Todd Thibodeaux built a color TV when he was just 10 years old. The inner workings of technology have fascinated him all his life, and now as the president and CEO of CompTIA, a nonprofit trade association for the IT industry, he is determined to encourage that same fascination in the next generation of innovators. He sat down with Profile to talk about what the business world is asking of IT professionals and how CompTIA is helping them meet those demands.
What are some of the defining characteristics of the current IT “era”?
Todd Thibodeaux: It’s a recession-proof business. A key trend we’ve seen in the last few years is the use of personal devices, such as smartphones and tablets, at work. People want to use a device they’re comfortable with, and we want to complement that with complex solutions that are simple for the user. The two new computing platforms that are changing the industry are mobility and cloud computing. But even mobility is no longer cutting-edge as it’s entered the mainstream. This industry changes so rapidly that each era only lasts about five years at the most.
Let’s talk about cloud. Where did it begin, and where do you see it taking business?
Thibodeaux: All of us have been using cloud in some form or another for years. People were talking about it in the ’50s, but today, streaming video, checking e-mail, and shopping on Amazon.com are all cloud-based. Put simply, it’s the aggregation of computing resources into a common pool that allows people to address their needs. The next business evolution of cloud is the aggregation of data, or big data.
How is big data changing the game for business intelligence?
Thibodeaux: People are using cloud to collect a lot of data from customer ERP, CRM, and social media, but not doing a lot with it because they don’t have a strategy to compare their company against a much wider range of benchmarks. Finance has benchmarks, but what’s the standard for how long someone takes to make an online purchase once they land on your website? In the short run, IT professionals will ensure the infrastructure and systems are there to gather the data, but the specialists to interpret it are still ill defined. The Holy Grail is getting data to work together. Even big companies are still struggling with that.
Are there benefits of using cloud for small businesses or enterprises that don’t have analytics capabilities on the order of a global company?
Thibodeaux: Let’s suppose you’re a sunglasses vendor. If you could tap into a big data benchmarking service that could tell you what glasses are moving best, how to price them, and how to maintain your inventory, that could help you make a small business much larger by uncovering hidden opportunities. That’s true of virtually any industry.
What are the indispensable skills IT professionals need in today’s corporate environment?
Thibodeaux: The hot and sexy things, like big data, are typically a very small percentage of the IT market—only about 10 percent of IT is cutting edge. The fundamental role of the IT professional is to keep the company using platforms that optimize productivity, and so much of that is tied up in applications. It’s less a matter of hardware than in the past. We’re in a period of emphasis on the integration of multiple devices to create better solutions—for example, seamless voice- and e-mail integration. The industry goes up and down, and in the future, as wearable computing and robotics come into these environments, we’ll see that focus flow back to hardware.
How is CompTIA responding to the talent gap in the tech industry?
Thibodeaux: We’re educating our members through our certification programs, and we’re trying to educate kids on the opportunities they have in IT. There are a lot of misconceptions about the industry—that all IT is outsourced, that you have to be a math and science genius to work in IT, and that IT professionals are isolated. We’ve been developing programs that take things kids know, like how a text message works, and discuss all the infrastructure and jobs that help make that possible. Working with Life Journey, a company that creates an online, mentor-driven environment, we’re helping kids test-drive different careers in IT.