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Q&A: IBM Global Business Services CTO Talks Cloud

IBM Fellow and Global Business Services CTO Kerrie Holley, who helped shape SOA, shares his thoughts on cloud trends, the future of IT, and more.

InformationWeek: Do you come to technology primarily from a math background, or did you also get into the engineering side of things?

Holley: It's a bit of both. When I entered the marketplace, the computer field was not as ubiquitous as it is today. So in high school, actually, was where I learned how to program. Even though, in high school, you have a general purpose program, I actually started programming as a sophomore, junior, and senior. Then when I went to the university, I predominantly did mathematics, where computer programming was sort of ancillary as a complement to drive and solve certain math problems. Then when I left the university is when I focused entirely on software engineering.

InformationWeek: What were you programming in?

Holley: A variety of languages. At the high school level, it was BASIC and Fortran. At the university level, it was Pascal, it was some C ... those were the dominant languages at the university.

InformationWeek: I take it you don't have much contact with coding today, or do you keep up with it?

Holley: I don't have the same contact. But I do keep up with it. ... The dominant computing languages that we use today, I'm pretty fluent in--Java, COBOL, and C++. But at the same time, as a [software] architect, I don't have the [time], nor is it cost efficient, and probably I don't have the skill to be as fast as some of our younger talent. So I'm aware of what works and doesn't work. If we had to build something and we needed something to throttle, I would know about what is necessary in terms of exception handling. So no, I don't actually program anymore. ... But I keep up with the patterns, design patterns and architectural patterns, and assets that we have to build using these patterns and frameworks, open-source frameworks, non-open-source frameworks, to drive adoption and accelerate development.

InformationWeek: Do you follow it in the sense that you have a sense of where programming is headed?

Holley: Yes. [One of the areas that is interesting to me is this notion of data scientists, people with] this data intensive computer science background, where they actually know how to program, in languages like Python or R ... to extract insights from data. So my focus is more on the former in the sense that I'm keenly aware of the kinds of technologies programming languages being a type of technology that we need to apply to solve certain types of problems, and how we recruit, how we train, and where we should be focusing our energies in terms of talent. This is an area that I think will grow tremendously over the next several years.

InformationWeek: Is our education system producing the kind of technical talent IBM needs?

Holley: The talent is definitely there in the United States. Whether we have enough of the talent, I don't know the numbers, but clearly there are a lot of people who believe that we have a shortage. I won't deny that. That may be so. But there's certainly a lot of talent in the United States. ... I would grant you that we could have more. But one of the things that our universities are doing well ... is this notion of a scientific method in oral and written communication skills.

I think that's where [U.S. students] have a tremendous advantage. When they can combine that with the mathematics and the engineering skills, then I think we have tremendous competitive advantage over some other countries. But at the same time, we recruit all over the world, and we get a tremendous amount of talent from all parts of the world, where there's people being trained in doctorates in mathematics and other physical sciences that are a great advantage to us.

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