Techies teach teachers a lesson

IT and teaching are both undervalued professions. A positive approach makes all the difference

What have IT and teaching got in common? That's easy. Professionals in both fields are often ridiculed, ridiculously poorly paid at first, and beholden to the poorly educated — in IT's case, the middle management.

Teachers and techies also share a chronic lack of appreciation. The work of the humble IT professional mostly goes unnoticed until something goes wrong, a file gets lost, an email goes astray or a virus gobbles the central database. Teachers are similarly ignored and undervalued, enjoying a daily diet of obnoxious and sometimes dangerous youths intent on creating havoc while deflecting as much knowledge as possible.

Despite those similarities, those in charge of encouraging employment in the two fields have very different ideas on what constitutes a recruitment strategy. This week, the government-owned Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDAS) produced a highly questionable piece of research that claimed teaching was the least boring career option for graduates — orders of magnitude more stimulating than IT, scientific research or working in the media. While teaching scored just 4/10 on the Workforce Boredom Index, IT and Telecoms clocked in with 7.5.

We're still waiting to find out where writing dubious press releases is ranked, but perhaps we can guess. Starting from the perspective that all work is inherently dull, but teaching is the least painful option, is a notably cynical approach to selling a profession. Whoever thought it up should perhaps reconsider their career options.

But while attempts to boost the teaching profession may have been clumsily executed, a strategy this week to deliver some much-needed appreciation to the IT crowd was more encouraging. Yes, today is Sysadmin Day, a mere year since the last one and already an occasion of national rejoicing only slightly less fervent than the Festival of St Eloi and the Possessed Horse.

It may be mildly twee, but the League of Professional System Administrators has chosen a benign way of highlighting the plight of their unsung profession. One day every year, the group says, thank the person who toils to keep your email server running, who maintains your Web page, who patches up your ancient laptop. Make the techie in your life feel special.

We'd suggest that whoever thought up, or more accurately didn't think nearly enough about, the clumsy Workforce Boredom Index could learn something from Sysadmin Day. Class dismissed.