IT 101 Switches Gears

Opinion: It's fall-back-to-school time-and there is no more appropriate time than now to look at IT education and its current crisis.

Its fall—back-to-school time—and there is no more appropriate time than now to look at IT education and its current crisis.

On the heels of oversubscribed IT courses at the time of the dot-com bubble, the subsequent economic recession and IT spending freeze of the early 2000s cast doubt on the value of those same IT studies. Now, sending work offshore has ratcheted up the fear, uncertainty and doubt about the future of IT another notch. The result: IT programs cant attract students, and employers from Bill Gates on down complain they cant find anyone to hire.

These pressures have forced universities to come up with fresh ideas. One example is a course being offered this fall for the first time at Marquette University. There, IT professor Monica Adya is teaching a class in managing offshore development. "We looked at changes in courses and did an industry analysis. A big interest was in project management. We looked into how to provide real-world experience," said Adya. The concept work was funded by a grant from 3M.

The result is a cooperative effort with the Management Development Institute, in Gurgaon, India, which was looking to collaborate with a team at a U.S. university. Seventeen Marquette students, divided into four teams, will be studying project management, while 42 students in Gurgaon, divided into eight teams, will be developing software to suit their requirements.

Each U.S. team will manage two Indian teams. One team will be managed in "high control" mode, where the U.S. students will specify their requirements in detail and closely manage the developers. The other team will be managed in a "low control" manner, giving the Indian team information only as its requested.

"Im trying to make the teams learn that communication is critical to how the Indian teams develop these systems," said Adya. "A lot of the learning will occur as they experiment with these two different management styles."

It would be wrong to think the Indian students will be doing all the work while the U.S. students will be watching them. Adya said her students will do planning, budgeting, scheduling, risk assessment and team management. "They are the clients, but they are also managing the delivery of the project," she explained. The teams will use e-mail, instant messaging and possibly Internet telephony to stay in touch, Adya said. The professor plans to travel to India later on to confer with faculty in Gurgaon. She is planning to offer a similar course at the graduate level next semester.

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The Marquette courses emphasis on project management is very timely, according to a study sponsored by the Society for Information Management. That study found that the most critical skill needed by corporate IT departments is project management. Respondents, which included SIM members—all high-level IT executives at large companies—said these skills will also be needed in 2008 as well.

"Some of this reinforces our gut feel," said Kate Kaiser, another Marquette IT professor and a SIM member who took part in the study. "These are skills that companies dont want to source." The study found a revealing corollary to the emphasis on project management: a sharp drop-off in the need for in-house programming skills, said Kaiser.

For IT professionals, the historic entry-level job has been that of programmer. But if people arent starting out as programmers, how will they get their foot in the door? For now, it looks like a better place to start is in project management.

Out and about

A new offshore outsourcing company is making its debut: Karvy Global Services. Based in Hyderabad, KGS is one of the largest accounting firms in India. According to KGS officials, KGS office in New York will focus on business process and human resources outsourcing for banks. Additional areas of expertise, said officials, are call center services and market research.

Stan Gibsons e-mail address is

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