I serve as an industry representative for an advisory committee run by the chairman of the CIS Program at Post University in Waterbury, CT. In today’s annual meeting we discussed a number of issues regarding the department, its curriculum, and its future. Roughly eighty percent of the student body attends remotely and the average age is about 37.
There were a half-dozen or more participants and not nearly enough time for everyone to contribute very much, but the upshot of the observations were these:
- Many employers would like new graduates to have better skills in working with clients and understanding how to provide value for customers. They want some insight into project management and an understanding of where requirements come from and how they’re managed. The University has a 100-level course on career and basic financial management but it was observed that a) people often get an MBA or PMP when they want to develop those skills and b) a 300-level course might be more appropriate for developing these skills at a reasonable level. By that time the students have some insight into what’s going on in the field through their coursework and since most of the students are older they may already have developed some of these skills. I’m all for giving students some context where appropriate, but mostly I wouldn’t expect a new graduate to have excellent customer skills. In my opinion, most of the problems companies have with not being able to get coders to think beyond code has to do with their own management and culture. If a worker just wants to write code and doesn’t want to think about larger problems then whose fault is that? Workers develop customer skills through education, direct work experience, mentoring, or natural personality. It seems to me that beyond some basic context it would be tough to impart much meaningful insight in a course. I say that because of my own experience in learning to work with customers and my exposure to several online courses I took as part of my PMP and Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.
- Many areas of computing are tending towards greater abstraction. Languages and programming systems are becoming more automated and are set up to use pre-written components to the greatest degree possible with a minimum of custom code. There is a need for workers who have specific skills (e.g., Tableau) but the emphasis is increasingly on figuring out how to provide business value as opposed to figuring out how to write something intricate.
- I observed that as a CIS program they already have a specialty. They aren’t doing pure, general purpose development like you might get at a pure computer science curriculum at MIT or Carnegie Mellon, their specialty is enterprise computing. It’s not that CIS isn’t a broad enough field on its own, but it has to know what it is and what it isn’t. They aren’t doing operating systems, compilers, device control, and so on. They are doing data management, analysis, and analytics. They might support some of the other areas on the back end, tying everything together.
- I also observed that Post and similar institutions have to think very hard about where they’re going to be in five, ten, or twenty years. With the advent of widely available online education there are a lot of opportunities at all levels of commitment and complexity. Top flight universities make much or all of their curriculums online for free while Code Academy offers limited instruction for free while Udemy and similar providers offer tons of courses at nominal cost. A huge percentage of second- and third-tier universities are going to disappear in the next decade or two, particularly for curriculums that do not pay off for their students. Top-tier private universities and big state schools will be fine, but a lot of liberal arts and other programs are going to disappear. Technical subjects like computing provide a respectable value proposition for students and so there will be offerings in a range of niches.