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Next-Gen IT Workforce: A School Dedicated To Hands-On IT

Neumont trains programmers and project managers with a lot of help from local businesses.

Talk about a contrarian approach.In 2004, with U.S. IT employment still hurting from the dot-com bust and offshore outsourcing boom, Graham Doxey helped found a school to train the IT pros that businesses need most.

Neumont University in Salt Lake City graduated its first class of bachelor's degrees in computer science in March. The university takes a narrow approach, offering far less liberal arts and general education than a conventional four-year institution. Neumont is taking its cue from the business world, enlisting current professionals to help teach and train the next-generation IT workforce.

Neumont pitches its grads as steeped in programming and project management knowledge. With 70% of its curriculum project based, students take a hands-on approach to learning the life cycle of software development. And they're not just imagine-if-someone-actually-had-to-use-this-code types of assignments. The first projects students work on are for the school, but later ones are for area employers, including Fidelity Investments, IBM, Novell, the state of Utah, and smaller businesses.

The school offers two programs: an MBA and a bachelor's degree in computer science. Neumont students typically earn their bachelor's in about 30 months, for total tuition of around $70,000. Students include a mix of teenagers fresh from high school, older adults making a career change, and tech veterans who need a bachelor's degree to advance their careers.

Local employers have scooped up interns. Novell took on eight last quarter, and it's upping that to 12 because of the success they had, says Cheryl Williams, a Novell business analyst who's hired interns for Web services work. Projects include the development of an internal Web tool used companywide, which required interns to learn about the Sarbanes-Oxley regulations. Neumont students generally come better prepared than most others in their understanding of how a project fits into a business, says Williams, applying their technical experience with Web services, applications, and databases. Fidelity, which began taking interns from Neumont this year, has had five to seven Neumont students at a time on site with its IT team in Salt Lake City, says Jim Nass, the company's VP of development. Fidelity has hired three graduates full time.

Neumont has students work in small teams, with each assuming a different role, such as project manager, tester, or requirements writer. Doxey cites with pride that there's minimal time in conventional classrooms, and that the projects are real. "There are no predetermined outcomes," he says.

Since graduating from high school last year, Christopher Meyer has been pursuing a computer science degree at Neumont. He's banking on the project skills he's learning as he prepares to compete with IT talent around the world. "When you leave here, you can be a coder if you want, but you've already had some experience to be a project manager," Meyer says. "You already have an idea of what you can really do as soon as you enter the workforce."

Neumont's philosophy has a lot to do with that. So does the involvement of would-be employers.

Return to main story, In Depth: How Businesses Can Attract The Next-Generation Of IT Workers

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