A recent article in Information Week emphasized the need for ‘soft skills’ for computer science and IT specialists. It’s probably time that firms looked for students who showed strength in working in groups (hello, look for the women students!), and student who have gained training in project management. My excellent friend at Motorola excels at the soft skills; and people refuse to work with Motorola without her. I personally acredit her nice salary to her ability to work with people, listen well, and make the client feel calm about the project.
When employers look for students who can pull large scale enterprise architecture and SOA projects together, they ought to look for students with a strong smattering of business courses. Business courses force students to pursue group research, and force the technology majors to interact with the business kids, who tend to have good communication skills.
I think that technology kids have an inherent strength in interpersonal relations, and have a natural capability to communicate and absorb information. I think corporate america can tap into a fairly significant font of capability if they simply throw these bright people into the deep end, and ask them for results. Technology people are naturally drawn to the discipline of integrating culture with information devices; I think it’s a myth that IT workers are better off working in closets.
The other set of soft skills are related to planning, organization and the engineering of large computing projects. Given the high rate of failure among enterprise application deployments, this skill is rare even among IT veterans. Being able to pull off a large IT system deployment comes from an engaged study on project management, so schools have to be putting more PM-educated people out there.
But the rabbit hole goes deeper; it’s probably not enough to simply have students study and write papers on large project deployment. We’ve got to give them simulation experiences where they prove they have the intellectual toolset to design and deploy such architectures. (And then get their student work out there, so people can see it, and not hide the thesis project on a flash drive).
If corporate america wants to capture the sort of ergonomic, design-oriented technology that startups are better at (think Twitter, Blogger, and other Web 2.0 toys, like Meebo), they ought to simply ask for those things. This latest crop of kids have these skills… They must simply exhibit them, in some form.