Simply put, career opportunities in information science and technology are ample. The complicating factor is choosing just which area of this vast field to go into and prior to that, which type of academic program to enroll in. The difference in degree programs offered nationwide reflects the diversity of the field itself, which is continually evolving.
The Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y., offers "a unique program nationally," according to Professor Al Biles, undergraduate program coordinator for the university's information technology department. "There are some programs edging in this direction, but not as far as we are," Biles contends, adding, "we view ourselves as user advocates in the computing game. We come at computing from the perspective of what the end user needs to do."
MORE WORK THAN WORKERS
Citing some staggering figuresthat roughly a quarter of a million networking administration jobs in industry are currently unfilledBiles says RIT is doing its part to turn out people "who are good at integrating and deploying technology."
Recently, the largest areas of employment sought by RIT co-ops and grads have been in system and network administration or Web development, which includes both intranet and Internet work. As companies, both large and small, move into an intranet environment to communicate and disseminate information, departments within will be employing Webmasters and content developers, according to Biles. "This is an enormously lucrative and hot area that we're addressing within our program," he adds.
Administrators at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., are equally concerned with turning out students who can fill positions in information technology. However, the approach of their graduate school of information management, which offers both MBA and master's of science degree programs, is somewhat different from RIT. The makeup of students enrolled there is different as well. Most students in Stevens' school of information management are working professionals looking to broaden their skill base.
"Most students are coming from Fortune 200 companies in the New York Metropolitan area," says Dr. Jerry Luftman, professor and executive director of the graduate school of information management at Stevens. "We have a full offering of computer-related courses geared to those who have a computer science background, as well as to those looking to move up in their careers on the information management side.
STUDENTS COME FROM VARIOUS DISCIPLINES
"Then we have information systems," Luftman continues, "which is literally half computer science and half information management. Most people in that curriculum already have a strong technical background but have identified the need to gain more knowledge in the area of management."
Rounding out Stevens' information technology-related degree programs is a master's in telecommunications, which also attracts working professionals from the area. "We're proud of the fact that we have a complete set of offerings for folks to move into information technology," Luftman says.
Academia is answering industry's call for graduates trained in information science and technology on the opposite end of the country as well. At the University of California, Berkeley, the school of information management and systems' master's program is now a year old. "We'll train the people who will be running intranet or Internet sites," says Dr. Hal Varian, dean of the school. "We're very focused on information and content. Our curriculum contains four core courses and three involve information transactionhow information is communicated to the user."
Not yet able to cite employment figures for the maiden class of Berkeley's young program, Varian does note that "students are being snatched up for internships" at such top-notch employers as the World Bank and Ford Motor Company.
Given the current need for personnel trained in any aspect of information technology, Varian is confident his students can look forward to a bright employment picture upon graduation. "Eventually, every company will have an intranet," he says. "They're easy to set up, yet hard to maintain. Therefore, companies will need to employ people to keep them fresh, updated and useful. That's the job our students will be trained to do. It's an unstoppable trend."
Indeed, employers in the public and private sector seem to be clamoring for anyone with a remote interest in this booming industry. Luftman at Stevens says "everything that I've read, from studies published by the federal government to the Hudson Institute, indicates that for the foreseeable future, there will be a shortfall of talent, not just in the New York Metropolitan area, not just in the United States, but globally. "Anybody looking to go into a career in information technology shouldn't have any problem finding opportunities," Luftman concludes.
GRADUATES WILL HAVE AN ARRAY OF JOB OPPORTUNITIES
Locating opportunities may be the easiest step in the employment process. Choosing among exciting offers and "some scary salary figures," according to RIT's Biles, may be more difficult. "I've been in or near the field for some 25 years and I've never seen the demand as high as it is now," Biles says. "This is more out of balance in terms of supply and demand than it was even for programmers in the early 1980s."
RIT's program is experiencing unprecedented growth as well. From a class of 13 in the fall of 1992, the information technology department has grown to upwards of 800 participants today, according to Biles. And recruiters are responding in kind. "Everybody is recruiting here," Biles says.
As much as technology has already advanced to date, creating a windfall of opportunity for technically trained individuals, there's much more in store, according to Stevens' Luftman.
"The biggest emerging technology involves how we interface with computers," Luftman contends. "More and more of us will be speaking with our computers using such technologies as voice activation and artificial intelligence. The next generation of computer users will probably be asking us 'what's a mouse?'"