When I wrote about the question of whether we have enough young people graduating from technology-related university programs, I did so in a way that was meant to convey the seriousness of the issue. But there's a not-so-serious dimension to the discussion that warrants equal attention.
My mention of the work of Monsanto CIO Mark Showers, who's helping to shepherd a cooperative education program in which university students spend six months of the year in school and six months at Monsanto, struck an especially serious chord with readers.
"It's a novel idea, what Monsanto has done," wrote Andrew Porter, a senior business analyst at the US Department of Energy. "It's like apprenticeship for the modern-day IT guy. Imagine the competitive edge the US would have if more companies adopted this idea."
But let's acknowledge that there's more to the discussion than what furrows the brow. Because no discussion of young people can possibly be comprehensive without including the element of humor.
Anyone who spends any amount of time around kids knows that they tend to be funnier than we are. It's one of the most enjoyable, endearing traits of people who have yet to be calloused by the daily grind of making a living. And I've yet to find a funnier group of young people than self-professed "geeks."
Among the funniest people I know are my two sons, Don and Dan. Don has a bachelor's degree in computer science from the US Naval Academy and a master's degree in the same subject from Cambridge University in the UK. Dan is a junior studying interactive media and game development at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Dan and his classmates are the first ones to joke about their geekiness. In fact, they've come up with a list of "Top Signs You Are a Geek @ WPI," with well over 500 entries so far. Among my favorites:
- Someone says, "What are the odds?" and you calculate them.
- You have no life and can prove it mathematically.
- You have actually had a conversation in C.
- There are two members of the opposite gender on your bed, and you're on your computer.
- In the bathroom, you can hear people talking about calculus.
- A friend calls you and wakes you up with a homework question, and you can't get back to sleep until you figure it out.
- Your professor asks the class if anyone saw the football game yesterday, and it is followed by a minute of awkward silence.
- Your professor emulates Windows on a Linux machine, and people in the class applaud.
- You know someone who failed all of his A and B term classes due to World of Warcraft.
- You do a little research to prove that the last entry is wrong, since World of Warcraft came out after A term was over.
So here's the point: Just as serious programs like the one at Monsanto help to encourage young people to pursue careers in technology, an appreciation of the value of lightheartedness will serve as a natural attraction as well. My concern is that too many in the IT profession, and too many of us who serve it, take ourselves far too seriously. Humor just isn't as pervasive as it needs to be in a field where the demands of the job can far too easily take a toll on the human spirit.
We just can't have that. You need someone you can talk to. Someone who understands the pressures you face. Someone who can provide you with the advice you need when times are tough. Someone who will make you laugh.