Training the Next Generation: Certification Age Skews Younger

As the original pioneers in the IT industry look toward retirement, the younger generation is prepping to take over. And they’re starting early, as the certification age skews slightly younger. In some cases, they are studying as soon as they learn to read.

As the original pioneers in the IT industry look toward retirement, the younger generation is prepping to take over. And they’re starting early, as the certification age skews slightly younger. In some cases, they are studying as soon as they learn to read.

“Up until the last 10 years, IT has been dominated by people who are now in their 60s,” James Stanger, CompTIA senior director of product management, said. “They have been more conservative in their interest in doing new things.” The technology field attracts the younger generation, “and the youth certainly understand technology.

“The challenges that are associated with IT take truly, uniquely creative people,” Stanger said. “In industry, people want to attract the best and brightest.” The IT field may be doing just that by drawing interest from a serious and motivated group that brings a fresh perspective.

According to CompTIA data, over half (52 percent) of CompTIA certificants are younger than 30-years-old and there is a shift to younger age ranges. From 2013 to 2014, there was a 4 percent increase among certificants under the age of 30.

There is also a slight increase, as represented in the data, in the number of certificants who are under the age of 20. Mark Botros from Johannesburg, South Africa, was just 12 when he completed his CompTIA A+ certification.

Meet Ian O’Neill. He’s 16 and he’s CompTIA Security+ certified. His interest in technology began in gaming. He signed up for a program to be a beta tester for a game building website and was encouraged to pursue other opportunities after getting positive feedback from the program. His father found a game design course at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California, when Ian was 10. Ian signed up with a friend. “[The class] was about games. It was pretty nonthreatening,” he said of his first experience in a college-level class. By the time Ian was 11, he was enrolled in cyber-school to complete his high school requirements, but he continued taking courses that interested him at Saddleback, too.

When he saw the course titled Security+ he didn’t connect that it was a certification class. At the age of 14, he completed the class, passed the test and in doing so learned where his interest lies. “It’s like trying to find out where the holes are… It’s definitely a puzzle to try to figure out what potential attackers might be doing and how to protect yourself,” he said. “It is so common to have personal identities attached to so many different devices and security hasn’t kept up with all of that.”

Ian finished high school in June 2014 and is currently enrolled at Saddleback as a fulltime student. He is studying for the CompTIA Linux+ exam and hopes to complete it soon. 

And then there’s Ayan Qureshi from Coventry, UK. When he was just three, he watched his father work on computers. He began reading at the age of 4. With his father as his tutor, he studied for four or five months to take a certification exam. At the age of 5, he walked into Birmingham City University alone to take the exam.

“There were a lot of grownups in the room,” he said. “I was the only child.” Shrugging off the idea that other five-year-olds would have been nervous or intimidated in that situation, he said, “I was very confident.” Ayan completed the certification before he was in school. “If he has some time, he will go for more certifications,” Aasim Qureshi, Ayan’s father, said.

These children are motivated by their own love of and interest in technology, and they are supported by their parents who, at the very least, have a general understanding of technology and are not afraid of it.

The current generation of parents grew up embracing technology. As Gen X and Gen Y, they are more tech savvy themselves than the baby boomer generation before them. They saw computers adopted into their families’ homes and saw technology simplify, organize and change their lives. Gen X and Y were the early adopters of the iPhone in 2007 (20 percent of iPhone users in 2007 were between the ages of 18 and 24, 30 percent were between the ages of 25 and 34, and 25 percent were ages 35-44, according to comScore MobiLens) and are generally described as ahead of the technology curve.

“One time I had kids [in a class] raise their hand if they knew something about computers,” Stanger said. “One kid raised his hand and said, ‘I’m getting into PHP and my Dad taught me JavaScript.’” Today’s parents have a baseline knowledge of technology, or more, that they can share with their kids. If the knowledge isn’t there, they have the tools to seek it out.

While Gen X and Gen Y have adopted technology, their children live with technology and have been fully immersed in technology since nearly infancy. They are the first generation that will have no memory of the pre-digital days. In a CompTIA survey of youth opinions on careers in information technology, 74 percent of teens reported to “love technology,” and more than half of the teens surveyed (63 percent of the boys and 53 percent of the girls) said they frequently provide tech support for family members and friends.

It’s no surprise then that the children of Gen X and Gen Y are ready to break into the IT field. These kids have seen jobs in IT relatively unaffected by the recession from 2007 to 2009. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the industry lost about 1 percent of its employment in 2009 but then recovered in 2010 to even surpass its employment numbers from 2008. And, according to CompTIA’s IT Career Insights Survey, IT professionals in the U.S. report generally high levels of job satisfaction. Those in management positions indicate higher levels of job satisfaction (84 percent) compared to those in staff-level IT positions (77 percent).

Statistics that support stability and job satisfaction make an IT career path worth helping your child pursue. Every parent’s goal and hope is to nurture, grow, support and encourage their children’s strengths and interests. With a little investigation, Mark, Ian and Ayan’s parents found opportunities for their kids to do just that. Ayan’s Dad’s industry knowledge and experience kickstarted Ayan’s interest and afforded him the opportunity to develop and build his own IT lab from his Dad’s unwanted hardware. Ian was homeschooled after sixth grade, which afforded him the flexibility to pursue other means to his education.

“These kids learn exponentially faster than the people just 10 years ahead of them,” Ed O’Neill, Ian’s father, said. “Once Ian was free from the societal educational restrictions and expectations put on younger kids, he felt like he had no boundaries. He became inspired, and most importantly, he could see the actual link between the knowledge and the application, which really got him excited about learning. Once you have seen an 11-year-old surrounded by a group of computer science grad students and professors listening intently while he explains his unique perspective, it really resonates that these kids are capable of so much more than they are encouraged to do.”

Parents look for that spark in their kids. When they find it, they will fan it a bit to see where it will go. Technology was the spark for Mark, Ian and Ayan. The certifications they achieved at their young ages resulted as their parents fanned the flame to see if it would grow.

“What’s more interesting than to watch your kid be inspired and motivated?” asked Ed O’Neill.

Coming from his own experience with a career in IT, Aasim Quresh said he believes a future in IT will remain bright. For his son, “I will let him go freely,” he said. “I don’t want to press him. I want to keep the avenues open for him as I see his aptitude develop.”

Time will tell if the sparks will ignite. Ian has applied for the FBI Cyber Security Internship program and is hoping to have the opportunity to work with them this summer. Other companies have reached out to him, as well, and he has joined CompTIA’s Future Leaders community. Mark is working toward further certifications and dreams of Bill Gates-level accomplishments, while Ayan hopes to set up “the E-Valley” in the UK, which he believes could be the UK’s version of the Silicon Valley.

“Don’t be intimidated, and just give it a try,” Ian said. After all, he said, there’s no negative consequence to taking the class and not passing the exam. “I understood I could retake it if I needed to.” But he didn’t need to retake the test. He passed CompTIA Security+ and was ready to be picked up before his father finished running his errands.

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