Wanted: Programmers with Ethics

IT leaders are still hungry to recruit .Net programmers, desktop support technicians and voice over IP project leaders, according to an online survey conducted in June by the Society for Information Management. But when asked by SIM to cite the top workplace skills that they are seeking among both entry-level and midlevel IT workers, the 231 respondents overwhelmingly cited ethics and morals as the traits they most desire.

SIM didn't disclose the number of respondents who chose ethics and morals. But that choice easily beat out alternatives such as communications skills and business acumen, said the group, which released the results of its annual membership survey at its SIMposium 2008 conference in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., today.

Many IT executives are concerned about stories they've heard of staffers doing "unethical things," such as circumventing security systems , said Jerry Luftman , a professor at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., and SIM's vice president of academic affairs. Luftman , who also is executive director of the information systems graduate programs at Stevens, added that cheating scandals have roiled some U.S. colleges.

"It's hot on everyone's minds," Luftman said. "This whole issue of ethics and morals is becoming paramount to IT executives."

"To me, this is the price of entry into my [IT] department," agreed Paul Major , CIO at The Aspen Skiing Co. in Aspen, Colo. In a phone interview prior to the SIM conference, Major noted that he recently had to fire two people from his 20-person IT organization because they didn't "exhibit the type of principles that we try to emulate with our team and in our company."

Major also said that prior to any discussions about technical skills during job interviews, he does a "gut check" of the applicants based on how they're dressed and how they present themselves. "Then I give them the spiel on the company's guiding principles," he said.

Mike Close, chief technology officer at The Dannon Co. in White Plains, N.Y., said that gauging the moral fiber of job applicants has long been a consistent part of the yogurt maker's vetting process , including when the company did "a significant amount of hiring" over the past couple years.

Among the other findings from the SIM survey was an anticipated increase in the percentage of IT budgets being devoted to sending IT work offshore , from 3.3% this year to a projected 5.6% in 2009.

Luftman, who was scheduled to present the survey findings during a SIMposium session today, said the weak economy is the primary factor pushing IT executives to try "to maintain technical support at a lesser rate ." Also, the pipeline for qualified IT job candidates in the U.S. "isn't adequate to fill the demand," he said. "So companies are forced to fill the spots elsewhere."

In response to another survey question, only 15% of the respondents said that they expected to reduce their IT headcounts next year. Even though the survey was conducted in June and business conditions have worsened dramatically since then, Luftman said he doesn't expect to see big changes in the number of expected cutbacks.

"In June, we didn't experience the [economic] hit that we did in the last month or two, but everyone was anticipating it," Luftman said. In addition, IT executives are being more proactive about spending changes than they were in the post-9/11 economic downturn, he said. So if anything were to change from a staffing perspective next year, it might be the size of salary increases or whether IT workers even receive one, Luftman added.

This story, "Wanted: Programmers with Ethics" was originally published by Computerworld.

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