IT Skills: International Options

As the economy slowly beings to rebound, IT professionals could well find greener pastures working overseas.

Romi Mahajan

The single most penetrating arrow you can add to your quiver as an IT professional is international experience. Technical skills are important, but they’re a given, considering your profession.

International experience, on the other hand, is hardly discussed in the world of IT. Somehow it seems only relevant to the “business side” of the house. To make an even finer point, while any stint abroad is good, working in a developing country will ready you more for tomorrow’s world than anything you can do in a domestic setting.

There are two fundamental issues here. First, the world economy has shifted to a multipolar model in which there are many hubs of activity, wealth creation and IT-led innovation. Second, the conditions in developing countries create a dynamic environment. IT fits in there following the notion that necessity is the mother of invention. Both of these aspects point to fertile ground in regard to aspirations of IT professionals around the world.

Let’s look at how the world of business and the world of IT have evolved and continue to evolve:

  • In 2006, a market study indicated there were approximately 23 million IT professionals in the world. Slightly less than one-third of those workers lived in the United States. The numbers for large developing countries like Brazil, India and China were in the several hundreds of thousands. Recent estimates suggest that the share of IT professionals in developing countries has increased by 100 percent -- doubling what it was just five years ago.The trend in developed countries is the opposite; with flat to slightly shrinking populations of IT workers.
  • The fastest-growing economies are in developing countries. The fastest-growing services sectors (largely led by IT) are also in developing countries.
  • As companies based in the developing world mature, they'll turn to IT as a key ingredient of their evolution at a pace faster than companies in the developed world.

Thus, there’s clear opportunity for gainful IT employment in the developing world. It would behoove IT professionals to go where the action is. Get ready to pack your bags.

To the second point (that IT is more innovative in the developing world), there a few other factors worth considering:

  • Enterprises in the developing world have complex IT needs, but the IT spending per employee (or per capita in general) is far lower in developing countries than in the developed world.
  • Large enterprises in developing countries deal more with domestic markets than foreign enterprises. These domestic markets are less regulated, less homogeneous and more complex than markets in developed countries. Consequently, IT in developing countries has to support a more-complex set of motions and circumstances than in the developed world.
  • Doing more with less, the mantra of the last decade in IT, is a way of life in the developing world, while lessons in necessity-based innovation are merely abundant in the developed world.

These facts lead to a startling conclusion: You can be potentially more creative and inventive with IT in a developing country than in the industrialized world. This leads to a third set of factors:

  • When surveyed about aspects of their jobs that make them the most satisfied, IT professionals universally point to creativity and doing new things with technology.
  • Second on their list is peer recognition and acknowledgement.

Move Ahead

What better way of doing both at once than moving abroad, doing innovative things with technology, and being recognized by your community as having done something groundbreaking. The media has played a role in creating barriers between IT professionals in different countries. IT professionals in India and China have been portrayed as stealing jobs from those in the developed countries. Instead of commonalities and camaraderie, people found contention and callousness.

We need an internationalization of IT, a community of like-minded and similarly skilled practitioners and thinkers working on complex problems. The first step to getting there is the migration and exchange of IT professionals from country to country, to rebuild the context and innovative spirit that often gets lost in the mix.

During the last decade, IT professionals have been under tremendous pressure to prove their worth in organizations struggling to find their place in a quickly globalizing and competitive world. The profession has stood up to the challenge well, but it still has more to do in order to maintain its integrity.

Romi Mahajan

Romi Mahajan* is president of KKM Group. Prior to joining KKM, Mahajan was chief
marketing officer of Ascentium Corp. A well-known speaker on the technology and
media circuit, he serves on a variety of advisory boards and speaks at more than a
dozen industry events per year.*