Many of the best and brightest minds in information technology today are those who lack formal training.
A great deal of high-ranking IT officials at successful companies, including chief information officers, are 40 years old or more, products of an era in which IT was just starting out and there were few high school, college or graduate-level courses designed to build tech talent in the educational system. These employees are either self-taught, or they developed their skills by absorbing knowledge from their colleagues once arriving in the professional world – the “learn by doing” approach.
Slowly, this is beginning to change. Now that the IT world is transforming and companies are coming to grips with new technologies like mobile devices and cloud storage, the education system is learning to adapt as well. This is a difficult endeavor, because technology is always evolving, and there are always new areas to which schools and educators must adapt.
Two decades ago, for instance, the realm of computer science was dramatically different. Programming skills were important, and the Internet was beginning to emerge as a valuable tool for academics and professionals alike, but companies’ strategies for leveraging technology use were still quite primitive. In just 20 years, schools have come a long way in their quest to instill relevant, timely tech skills in their students.
The latest trend is big data analytics. It’s practically common knowledge at this point that the key to business success in the 21st century is gathering as much information as possible about consumers and clients. Companies that are adept at collecting data and using their IT resources to analyze it will be the ones that get ahead. Now that this need in the corporate world is becoming clear, universities are working to develop the skills that the workforce desperately need.
According to Newswise, the University of Iowa is one example of an institution that’s striving to improve in this area. The school’s Tippie College of Business recently began to develop a new major, called “Business Analytics and Information Systems,” or BAIS, which will teach students to manage large amounts of data, find the secrets therein and use them to strengthen their businesses.
Jeffrey Ohlmann, an associate professor of management sciences at the university, explained to the news source that the field of study will emphasize mathematical and statistical knowledge in addition to tech know-how.
“In a sense, the BAIS major combines topics from computer science, industrial engineering, mathematics, and statistics and teaches them through the prism of business problem solving,” Ohlmann said.
Business schools have always emphasized math and statistics with their students – understanding such principles can help future executives learn to uncover important truths as they proceed with their careers. Now that information technology can play a role, tomorrow’s business leaders can step up their game.
Opportunities are everywhere
Of course, it’s not just current students that need to learn more about emerging technological fields like big data analytics. People enrolled at colleges and universities make up just one small swathe of the population today. A lot of people need to develop their tech skills, but some already finished college years ago, and some don’t have the tuition money or the academic credentials needed to endure a rigorous education at this time. Luckily, there are other options out there besides conventional university educations.
The Financial Times recently reported on the growing popularity of massive online open courses, or “moocs.” Some universities – or in rare cases, school faculty members working independently from their employers – have begun teaching extensive courses on technology subjects and making them open to the general public. Anyone can access such a course as long as they have an internet connection and a little bit of spare time to invest in the project.
When they’re led by distinguished academics, these courses can be tremendously popular. The news source reported that Stanford’s “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” course has attracted 160,000 students from 190 countries. Andy Neely, director of the Cambridge Service Alliance at the University of Cambridge, argued that this trend represents a large-scale shift in the way people develop their technology skills.
“As learning materials digitize and the popularity of ‘moocs’ grows, we will see a very different model of education unfold,” Neely wrote. “This model will draw on data and insight, as much as faculty knowledge and experience, to ensure that education materials and learning processes are as effective as possible. Business schools cannot afford to ignore this potentially seismic shift in the world of education. Those schools that do are likely to find themselves falling by the wayside as others exploit the power and potential of analytics in education.”
Technology will never stop evolving, and as such, it’s vital that education continue to develop as well, while adapting to the changing world. With that in mind, the business leaders of tomorrow need to be well educated today.