Last week at the European Software Conference I attended a presentation by Chris Bray of IBM about… well IBM. Chris is a good presenter and gave a nice whistle stop tour of what IBM have been up to over the past 100 years including highs and lows. One thing that stood out to me though was that IBM have apparently recognised their future lies in the talent pool coming up from the ‘digital generation’ and are trying to put gifted young digital pioneers into decision making positions at IBM.

The problem I see with this strategy is a matter of perception. I challenged Chris on this asking what he thinks the outcome would be if I went out and randomly asked 100 under 25 year olds “what do IBM do?”. Chris answered by stating that during some research they found 99% of people had heard of IBM but very few could name something they are known for. So an issue they have researched and acknowledged.

Great, however IBMs approach to resolving this is to start a campaign of ‘educating’ young people about what they do. They’re going to be visiting schools and telling students about the wonderful things IBM do in the hope that when they leave school, they’ll be so enamoured by IBM that they want to seek employment from the glorious mega-machine.

Herein lies the flaw, the great young minds that are graduating currently are not simply just ‘unaware’, they’re plain disinterested. The exciting opportunities being sought by the top talent are with the exciting companies doing exciting things. The obvious targets I would suspect for young people are the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter, [insert other new and rapidly growing tech company here] and the real hot talent are likely even sold on the prospect of their own startup.

This isn’t an issue faced solely by IBM, I’m sure Microsoft, Oracle and many more of the old guard have a similar challenge to face. Unfortunately simply telling people how great and exciting you are isn’t going to cut it. You have to BE great and exciting.