What you can learn from your kids about Information Technology

By Will Dinkel

If you want to predict the IT trends of tomorrow, I'd recommend looking to the students of today.

When I was a middle school-aged old boy using ICQ and AOL Instant Messenger[1], I could not have imagined that someday Microsoft Communicator and Skype would become essential business tools. Likewise, who would have thought that from the playbook of MySpace and Facebook would come billion-dollar B2B companies like Yammer and LinkedIn[2]? Did you know that Google Apps was known as Google Apps for Education from October 2006 to February 2007, and was incubated at Lakehead University in Ontario?

I've observed that the behaviors that students exhibit naturally often surface in the business world a few years later. Sometimes these behaviors are facilitated by new, enterprise-focused applications and other times by the exact same products moving upmarket from students to businesses[3].

Why predicting IT trends is important

The market for IT is huge. In his 2009 speech to Berkeley's Haas School of Business, former HP CEO Mark Hurd attributed $1.9 trillion of the $53 trillion global GDP to IT[4].

Within the IT market, there are many subsectors, ranging from heavy server infrastructure to consumer-ish software applications. These subsectors have one thing in common – they're generally quite large. After all, massive pies yield massive slices. The sheer size and pace of the market leaves little wonder why IT has been the lifeblood of Silicon Valley for the past half-century.

What does this mean for me?

This hypothesis yields a few actionable conclusions for entrepreneurs looking to enter the IT market.

  1. Examining student behaviors is a good way to discover new business ideas

    Take a close look at applications that students use to interact with their peers. Might there be some key takeaways? Recently Snapchat has become very popular among young adults.   Perhaps timed file deletion will be a major theme in the next generation of mobile enterprise security? 


  2. Students are ideal early adopters for forward-looking business applications

    If the tastes of students are destined to become to eventual tastes of the mass market, then students are excellent test users for developing a new product. It is tempting to think that mid-market companies are ideal early adopters, but often these companies are slower to adopt new technologies.


  3. Consider when and how to hire students (or recent former students) to your team

    There have been books[5] written about engineers' tendency to create products designed for themselves. Short of changing the way engineers think, one strategy is to hire employees who somewhat resemble your eventual user. Think about your product and when you're targeting your go-to-market as you make staffing decisions for your company. 




[1]          I fully realize I'm dating myself here.
[2]          One could argue that LinkedIn plays in the consumer space, but it is clearly a tool that is used for conducting business activities.
[3]          A related argument would be that students simply take their behaviors with them as they graduate and enter the workforce. In my observations, however, the behaviors outpace simple aging as they proliferate upward into the workforce.
[4]          I wasn't able to find his source, but Hurd says it at the 10:40 mark of this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjTWJWq26Bs

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