Ron McLaren has long-term practical IT industry experience, having worked extensively with the development, introduction and marketing of new technologies, products and techniques since 1966. This has involved the management of technical people in customer-facing, product development and service delivery environments.
Latterly he has concentrated on the management of the IT capability of individuals: he established the Engineering Professional Community in a major IT product and services company, developing and implementing a framework of professional roles and skills for the company's 13,000 technical staff.
For ten years, as Operations Manager of the SFIA Foundation, Ron has contributed to the development of the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), helping it to grow to worldwide acceptance, with users in 100 countries.
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Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
Ron profiles his history prior to his current role and shares defining and usable lessons from the major events and roles in his history.
"....Simple factual knowledge isn't really the whole story and you have to have some experience to give insight so you understand what that knowledge really means....A few things about contracts and the things that you should and should not do....Information about what products were going to be successful in the marketplace (something that you have to figure out for yourself)....A lot of interesting things learned about flexible resourcing and people management...."
Ron, you talked a little about being part of the SFIA Foundation, can you profile further your current role and your measurable goals?
"....The basic idea of the Foundation is that it remains as small as possible, consumes as little resources as possible and tries to work through other organizations....I'm responsible to a non-Executive Board whose Directors are employees of the Foundations' members' organizations — so I am responsible for all activity in the Foundation...."
What are the origins of SFIA?
"....The stimulus was a UK Government Report into IT resources. It recommended the production of a standard way of describing IT skills. SFIA was then put together by a group of people from industry and government (organizations like Cisco, IBM, UK Government, Fujitsu, many IT users and some professional bodies)....Since then the updates have been undertaken internationally...."
Where is SFIA heading?
"....As long as we see SFIA as a useful resource, one of the key ways that SFIA can be made more relevant to most people is by relating it to the other things which they use....I don't see a shining light in the future that says when we get there we've done it, I can only see a journey...."
How would you compare SFIA with other frameworks?
"....In general the frameworks that I've come across over the years have been guides to the way you do things. SFIA doesn't attempt to be a guide to doing things, because it immediately makes it irrelevant to the people who don't want to do things that way. We've taken the view that it is simply a resource, simply a bunch of information, and whatever approach you take to managing your people, this resource is going to be useful, so we're determined that it should remain a component...."
What is the value of SFIA to employers?
"....The key things that SFIA really does for people — first it gives you consistency and the other thing is it introduces objectivity...."
There's a big sea of people working in the field. What is the value of SFIA to IT professionals?
"....It is a great career guide....You can look at it and understand what people are going to expect of you and what you ought to be able to do....I think it helps keep people on track...."
What is Skills development?
"....Skills development for me (from an employer's perspective), is having the right skilled people in the right place at the right time...."
You have used the phrase, "Kill the complexity dragon". What do you mean?
"....It always struck me as being a tendency in IT (people who have been in a technical background), to provide too much information and maybe to introduce some complex structures into that information....That is the complexity dragon — we must be on our guard and keep things simple...."
What about managing the managers?
"....If you want to change how things are done in an organization, your focus must be the managers and team leaders. They are the ones who influence people's behavior, do appraisals, produce skills development plans and so on...."
With emerging technologies such as big data, mobile computing, social media and cloud computing, what are companies doing to address these areas from a skills and competency perspective?
"....What people have to do is to re-evaluate their roles....There is more procurement and a greater need for the procurement people to know what's going on, but also people who are responsible for receiving these services in the company....There is another area....Where is the boundary between IT and IT users? Some of the lines have been blurred...."
Ron, please share any insights you gained and provided as a speaker and leader at the IFIP World Congress.
"....The thing that struck me was one particular presentation which was on the subject of Online Learning....It was quite apparent listening to the presentation that this has really moved into a new generation and online learning systems now are being produced by people who really understand how online learning systems should work...."
Do you feel computing should be a recognized profession on par with accounting, medicine and law with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, personal responsibility, public accountability, quality assurance and recognized credentials?
"....The mere fact that there are so many organizations now who are offering certification, there is such a demand for it and clearly a need among the users and a desire to have some sort of underwriting of people's capabilities — I think that is really positive. Of course the need might not end up being satisfied by a traditional body like the law (profession) for dealing with IT — it might be a completely different approach....We will certainly need to remember how international this business is. I doubt that something modeled on existing professions will satisfy the need...."
From his extensive speaking, travels, and work, Ron shares some stories (something amusing, surprising, unexpected or amazing).
Ron, if you were conducting this interview, do you have an added question you would ask and then what would be your answer?
"....If you had your life to do again would you still go into IT?...."
Ron, with your demanding schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your deep experiences with our audience.
Music by Sunny Smith Productions and Shaun O'Leary