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Computing Professionals: Changing Needs for the 1990s 1 Introduction Computing professionals constitute a broad and diverse group—theoreticians, people who design chips and hardware systems, developers of expert systems and databases, builders of information systems for banks and insurance companies, developers of software for personal computers, developers of hardware and software for local-and wide-area networks, and so on. In gross terms, this universe includes both designers and builders of hardware (engineers) and people concerned with making the hardware perform (scientists, engineers, and people who are not quite either). Not included are the growing numbers of people who use computing and communications systems in the course of pursuing other professions. To better understand trends in the supply of and demand for computing professionals, the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) and the Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel (OSEP) of the National Research Council convened an exploratory workshop. Understandably, given the complexity of the issues, the limited time available to workshop participants to address them, and the restricted attendance at the workshop, not all viewpoints were addressed; those addressed were not examined in equal depth; and it was not possible for participants to reach strong conclusions and to formulate detailed recommendations. Moreover, the views, requirements, and concerns of participants from academic computer science and engineering clearly differed from those of participants
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Computing Professionals: Changing Needs for the 1990s based in industry and government. Nonetheless, a number of notable findings emerged. This report summarizes the discussions at that workshop and the further deliberations of the steering committee that organized it. The jobs, skills, and numbers of people associated with computing professionals are poorly understood. The reasons are many. First, the individuals who work in occupations associated with computing and who are variously aggregated as "computing professionals" are probably too heterogeneous to be meaningfully considered as belonging to one group. Asked Leslie L. Vadasz, senior vice president at Intel Corporation and chair of the workshop steering committee, Who is a computer specialist? Is it the scientist doing research in compiler technology or the engineer who is developing a game for a personal computer, or is it the MIS [management information systems] staff that manages our corporate information resources? They all are part of the profession, and there are many, many more who are also really part of this profession. It is difficult to make useful generalizations, let alone forecasts, about such a diverse group. Nevertheless, attempts to do so are made regularly by people in government and industry; consequently, this report takes the aggregate of computing professionals as a point of departure. Second, computing and communications systems technologies, applications, and markets are evolving quickly, resulting in a more rapid evolution in skill requirements, job design, and career paths than is the case for most other technical fields, such as physics, chemistry, and mathematics. One crude indicator of computing's rapid growth is the relative impermanence of job titles. For example, advances in software development have led to the emergence of jobs for highly skilled "software engineers"—people who design, develop, and maintain or modify complex software systems—and, simultaneously, to reduced opportunities for less-skilled programmers; now, some production of software code is even automated (that is, generated largely by computer systems). Rapid changes in skill requirements are being compounded by changes in industrial employers, especially producers of computing and communications systems, who are a significant source of employment for computing professionals. These firms and industries have grown dramatically over the past 2 decades, and they have become increasingly international. At the same time, they have shifted from a primary emphasis on hardware to new emphases on software, networks, and systems. New technologies are fueling an overhaul of
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Computing Professionals: Changing Needs for the 1990s the computing infrastructure, which involves both a proliferation of hardware and significant amounts of software to make the hardware work. In addition, the computing environment is becoming much more distributed: computing is no longer concentrated among specialists or industries with large requirements for making calculations, and huge numbers of new users with varying levels of proficiency are driving the demand for and shape of information technology. These developments affect what is done by whom, where, and when. Third, practitioners in the field have different perspectives on the various issues relating to computing professionals. For example, among computer science researchers in academia, computer systems developers and managers in industry and government (information resources managers), and personnel managers in organizations that produce and use computer technology, there is not even consensus on what to call different types of computing professionals or the group as a whole. It is clear that computing professionals are an important group to understand because of their critical roles in improving and applying computer-based technologies. Thus, for example, one of the four components of the federal High Performance Computing and Communications program, the major national initiative in the computing field, is basic research and human resources. Explained Vadasz, [F]or us to make computer technology really ubiquitous, we must supply the profession with enough of the right talent to sustain growth. And to be able to do that, we must have a better understanding of who are the computer specialists. What do they do? How will their work change in the future? How do they get trained? How do they get educated? How do they get retrained? How could we make the supply better match the demand? A fourth reason that computing professionals' skills and jobs are poorly understood is the lack of literature on the topic. These labor markets have not been rigorously studied in the way that other scientific and technical markets have. What information is available appears to consist of anecdotal evidence and data from surveys that have produced rather inconsistent results. Because of the absence of useful literature, workshop participants were selected to emphasize a broad set of practical experiences with the education, hiring, management, and training of computing professionals. Combining comments made in workshop discussions with observations by the steering committee, this report presents the perspectives of workshop participants on issues in four major areas. Chapter 2 considers data (on employment and degree production) and taxonomy (categorization of jobs for use in collecting data), and it also
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Computing Professionals: Changing Needs for the 1990s discusses key concepts for measuring occupations. Chapter 3 considers overall demand for computing professionals and specific factors affecting demand in research, applications and systems development, and applications and systems deployment. Chapter 4 considers the supply of entrants to the field, describing educational programs and discussing demographic trends and needs. Chapter 5 considers implications for training and retraining of computing professionals in the labor market. The report concludes with a discussion in Chapter 6 of themes and next steps derived by the steering committee from the workshop discussions. Supporting material in the form of three presentations to the workshop is provided in Appendixes A, B, and C. Appendix D gives the program for the workshop. A survey of issues, the report identifies key questions, samples a range of opinions, and attempts to explain why it is that there are currently too few answers.
Representative terms from entire chapter: