The rest

What should they teach in high school?

Yesterday we had about forty high school ("lukio" in Finnish) teachers from the Middle Finland area visit us at Futurice. They had a dual agenda: what could they learn from Futurice in imporving their own working environment, and second, what does a company like Futurice find valuable in the high school curriculum.

We held an internal meeting with people who ought to have some good ideas (Juha has a degree in pedagogy, Hanno is the HR boss, Anni understands communication, and I have recently interviewed high school teachers in a research project). Here are the main points we presented yesterday:

Managing and refining information. At this very moment (writing this post) I have six Skype chats open, Yammer is in the background, my email is open, and a web search engine is one click away. The amount of information literally popping up and at my fingertips is... a lot! Anyone at a contemporary office environment has to be able to handle all the information somehow and refine it tp the task at hand. This is, of course, a reality already at high schools: when the students get homework they have the internet and their social networks to turn to. Rather than seeing that as a problem of, say, plagiarism or "ADHD", it should be seen as the modus operandi of creative work. Solving a problem or coming up with novel ideas is about re-using existing stuff and adapting it to the problem at hand. And our collegues, friends, custormers and other people in our social networks are critical in that process.

Group work and communication. All work at Futurice is group work. It does involve periods of working alone, but perhaps only for few hours at a time. However, developing software is groupwork, and it is often working with people who are experts on other areas than yourself. This means that communication skills are very important. A developer needs to communicate technical things to an interaction designer who needs to communicate with the customer who also talks with the developer who talks to the sales guy, and so on. Not only are our professional backgrounds different, like all international organisations we have people from other cultures, lot of non-Finnish speakers, and even different generations. The teachers commented that this is the kind of skills that language studies provide (including Finnish) in high school, and of course there is lot of group work done as well, but our emphasis made them think more about it.

Jack of all trades. Although we are a tech company that builds software we have to understand and even master skills outside technology design. Simply have a look at our customers: television broadcasting, real estate, logistics, banking and insurance, news, and so on. Obviously, to build good technology we need to have an understanding of the customer's world. Throw into the mix the changing world (technologies change, society changes, industry boundaries shift) and a designer or a developer has to be able to master new skills and knowledge. For high school this means that all the subjects taught are relevant... or irrelevant, because it is important to have the skills to learn and adapt rather than specific subject matter.

Empathy. For the lack of a better word, by empathy I mean the skill to identify with someone and see the world from their perspective. Related to the points above, it is very important in building technology, and of course in communicating with other people to "walk in their shoes". For example, we have built the web service for a Finnish real estate company; none of us at Futurice, to the best of my knowledge, is a real estate agent. But to build a good service we had to be able to step into the shoes of the agent, a person selling his or her home, people looking for new homes etc. Again, the teachers pointed out that this is something that drama classes teach. And yes, it would be great if all future technology builders had some drama skills!

In a way, no matter what subject a student studies (at high school) the most important skills are the skills required to learn new things, to communicate with people and work together, to be open to new things and new knowledge, and to be able to see other people's perspectives.

What did Futurice get out of this? In addition to some goodwill among teachers, we realized that this is small but good way to contribute to society in general: to participate in discussions on important topics such as education. Also, talking with the teachers made us think in a new way the skills actually required to do our work well.

What do you think they should teach in high schools from an IT company's perspective?