VSJ – September 2001 – Sounding Board

Peter Venton, MIAP vents some spleen:

I just read Steve Cumbers article in April’s VSJ. I started working in the technology industry 25 years ago as an electronics engineer. I did an ONC in electrical engineering when I first started work. I moved into software as the microprocessor appeared in electronics, writing machine code programs to test electronic sub-systems. So I went back to university to take a degree in mathematics and computer science. This gave me a formal education in software. So I have a good all-round knowledge of both hardware and software systems. Steve makes two interesting points that I agree with and would like to comment on further.

1.        56% of the world’s greatest inventions are born in the UK. I have worked in Austria for the last 16 years as a senior analyst on the Austrian Air Traffic Control system, originally implemented by Plessey Radar. Although the basic design was sound, it took five years to sort out. Since then it has had functionality added which surpasses all systems currently in use in Europe. It was based on some very advanced concepts for its day. The design has allowed modification and enhancements that were probably never dreamt of originally. It really was designed with ‘maintenance’ and ‘enhancement’ in mind; i.e. it was a good design with future-proof concepts built in. In fact much of its functionality has only recently been equalled by systems just coming to market. Despite Plessey having such a massive technological advantage, they were unable to cash in. In fact, they lost other contracts as a result of bad delivery times and systems failing to meet their specifications. Eventually Plessey was sold and integrated into other companies. During these 16 years, (irrespective of who owned it), I have watched one British management team after another come and go and make decisions that were just mind-boggling. My experience of management failing to rise to the technological challenge led me to believe that UK managers are utter idiots.

2.        This brings me to my second point. Steve discusses the quality of British management. Rather than stand on the sidelines and heckle I thought I would take a closer look, so I recently signed up for an MBA in Technology Management. One research paper (‘Managing Learning’, Christopher Mabey and Paul Iles) I read was particularly interesting. Only 15% of the 2,500,000 managers in the UK are degree educated. Of the 90,000 people going into management careers every year only 12,000 (13%) receive any form of education at all. (It would appear that far from raising the 15% education level it’s actually getting worse.) So if you think your manager is an uneducated moron, the chances are 17 to 20, that he really is an uneducated moron. With morons running business in the UK it’s no surprise we do so badly in the production and manufacturing sectors. It’s like letting your 70 year-old granny loose with a multimillion-dollar technology company when she has no idea what a computer is!

It infuriates me the way British management manages. Due to their complete ignorance of all things technical they are prone to making seriously bad calls when trying to manage technological projects. It appears we could do with many more formally trained technology management specialists. As Steve correctly points out, the skills shortage for IT specialists fades into insignificance when one thinks about the educational level of 85% of British management. Maybe we just need some educated people looking after us. Imagine the state of British design and engineering if only 15% of all engineers were degree educated. I’ve got so sick of this (along with IR35) that I am in the process of emigrating. I will not be returning to the UK. I have lived outside for 18 years and when I look back to my home country with its antiquated, stupid, ignorant management and associated workplace it makes me cringe. So it’s goodbye to the morons for me. And if you, the reader (not you Steve), are a manager and you have no formal training, do us engineers a favour and go get yourself educated. It may help all of us.

Something you’d like to get off your chest? Email me (Robin Jones) at eo@iap.org.uk.

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