Opinion You know, being able to recognize when the universe is sending you a message is a crucial skill in life. It’s not something you can learn through an exam, unfortunately. But let’s take a look at these three stories and see if there’s a connection: Microsoft moving to open-book exams for certification, ChatGPT passing law and other exams, and the struggle to find skilled IT workers. Could it be that our current qualifications system just isn’t cutting it?
Well, in some cases, it’s pretty obvious that the system is failing. If a computer program like ChatGPT can pass a law school exam, then something is seriously wrong with that exam. I mean, don’t get me wrong, computers passing exams isn’t always a bad thing. Some multiple choice tests can be aced by a 1980s computer running a BASIC program, but they still have their value in context. However, when we’re talking about screening for professional ability in a field that directly impacts people’s lives, we definitely don’t want to be testing them on things that a text predictor with no grasp of reality can do.
Now, let’s shift the focus to the IT qualifications of 2023. These qualifications can definitely make things easier for recruiters. They can use filters to search for certain degrees or industry-recognized certifications, which narrows down the pool of resumes they have to read. But the problem with this approach is that they’re also missing out on a lot of talented individuals. And if you think that’s an acceptable compromise, then trust me, those talented individuals are better off elsewhere.
This filter effect is particularly noticeable in large corporations where hiring policies become rule-based and rigid. It’s alarming to see how this approach can devalue a company, especially when you consider that some of the most successful companies were founded by college dropouts.
On the other end of the spectrum, having a degree in science or math can open doors at many places that value analytical abilities. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that it creates its own ecosystem that doesn’t necessarily address the IT needs of most organizations.
Exams also show us that a person’s ability to do certain types of work doesn’t always depend on explicit training in that area. This becomes complicated because exams have to test something tangible. In the past, this made sense when knowledge was scarce and slow to change. But now that knowledge is accessible everywhere at all times, what matters most is the ability to search, analyze, and synthesize that information.
In IT, this is crucial at all levels. The pace of change is rapid and unpredictable, and a comfortable specialization can quickly become irrelevant with a platform or vendor change. The smart interviewers have always asked candidates about the resources they use to solve problems or learn new requirements quickly. Knowledge of the most relevant sources, from Slashdot to Stack Overflow and Reddit, is key. Formal qualifications may have led candidates to stay in their comfort zones for too long.
Microsoft’s move towards open book tests is a step in the right direction, although the books that can be used are limited to what Microsoft provides. This is great if you only care about working within Microsoft’s ecosystem, but not so great if you want broader knowledge and awareness.
You can actually view your entire career as an open-book exam with a generously flexible grading system. Open source projects are even closer to this idea, where participation or ownership is a strong signal for recruiters who are on the ball.
Let them in
However, culturally, open source can be intimidating and unwelcoming for those who don’t fit in or lack confidence. It’s interesting that a sector that should be all about meritocracy lacks diversity. This is a clear sign that many people are not joining a field that desperately needs more talent.
We need an on-ramp for talent that leads to a continuous cycle of skill acquisition, learning, and documentation. It should be a vendor- and platform-agnostic framework that appeals to both young, curious individuals and experienced careerists. Think of it as a system that curates humans as they navigate the world of IT, with curated content, communities, pathways, tools, sandboxes, and showcases. It may sound expensive, but for a small percentage of the tech industry’s revenue, we could build and deploy an amazing education system with the help of top-notch educators. This would solve the industry’s most pressing need for talented individuals doing meaningful work, and it could expand into other areas and benefit us more than AI ever could. Perhaps it could even help us distinguish decent lawyers from insane robots in the legal system. We can hope, right?