University computer-science and MIS programs offer a good grounding in the basics, Snap-on CIO Biland says. But students need to get real-world, industry experience as soon as possible. -- Sidebar to The Programmer's Future

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

November 15, 2003

2 Min Read

Zinovy Shkolnikov gets lots of free advice about whether to pursue a career in computer science. The 17-year-old senior at suburban Chicago's Maine East High School sells electronics part-time at Sears, where his co-workers include a software engineer who was recently laid off. His colleague's advice: Don't do it, because the future of software engineering isn't in America, it's in lower-cost countries.

Shkolnikov isn't deterred. He thinks there will continue to be a place for well-trained American programmers, so he's hoping to study computer science at the University of Illinois' engineering department. "But it does give me some cold feet, and make me think maybe I should do this engineering or that engineering instead," says Shkolnikov, who was born in Ukraine and has lived 15 years in the United States.

It's a great conversation starter for your next IT cocktail party: Would you advise an American teenager to study computer programming? Here's what several top IT execs see as a career path for someone interested in programming:

Robert Reeder, CIO, Alaska Air Group Inc.: It depends where they start. Besides computer-science graduates, we have terrific developers who changed careers and started in gateway jobs like the help desk or quality control or completed vocational training. Some IT shops are snobby about credentials, but we have had wonderful success with employees moving into programming from other areas of the company.

Al Biland, CIO at Snap-on Tools Inc.: The traditional computer-science and MIS programs at most universities still provide a good grounding in the basics. However, seek out universities with commitments to partnering with industry to get real-world experience as soon as possible.

Steven Rubinow, chief technology officer at Archipelago: Do it if you think you can be really good at it. Get a top-shelf education. There's good opportunity, but only for the very productive, well-trained engineers.

George Tillman, CIO at Booz Allen Hamilton: Programming is like sailing, it's even useful for powerboat sailors. Being a programmer isn't a bad place to start a career, but few in the future will find it a career destination. That role now shifts to business analysts and project managers. Still, Tillman says, if programming is something you really want to do, work for a vendor.

Return to main story: The Programmer's Future

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