Todd Thibodeaux was just named president and CEO of the Computing Technology Industry Association, the leading IT industry association. He shares with the CIOZone his views on IT certification, the need to allow more foreign tech workers into the country, and the educational needs of the CIO.
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On June 25, the Computing Technology Industry Association, a leading information technology industry association, named Todd Thibodeaux as its next president and chief executive officer.
Thibodeaux, who most recently was senior vice president of industry relations at the Consumer Electronics Association, succeeds John Venator, who is staying on until September 1 to help with the transition.
Thibodeaux had been with the Consumer Electronics Association since 1990. In the years he was with the organization, CEA grew from a small group of companies to an organization with 2,200 members and 150 employees. At CEA, Thibodeaux was involved in day-to-day operations, strategic planning, partnership and investment opportunities, market analysis and a number of other functions - all of which prepared him well for his new role at CompTIA, which considers itself "the voice" of the world's $3 trillion information technology industry. Of course, in addition to being an advocate for the IT community, CompTIA runs some of the best-known education and certifications programs for IT professionals. And it will be Thibodeaux job to build upon that base.
Thibodeaux spoke earlier this month with the CIOZone's chief content officer John McCormick. This is an edited version of their conversation.
CIOZONE: What are your priorities as CompTIA's president and CEO?
THIBODEAUX: Well, one of the first priorities is to get the association's name better known in the technology industry. I think it's been—not a secret—but kind of a hidden gem. People know us for the CompTIA A+ certification (with validates the skills of computer support professionals). Now we have Security+ (with certifies computer security skills) and other certifications. But I don't think most people have an idea about all the things that CompTIA does on a global basis in public policy, in communications, in public relations, in research, and in member services.
So that's really one of the first and most important jobs—to raise the profile of the organization.
CIOZONE: How do you expect to go about that?
THIBODEAUX: We're looking at a lot of different options. I'm a big fan of grassroots and really getting out there and doing the media tours, meeting people face-to-face, speaking at events, doing things in Washington—on Capital Hill. And grassroots includes having our members be evangelists for us, encouraging other companies to come into the fold and be members.
CIOZONE: What other priorities do you have?
THIBODEAUX: Well, in terms of our education, the certification programs are on a nice track, but we really want to expand the reach of those certification programs into foreign and developing markets, whether it's Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Eastern Europe, South America. I think we have tremendous opportunities in those markets to deliver our services.
CIOZONE: How international is the certification program now?
THIBODEAUX: It's very broad. The U.K. is a big market for CompTIA certifications. And, in fact, it's mandated by several European companies. Ricoh and Dell recently signed an agreement to do an expansion of A+ in Europe.
Certification is something that's become very important across the globe. People see it as a competitive advantage. And they don't want to be behind the curve.
CIOZONE: But not everyone is sold on the value of certification. How do you address those concerns?
THIBODEAUX: Well, you know, it's interesting. For someone coming into the job market, for them to be able to walk in to a certain business with a CompTIA certification in hand - that's incredibly valuable. Not only to that individual, but to that company. They didn't have to pay for it. The person came in with in. They have a strong assurance of that person's skills.
But sometimes you have a high turnover environment where somebody says, "Well, why should we train these people when all they're going to do is take that certification and go to another shop?" That's the argument you hear from people.
But our job is to keep our certification programs at the state-of-the-art in terms of what's out there in the marketplace so that it's worth it for companies to provide that additional training to their staffs. Then they know that their people are going to be trained and certified on equipment that they're either going to be using now and in the near-term.
But I think we also need to be smart and make sure that we're reacting to the needs of the CIO community in terms of the type of training that they need.
There may be the opportunity to do an A+ master certification, or take Network+ (which certifies the skills of networking professionals) and Security+ to master levels.
CIOZONE: Are you really thinking about providing educational services to CIOs?
THIBODEAUX: At a recent board meeting we identified the CIO community as an area for outreach. I think there's a market need out there. Whether it's helping CIOs cope with labor issues, human resources issues, or other issues in which they're increasingly being called upon.
CIOs often need to be business planners and business process implementers - areas well beyond what the traditional CIO role was. And I think there's an opportunity for CompTIA to provide training and education programs for that community.
CIOZONE: So what will you do?
THIBODEAUX: I think that's something that we need to find out by going out and listening to the CIO community—really listening to them—and deciding what we can offer.
CIOZONE: Besides training, CompTIA is active in a number of advocacy areas. What public policies are you looking at? What are the priorities?
THIBODEAUX: The retention and promotion of free trade is something that CompTIA will continue to be heavily involved in.
I think taking any steps back on that at this point, especially as precarious as the global economy seems to be, would be a big step backward and would send very bad signals to the markets.
We also want to make sure that the tax policies at the state level make sense. We're starting to see taxes on IT services creeping up in some states. In Maryland, for instance, there was a bill that was defeated that would've done that.
So I think there are several issues that are out there. But free trade is the issue that we really have to make sure we stay on top of.
CIOZONE: CompTIA has also been active in trying to increase H-1B visa caps.
THIBODEAUX: The sentiments that run against H-1Bs are the same sentiments that run against free trade. I think that's a lack of education on the part of some policymakers who don't understand that we have a labor shortage.
CIOZONE: What's the argument for allowing more foreign IT workers into the country?
THIBODEAUX: I believe having restrictions on H-1Bs actually gives people incentive to take their businesses overseas. We've seen research centers set up in China and Russia and India and other places so that companies could tap those labor pools.
And if you ask companies what they want, they'll tell you they want a good, diverse labor pool. U.S. workers are still considered the most empowered, creative folks in the world, but they also need to be supplemented by people who come in with—for arguments sake—some better technical skills.
CIOZONE: CompTIA advocacy extends beyond technology. The organization was pretty active in trying to push small business healthcare plans. Why?
THIBODEAUX: Eighty percent of CompTIA's members are small—the same was true at the Consumer Electronics Association. The biggest challenges that small businesses face tend not to be the things that are specific to their industry. They tend to be things like session planning and financial reporting and small business regulations, which they have to deal with.
And so advocating on their behalf is something that we take pretty seriously.
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