlz.

Great IT people don’t just appear at your door when you need them. Actually, it’s often hard for enterprises to find just the right IT staffers with the perfect skills and temperament to do all the hard things that have to be done to keep your business processes rolling along.

Recruiting can be difficult and expensive and take a long time, depending on the qualifications and certifications that you are seeking in your new hires. You need people with skills in ERP, CRM, BI and other enterprise apps? What are you doing about it?

Given those realities, I can’t help but wonder why more companies and IT executives don’t look for innovative opportunities to grow their own future IT workers.

What in the world am I talking about?

It’s simple. Have you ever thought about investing in people like you do for hardware, software, buildings, office equipment and everything else your business needs to run?

All over the country, there are nascent groups out there that are working to encourage pre-teens and teenagers to pursue their loves of technology, video games, computers, cellphones and more, so that they will pursue careers in these fields.

Yes, I’m talking about teens and pre-teens, some as young as nine or 10 years old.

Am I crazy? I don’t think so.

Just ask Daniel Brusilovsky, the CEO and founder of Teens In Tech Labs, a three-year-old start-up that is working to encourage teens to develop and grow their best ideas in technology.

Oh, did I mention that Brusilovsky is 18 and that he started Teens In Tech when he was 15?

Daniel Brusilovsky, the CEO and founder of Teens In Tech Labs
Daniel Brusilovsky, CEO and founder of Teens In Tech Labs

His idea is simple — to provide tools and resources to young people around the world to encourage entrepreneurship, even among kids who are too young to vote or drive.

The idea happened after he started his first company at 14, a media group that created podcasts and helped other young people create media content.

“It was originally started as a social network for young media producers, bloggers and podcasters,” he says. “I was one of those people and I wanted to find other like-minded people who were interested in that kind of stuff. Unfortunately, there weren’t that many young media producers to connect with” back then.

That’s when he expanded his networking idea to a larger group of young people — young entrepreneurs. “We originally focused too much on a niche audience,” he says. “We took a step back and looked at the industry as a whole, to young people who have great ideas and need to jumpstart them. Young people come up with great ideas and don’t know what to do with them.”

It turns out, according to Brusilovsky, that “they just need to know the steps to follow.”

And that’s how Teens In Tech Labs came to be.

“I have a ton of friends and we started talking and we all realized that we had similar struggles,” he says. “We had ideas but didn’t know what to do with them. We began to look at how to fix it.”

The process began with finding mentors and advisers who could help them give some of their fledgling tech ideas some legs.

A key step was the acquisition of office space where the group could create a young person’s technology incubator. The space was donated by Appcelerator, a mobile cloud application development platform vendor, which also helps run the incubator in Mountain View, Calif.

The incubator first opened for business June 22, and since then six teams of young entrepreneurs, boys and girls ages 14 to 19, have been working daily on the first projects being developed.

The first six projects focus on:

*Development of a new kind of geo-location service.

*The creation of an iPhone and Android game.

*Development of an online code editor.

*Creation of a high school note-sharing site.

*Development of a budgeting Web site.

*Creation of a social Web site where you can share a photo of your desk and workspace with others. “People are interested in the kinds of equipment people use,” Brusilovsky says.

Teens In Tech isn’t a widely-available membership organization at this point, but that could change by late next year. Right now, the teens who are involved come to the incubator, post info on the group’s blogs and stay active with each other.

The kids have been hard at work on their incubator projects so they can be prepared to present them at the first Teens In Tech Conference on Aug. 5, which will be held at the infamous Palo Alto Research Center. The event is being sponsored by a host of companies, including General Motors, Microsoft BizSpark, Meshin, PARC, SOS Ready, STM Bags, Eventbrite, RadTech and Vapur.

“It’s incredible,” Brusilovsky says. “We’ve been working so hard getting ready to launch the event in the next few weeks and to unveil the products in the incubator. We’re really looking forward to that.”

One of the reasons for having a tech group aimed specifically at kids, he says, is that adults often don’t understand teen entrepreneurs. “It’s often easier for teens to talk to other teens about problems they’re having with their tech ideas. People feel more comfortable working with people their own age.”

There are other similar groups out there, too.

There’s in Redwood City, Calif., which runs youth incubators and entrepreneurship programs to excite and propel disengaged, low-income students to finish high school and go on to success in college.

And in the Philadelphia metro area, there’s TechGirlz, a two-year-old non-profit group that works with young girls, encouraging them to study math and science in school so they can pursue careers in technology. The problem, according to TechGirlz, is that girls are often choosing to opt out of technology at a relatively young age because they’re not being encouraged and mentored.

Last April, I was at a tech conference where a group of TechGirlz members gathered with two visionary women in technology, Stormy Peters of Mozilla and Molly Holzschlag of Opera Software, to share their ideas and dreams.

“I started by teaching myself HTML then I started learning Python,” one bright-eyed girl named Eliana with braces, hot pink pants and long, curly dark hair told me that day. “What got me involved was that ever since I was really little, I was always attracted to video games and computers.”

Eliana explained that she was working hard to further develop a game she created, and add more features. She even was exploring the idea of releasing it as an open source project, but wasn’t sure she wants to give up control of the project.

Did I mention that she is 12?

Sometimes it takes a helping hand to get you started.

When I was a kid, a local bicycle shop in Madison, Wis., gave me a job as an intern at 13. They taught me about bikes and sales, repairs, inventory, ordering and restocking. They mentored me and helped develop my love of work and learning.

After volunteering for a year, they hired me.

Years later, I discovered computers. I realized computer knowledge would be necessary in order to adapt to a changing workforce. I was curious, motivated and interested, just like all those kids who are getting involved in tech programs like these across our nation.

So what can you and your company do?

Start in your community.

Talk to local high school guidance counselors and even middle school science and math teachers about the IT skills your business will need future employees to have. Encourage them to encourage their students. Consider funding some hardware or software gifts for the school or send in one of your IT staffers on a career day at the school and start nurturing some young minds, and their teachers, too.

Though 12 may sound extremely young, keep in mind these kids will grow up fast. If you have kids of your own you know that all too well. The payoff could come quicker than you realize, one day you’re mentoring the next those very kids are grown and knocking on your office door looking for a job faster than you can say “I need a great Python coder.”

Today, your company probably has open technology positions that you can’t fill. What if you could change that by filling the pipeline now with skilled new workers who appreciate what you did to help them get the skills you needed?

It’s worth investigating. It’s worth doing. You’ll even learn some new things as well about your business and about yourself.

So get out there and mentor and grow and learn. Your next tech workers are out there somewhere.

Go and say hello to them.