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I was in europe last week, with stops in Germany that included a tour of the Frankfurt Airport data center and the annual CeBIT trade show in Hannover.

It is always interesting to view the state of affairs in the IT industry from the other end of the lens after spending most of my time in the United States, looking outward.

Here’s my take on where Europe and the United States converge in technology and where I’d say Europe is ahead.

“Europe faces hiring crisis in high tech”: That was the headline of a March 10 article on the business pages of the International Herald Tribune.

In that article, writer Carter Dougherty noted a seeming contradiction: Despite a European unemployment rate higher than that of the United States—7.5 percent versus 4.5 percent—companies throughout Europe with high-tech jobs
to fill are having a hard time finding qualified candidates.

As Dougherty states: “Companies have to find ways to work around a limited supply of qualified employees—by nurturing young talent, finding people from overseas or simply moving operations outside Europe.”

That statement was reinforced when I spoke with Falk Wieland, director of the data center for Gedas Operational Services at Frankfurt Airport.

The showcase data center is housed in an immaculate, fortresslike building within a building and is expanding its operations to include data center hosting capabilities for small and midsize companies.

Wieland said he is looking for employees who don’t necessarily “have a lot of titles” but do have the training and desire to work in a data center that runs vital airport services.

Wieland’s comments about the difficulty of finding new employees mirror complaints I hear in the States about the gap between an older work force retiring and fewer college students choosing a technology curriculum.

Neither Europe nor the United States has been able to find the right mix of technology incentives for students, job security and retraining for older workers, and visa policies that all consider fair.

While the job dilemma in both regions is similar, I’m always taken with Europe’s ability to stay several steps ahead of the United States regarding the environmental impact of computing.

In 2003, the European Commission passed a series of strong bills restricting the use of hazardous materials in electronic products. And while Americans earlier this month were busy trying to figure out if we were supposed to turn our clocks back or ahead, the European Union reached a compromise agreement for cutting greenhouse-gas
emissions by 20 percent by the year 2020.

The United States may indeed develop similar standards, but it looks like this will be a state-by-state effort rather than a federal mandate.

America is behind on the important issues of reducing hazardous wastes in the electronic and computer products we build and in developing a clear role for the computing industry to play in the greenhouse-gas debate.

Other areas where Europe seems able to stay ahead of the United States include developing innovative uses for mobile computing, ranging from cellular-phone-based payment systems to high-speed mobile data connections that work across networks and are ubiquitous.

In addition, CIOs seem to stay on the job longer at European companies and are less concerned about trying to figure out who they will be working for in two years than they are about developing long-term technology plans for their current employer.

During my week in Europe, news stories included an apparent plan to attack crucial Internet nodes in London, the European Union criticizing Apple for linking its iPod players to its iTunes Stores (possibly setting the stage for a restriction-of-fair-trade complaint) and the French National Assembly deciding to migrate its nearly 1,200 desktop computers to Ubuntu Linux.

Those news stories certainly echo similar stories in the United States, but the European twist on technology is something all of us in the States can learn from.

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