The I in IBM always stood for International, but it was never more true than it is now that the world is flat.
In today's global economy, IBM developerWorks online community, which provides information on service-oriented architecture (SOA) and Web 2.0 technology to 6 million IT users, is beginning to resemble a United Nations for coders.
Stephanie Martin, recently appointed as the new worldwide lead for IBM Developer Relations, says she is increasingly reaching out to IT professionals in China, Russia, Korea, India, Vietnam, South Africa, and South America.
Martin is dealing with trends in SOA, Web 2.0 and Java, but, beyond technology, application development is being impacted by a demographic shift that the people at IBM are at a loss to explain.
"We're starting to see a decline of IT professionals in the United States," she said. "We're seeing fewer students come out of college as IT professionals."
The U.S. is not alone in producing a generation of students who lack interest in computer science. She said other Western countries are experiencing the same decline in enthusiasm for the IT profession. The problem is being exacerbated by the fact that the hot shot young coders who started the PC revolution in the 1970s, are now, like Bill Gates, planning to retire.
IBM has tried to stem the tide in the U.S. with a program to get the latest Java programming skills into the curriculum at American universities.
"That's a big reason why we have a focus on our academic initiative," Martin said. "We've gotten curriculum into classrooms around Java and open standards. We've trained 1.1 million students through that initiative, but we're fighting a worldwide trend in developed markets where there is a decline in the number of IT professionals."
Fortunately for the future of business computing, the tide runs in the opposite direction in the emerging markets, most notably China, where Martin and her staff are focusing more and more of their efforts.
She said the developerWorks website, which she views as an online community for IT professionals around the world, has a growing number of members in the emerging countries. For example, she says, "In Korea we saw 57 percent growth in 2007 over 2006." And while Japan is an industrial power, it is bucking the trend among its Western counterparts, as the number of Japanese members on developerWorks continues to grow, according to Martin.
IBM doesn't just rely on the developerWorks website to attract IT professionals in emerging markets, Martin is sponsoring in-person all-day seminars in China and other emerging countries featuring IBM experts in Java, SOA and other technologies. In 2007, her staff conducted 658 educational events in 54 countries.
Just getting seminars and workshops set up in China presents a logistical challenge, but Martin said the IBM staffers who travel there are rewarded with enthusiastic audiences interested in the same technologies as their counterparts around the world.
On the developerWorks website, she sees Web 2.0 has not just an opportunity for marketing IBM's Lotus brand, but also a way to transform the site itself. The site is moving beyond providing written documentation online to offering podcasts and collaboration sites where members of the community can share their ideas.
"Web 2.0 is a huge area that IBM is focused on both in highlighting Web 2.0 technology through our Lotus brand," Martin said, "but also through nurturing this IT professional community that we have in developerWorks to learn more about Web. 2.0. I believe Web 2.0 is getting to a point where we have collective intelligence. Where people are sharing knowledge and learning from each other in a very dynamic way."