Connecticut Post: 'Jobs in IT' Features SHU

News Story: January 1, 2009

Reprinted with permission of the Connecticut Post

By MEG BARONE

There is a lingering perception left over from the Dot Com market crash of several years ago, especially among young people, that Information Technology jobs have dried up in the United States, and that their only hope for finding work in that field would require packing up and moving to India.

That could not be further from the truth, according to several industry experts, who see a growing demand for qualified IT candidates to fill the increasing number of available jobs in the field, most notably in three particular areas – network security, data base administration and software engineering. Other IT opportunities are developing in law enforcement and homeland security, business intelligence and computer gaming.

In fact, Domenick Pinto, chairperson and graduate program director for the IT department for Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, predicts the return of incentives to attract people into IT positions here in the U.S. Back in the mid 1990s companies within the IT industry offered signing bonuses to hire people for technology jobs. “I think we’re going to go back to that in the next few years,” Pinto said.

The misperception about lost IT jobs took a toll on university enrollment in IT programs throughout the country for a while, leading to the current shortage of skilled workers.

“Across the nation, just about everywhere, the number of undergraduate computer science majors has plummeted tremendously, and in some cases schools have closed their computer science department. But if you look at the top 10 or 20 jobs for the next five years- IT and computer science are probably half of them,” Pinto said. “There are technological jobs everywhere, but the students aren't there because many students have shied away from majoring in it,” he said.

Those seeking a Master’s Degree in IT and Computer Science generally realize the jobs are available because they are actually in the workforce and see the needs and the developing trends. But business leaders and higher education officials are working to change the mistaken belief among many college-bound students that IT is not a great field to pursue. Students think all such work is being farmed out to India.

“That’s totally not true. It’s only programming in some areas that is being sent there,” Pinto said. There are a lot of people in the U.S. who still have to trouble shoot, who have to determine what's going on with the programming that they're getting in the software.

“The support jobs, the ones that can be done on the phone are going to India, but you need a computer technician on site, physically at the location. That’s hard to do from India,” said Steve Kardos, education supervisor for the IT courses and the Local Area Manager at Porter and Chester Institute, which has several branches in Connecticut, including in Stratford, and Massachusetts from which instructors prepare career-changers, students right out of high school and people transferring from community colleges for entry level positions within several technological fields, including IT.

“We teach our students to climb under desks, to run wires through ceilings and walls, to set up wireless networks, repair computers, everything and anything related to computer hardware. We teach them how to manage, maintain, troubleshoot and rebuild,” Kardos said. “It’s heavy on the hands-on. I’m not going to read the manual to them. They know how to read. I want them to be in the computer case.”

Kardos said Porter and Chester students get real world experience because they, with supervision, are responsible for the school’s administrative and other classroom computers.

College students also get real work experience, not only in their schools’ computer labs but also through internships. Students are getting jobs offered to them very often before they even graduate, Pinto said. “The job market is very good right now. We don’t have enough students to fill the demand for all the jobs and internships that people are asking us for,” he said.

“Jobs are still being grown and we’re not anticipating a slow down,” said Emily Smith, managing director of external relations for Connecticut Innovations Inc., which provides strategic capital and operational insight to push the frontiers of high-tech industries. “We have a very highly educated workforce. We have the knowledge economy. We are able to recruit companies to the state because companies feel our educated workforce is of value to them in growing their company,” Smith said.

That’s thanks in large part to the comprehensive programs and diligent staff at educational facilities like Sacred Heart University, the University of New Haven and Porter and Chester Institute.

The IT program curriculum at Porter and Chester changes every six months, according to John Goldbeck, director of the Stratford campus. “Education is a constant. We have to constantly keep pace with what’s happening in the marketplace because of the practical applications of information technology that are taking place in certain offices. And that software is a wide, wide range for whatever business you may be in, from accounting software to information that automotive dealers and repair shops are using. They all have different applications and different needs of hardware to drive that software,” he said.

“It’s a big piece of the information technology in education to understand it, install it and keep it maintained in an effective way. If an information system goes down for a day it can cripple an industry or at the very least a building of people who are counting on that software to work. That’s why we prepare students so thoroughly,” he said.

Universities not only keep pace with developing trends, they try to anticipate them and plan their curricula accordingly. Vincent Mangiacapra, Associate Vice President of Information Technology and Chief Information Officer for UNH, said that school is uniquely positioned to accommodate IT students in several areas concentration, all of which anticipate explosive growth.

UNH has a strong computer science program, an accredited engineering program and a renowned criminal justice and forensics program all on one campus. Also, at UNH's Henry C. Lee College, the new dean Richard H. Ward is involved in a research project with government agencies to track terrorists.

“Technology is absolutely being used to track terrorists worldwide by creating these networks that are filled with relationships among all these terrorists. It’s incredible when you see this program and how it ties a terrorist into a terrorist threat and into what kind of mechanisms they use and how they are tied to other terrorists. The web that it weaves is absolutely mind-boggling. And all of this was put together with unclassified information that is readily available to anyone,” Mangiacapra said.

There are classified data bases for this program but he was able to see what is being done with information that already exists online. Mangiacapra said this creative application of IT is contributing to job growth within law enforcement and homeland security.

“There is the physical security, how to protect and have the systems in place that guard against intrusions and breaches out of your network and then there’s that additional layer of security that’s tied to law enforcement and military use,” Mangiacapra said.

And that technology has practical application at the local level as well, he said. Police officers today have laptop computers in their patrol cars, which allow them to instantly obtain critical information about suspected lawbreakers.

 “We have a ubiquitous wireless network out there. That information can be gathered at a point of contact, even when conducting a stop of a vehicle for an infraction. An officer with a laptop could gather as much information on the person in the vehicle as they would possibly need,” he said.

That wireless network is also providing a wealth of IT job opportunities.

“The Internet has opened up a whole new world for us. It’s probably been the most significant advancement since the printing press. When you think of how much information is available and how quickly that information can be retrieved it’s fantastic. But on the flip side we’re seeing it also being used as a mechanism for pedophiles, pornography, and stealing identities,” Mangiacapra said.

Whether for commercial application, educational application or even personal use in private homes, network systems need protection from hacking and the misuse of critical personal information.

“People are subscribing to cable systems and Internet connectivity through the phone company or cable and with that they're able to deploy a wireless network within their home, and with that comes a level of risk,” Mangiacapra said. This is creating a hot area in IT; "how do we better safeguard our networks, how do we monitor better, how do we prevent breaches,” he said.

But there are also positive uses for new technologies, including social networks and the concept of collaborating in an online space for something good, Mangiacapra said. And then there is the whole area of mobile hand-held devices, which is growing rapidly.

“When you look at the advances of the iPhone it’s astonishing,” he said, using as an example the iPhone’s ability to identify a song on the radio, the artist, and how to buy it.

“We need people that are going to be creative and talented enough to think of these applications, understand the social aspect of it and others to learn how to build this application,” Mangiacapra said.

And speaking of creativity, SHU will introduce a new Computer Gaming degree program in the Fall 2009 semester.” There are not many places that offer computer gaming but the job demand is high, especially in New York City. There are not many people trained to actually go behind the scenes and develop the game strategies. It’s more than just putting together animated figures. It involves planning the game, how it will work and maintaining statistics for it,” Pinto said.

SHU will first offer the gaming track on the undergraduate level and extend it to the Master's level the following year.