Planting Our Seed Corn

April 2002
By Vice Adm. Herbert A. Browne, USN (Ret.)

As the world barrels headlong into the information age, a growing trend is beginning to alarm many experts in academia, industry and government. Despite the attractiveness of information technology (IT) as a profession, our prime stock of engineers and IT professionals has, by and large, been in our industry for more than 15 years.

Relatively few young people are choosing the profession, and our most accomplished expertise—our aging intellectual resource—is nearing retirement. This maturity brain drain could be a ticking time bomb for civil government, which depends on IT to deliver services to the citizen; for the military, which needs experienced professionals to support network-centric warfighting; and for industry, upon whom everyone is depending to keep existing systems running optimally and to develop innovations.

The need for more IT professionals goes beyond the problem of an aging work force, however. The information revolution that defines the new age has not yet permeated every corner of the world. Many developing nations have not felt the full impact of information technologies on their societies. As these nations incorporate the information revolution into their everyday lives, the demand for seasoned IT professionals undoubtedly will increase substantially.

Obviously, the answer to this problem of aging IT expertise is to infuse the profession with new talent that will continue the legacy of discovery and change. This requires a shift in strategy away from spending discretionary capital on today’s problems and toward focusing on the future. In pure terms, we must continually seed new generations of IT professionals that will bloom into seasoned experts capable of leading the information revolution into this bold new age.

Fortunately, many participants in the information revolution are aware of this dilemma—and are doing something about it. And, AFCEA International is privileged to be a part of this effort.

For many years, the AFCEA Educational Foundation has been providing scholarships and education grants to deserving individuals and organizations in the information systems arena. Similarly, AFCEA chapters are raising funds both for the Educational Foundation and for their own local education efforts. All of the money contributed to the Educational Foundation goes directly to scholarships—not a cent goes to administration. This tradition was highlighted at West 2002 in San Diego, where contributors presented AFCEA with sizable donations for the scholarship effort (see photographs below).

We are proud of AFCEA’s sponsors and members who, instead of fearing for the future, are seizing the opportunity to shape it. The support that these companies and individuals provide to help educate our young IT professionals offers the hope that the information revolution will not begin to sputter for lack of expertise.

We cannot afford to mortgage our future—not now when both the challenge and the solution are so obvious. Education and training always have been the key to prosperity. Now, as we are transitioning to a global society built around the information age, those two disciplines are all the more important. By investing in education and training now, we lay the groundwork for a prosperous and exciting future.

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