20:20 Vision

Whether you're an IT newbie or a seasoned professional, take action now to prepare for the year 2020.

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Andrew Hrycaj is accomplishing this by working full-time as a network consultant while studying for an associate's degree, with the goal of earning a bachelor's. Hrycaj agrees that there's "an extreme gap" between the academic approach to IT and the real world, especially when it comes to cloud computing and virtualization. He believes the only way to learn how technology is really used is through experience. "It's the difference between being in it as opposed to talking about it from a thousand-foot view," he says.

Students can also seek out instructors who have spent time in industry. At Macomb Community College, for instance, Martin Kohl, professor of IT, not only teaches Java programming, but also has his students build an electronic health records system and then refer back to it throughout the semester. "We like to focus on, How can they apply this when they walk out the door? Can they use it?" he says.

To address the gap between college and real-world experience, the ACM has introduced new curriculum guidelines for undergraduate IT programs that address how computing is manifested in industries such as law, health, finance and government, Chesnais says. The guidelines are also influenced by trends such as the globalization of IT development processes, the ubiquitous use of Web technologies, and the emergence of Web services, software-as-a-service and cloud computing, he says.

Gretchen Koch, who heads CompTIA's "Getting America Back to Work" initiative, agrees that young professionals should think about IT as it's integrated into industry sectors. "They need to know about the industry they're participating in and the regulations those industries are bound by," she says. CompTIA is developing certifications for health IT and is working on programs for cloud security.

The Newcomers

These are the Gen Y'ers -- people in their 20s and early 30s who are in the early stages of their careers now and will dominate the ranks in 2020.

With its famously informal approach toward work, enthusiasm for social networks and ability to take digital multitasking to new heights, this group has already forced some changes in corporate culture and even in the technologies that IT supports.

Where the Gen Y'ers could stumble, Silver says, is in their upward progression toward roles that require relationship-building skills. Although they have a natural propensity to communicate digitally, they also need to understand the importance of face time. "Texting and e-mail are no substitute for a relationship," Silver says. This group could learn a lot from the older people at work, he contends, and forming cross-generational relationships would help them gain perspective on fitting into the higher levels of the organization.

Some in this age group may need prodding to consider taking on bigger roles. "I haven't seen many with the drive or desire to get to that level," says Buzzell.

Buzzell would also like to see Gen Y'ers adopt a more sophisticated perspective on the ramifications of technology decisions, particularly when it comes to security. "Younger people are so adept at working in a mobile environment and feeling free with what information they disclose that they'll have a harder time understanding security issues," he says.

On the positive side, Buzzell adds, Gen Y'ers are fearless in the face of technology change. At Sedona, he says, there was a lot of pushback from the 35-to-50-year-old staffers recently when IT introduced a new Web-based application. But the younger set was more likely to ask why they needed training at all.

It's that versatility, penchant for innovation and hunger for new challenges that James Sims loves about Gen Y workers. While they require a different management style -- one that measures results, not hours logged in the workplace -- "they're stimulated by variety and challenge, and they're much more capable than other age groups of working as a team and collaborating," says Sims, who is CIO at SaveMart Supermarkets.

Even their multitasking is a strength, he says, as is their ability to communicate on multiple channels, including IM, Skype, texting and smartphones.

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