|News & Stories|
With the news of outsourced tech jobs sending many college freshmen running to other departments, there is a growing need for specialists to support the world of information technology in North America.
That’s the good news for curent computer science students says Sara Willett, a 1999 Calvin computer science graduate and software engineer for IBM in Rochester, Minnesota.
Calvin computer science professor Joel Adams agrees adding that if more students don’t soon enter the field companies and organizations could have a problem on their hands.
“There’s a real concern that companies are going to have to curtail their strategic planning—and people are starting to talk about this as a national problem that could have a real impact on the country’s economy,” he said.
Still, it has been difficult to convince parents, teachers, high school guidance counselors and college admissions counselors that not all of the tech jobs are going to other countries. At Calvin, the number of students pursuing a B.A. or B.S. in computer science has decreased by 50 percent in the past two years, a trend Adams said that can be partially attributed to media coverage of outsourcing.
Willett returned to Calvin recently to speak to students about the plentiful opportunities they will have if they do pursue a career in a computer-related field. She directly addressed the outsourcing concern, turning what many believe to be a problematic trend into something positive for aspiring technology experts.
And, she added, for computer science majors who don’t want to spend their lives scripting, the trend to outsource programming work to other countries is great news. Outsourcing allows North American companies to focus on things like software design, information architecture and high-level projects, creating jobs that are more specialized and creative than ever before.
Sometimes, such jobs don’t involve much programming as is the case with Willett’s job at IBM, which has evolved from software engineering to informal project management.
“I think I’ve written about two lines of script in the past few years,” said Willett.
Willett, who received an M.B.A. from Michigan State University in 2005, is passionate about more than just computer programming. Though she has worked as a programmer and software engineer, she has been able to make an asset out of her business sense and interpersonal skills. Those qualities have helped her to find her niche at IBM as a project manager.
With the breadth of opportunities that exist within the field of technology in North America, students applying for jobs shouldn’t shy away from a position just because they think their skills don’t fit the stated job description she said.
The reality is, Willet said, that many companies don’t expect new hires to have many specific programming skills. At IBM, departments look for applicants who have a degree in a technology-related field, but more importantly, they look for applicants who are willing to learn.
“And maybe they’ll want you to know a little bit about Perl scripting,” she added.
Students shouldn’t expect to get into a computer-related field without any technical knowledge, however. Even management, because it can involve high-level design and informed interaction with customers, requires a deep knowledge of how computers and software work. Furthermore, applicants straight out of college don’t typically get hired for management positions—they start as programmers or software engineers and climb the ladder within a company.
Willett received a job offer from IBM at the end of an internship with the IBM Speed Team in Rochester, Minnesota. And though Willett’s interviewer was looking for a Java programmer, she ended up hiring Willett for an entirely new position. Her story is an example, Willett said, of just how easy it is to find a tech job that fits an individual’s experience and passions.
Senior computer science major Brian Ryckbost heard Willett speak and though he doesn’t want to work for a big corporation like IBM, thought the topic of discussion was insightful. He, along with two partners, runs a small web development company in Holland, Michigan where his office is a local coffee shop. Like Willett, Ryckbost finds himself doing much more than just programming.
“We get the customer-client relationship, we get the project management, interface design, graphic design, programming, and even a little bit of web writing,” he said.
Adams hopes that given the opportunities that exist within the field of technology, more students will choose majors within the computer science department. Parents wondering about future prospects for their son or daughter who won’t be unglued from the computer screen need not worry. The average starting salary for 2007 Calvin computer science graduates was about $50,000, Adams said, and as the demand for technology specialists grows, that wage will only increase.
~by Allison Graff, web communications coordinator
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