CompTIA’s Fly-In Sees Positive Future for IT in DC

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The following appeared in yesterday’s Seacoast Sunday.

For several years, I have traveled to Washington, D.C. in mid-February to take part in CompTIA’s DC Fly-In. This event brings together about 150 technology professionals to hear from members of Congress and meet with our members, to talk about IT’s importance to the economy, national security and discuss the needs of this $1 trillion-plus segment of the U.S. economy.

dcflyinThis year, I found a very different Washington, D.C. While that may invoke negative connotation, I was pleased to see some hopeful signs. I arrived in Washington this past Monday evening at the same time word came that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had resigned and the national security leadership was thrust into turmoil that only got worse the next two days. Wednesday afternoon, I was on Capitol Hill moving between the House and Senate office buildings. The worry and air of uncertainty was palpable. Members of Congress I was scheduled to meet with were all called to urgent consultations or votes, fueled by what seems to be a highly fluid government right now. As I was finishing my meetings, word came that the cabinet nominee for Labor secretary was withdrawn, the latest of what some Hill staffers referred to as crises of the day.

Despite all these events and distractions, staffers remain focused on what they can do for their constituents and how, in my case, they can help the IT industry remain vibrant. On Tuesday, I talked with several members of Congress. I sat in a small working group with Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida. I was impressed with his grasp on technology and what Congress can do to help our industry. He talked about the critically important issue of exposing more young people to IT careers and helping small and entrepreneurial business thrive without overly burdensome regulation.

This was a nice prep for the next session, which focused on developing necessary skills to build our national workforce for cybersecurity. Everyone agrees it is a significant deficiency that our children are not better educated about the importance of cybersecurity and available career opportunities. It was interesting to learn about programs of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and National Security Agency. The NSA, in particular, has some innovative programs that work with schools and universities to designate them as Centers of Educational Excellence, providing resources to train students in critical cybersecurity skills needed by industry and government.

We heard from several congressional staffers, including from the offices of Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawai’i, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and representatives from the Department of Commerce and Federal Trade Commission. They discussed the growing need to secure devices that fit into the category of the Internet of Things (IoT). They also discussed implications of the new Congress and administration as it relates to technology policy. With respect to Congress, a growing membership of younger, tech savvy representatives and senators is gaining influence and drawing attention to important technology issues. As it relates to the new administration, it’s too early to know if it will be as technology savvy as the Obama administration.

CompTIA awarded its Tech Champion awards to Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Rep. Will Hurd of Texas. I was impressed with both young men, who have inspiring personal stories and an affinity for technology. Booker’s father was the first African-American salesperson hired by IBM in the Virginia area. Hurd is the only member of Congress to have served as a covert CIA case officer. They have both shown leadership on matters impacting the technology industry and share the industry’s concerns around cybersecurity and the growing skills gap.

Reps. Derek Kilmer of Washington and Ted Lieu of California impressed me as well. Both are younger members of Congress with a strong understanding of technology. Kilmer is a self-described recovering geek, having grown up as a gamer. As a 43-year-old father of two young children, he is concerned about the lack of diversity in technology and wants to see that change. He is also concerned about hacking and cybersecurity. Lieu is one of only four members of Congress to hold a computer science degree and is a colonel in the Air Force Reserve. He brings a valuable perspective and talked about concerns I see every day in the business world, namely the security of mobile devices and growing amount of work done from them.

Wednesday afternoon, we headed to Capitol Hill for meetings with members of Congress from our home states. As a New Hampshire resident working for a company headquartered in Massachusetts, I was able to participate in five meetings across the delegations. I was scheduled to meet with Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Maggie Hassan and Reps. Ann Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire. Due to the nature of the business of the Congress, further complicated by the unknown nature of the day’s developments, only Markey was able to make his scheduled meeting. For the rest, we met with staffers. Meeting with their staff is no less important.

There is a massive skills gap in the IT industry. There are nearly 1 million unfilled IT jobs nationally. CompTIA is putting forth a proposal to expand existing, successful, apprenticeship programs to IT. This would allow high school students and those who may not pursue a traditional four-year degree to get trained and certified for IT careers.

I strongly support this and was thrilled to hear staff and members offer equally strong support. Our economy and national security are at risk if we don’t address this need. We are reliant on H1B visa holders to fill many IT jobs we are not able to fill with home grown candidates. With looming changes to the H1B program that will potentially curtail this, we are now in a real deficit. Our schools need to focus on more than just software coding. That is just one small part of the IT career continuum.

It’s critical that our teachers have a better understanding of what IT careers are and that the curriculum they deliver aligns with the total opportunity, not a narrow segment, as it does today.

This initiative, coined CHANCE in Tech is a mechanism to do this and ensure our competitiveness as a nation. CHANCE stands for Championing Apprenticeships for New Careers and Employees in Technology. They key part of this act would be to develop a bill specifically addressing the tech workforce. It would be based on the apprenticeship model developed under the American Apprenticeship Initiative to scale up work based learning accelerators targeting early college STEM students and those over age 18. It would also recognize and award high schools that alight to tech career pathways of excellence.

Please consider writing your member of Congress in support of this initiative. This will have real value locally, regionally, nationally and globally. Take action and support U.S. competitiveness in technology.

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