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Computing Professionals: Changing Needs for the 1990s 6 Conclusion and Next Steps The vitality of the computing enterprise and its components—the academic disciplines, the industries, and the specialized professional occupations—and its growth and contributions to the economy make supply and demand for computing professionals a matter of national interest. That enterprise will continue to be dynamic, although slower rates of growth are anticipated by those in the field as we approach the 21st century. Overall, significant changes are likely in the mix of computing professional skills required by employers, and there is an expectation that computing professionals will need to have increasingly stronger technical skills. It is also widely believed that a technically skilled labor force will remain essential to securing a competitive position in a global economy. But discussions at the workshop underscored how difficult it is to really measure, and therefore evaluate, the kinds and numbers of computing professionals who are employed today, could be employed, are being educated or trained, or may be needed in the future. The discussions at the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) and Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel (OSEP) workshop on these and other issues were far-ranging and led to the findings and conclusions outlined in this chapter. Almost by definition, they laid a foundation for further, more thoroughgoing consideration of a range of issues identified as important for the field and the country. A clear consensus of participants was reached on the observation that their discussions should be considered the beginning of an ongoing dialogue.1
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Computing Professionals: Changing Needs for the 1990s This chapter recapitulates the key conclusions developed in Chapters 2 through 5 on data and taxonomy, demand, supply, and training. The conclusions are complemented by pointers to next steps for addressing issues more directly. ACKNOWLEDGING EVOLVING DEMAND Changes in computer and communications technology, combined with changes in the economy—in the structure, growth patterns, and geographic reach of industries—are altering the demand for computing professionals. Demand is further complicated by a growing internationalization of the computing professional work force. Crosscurrents are shaping employment opportunities for computing professionals in firms that supply and organizations that use computing technology. The industrial sector supplying computing technology is metamorphosing: opportunities are declining in the segments based on the centralized computing paradigm but increasing in segments oriented to distributed computing—in firms that develop smaller systems and associated software, networking, and so on. On the user side, the consolidation of larger firms to achieve economies of scale is offset by the diffusion of computing and communications technology across a widening set of organizations. The general consensus among workshop attendees was that there may be net, moderate growth in employment. But focusing on the averages can obscure the magnitude of the shifts taking place in the mix and the nature of job opportunities for computing professionals. Budget tightening that constrains academic research and the decline of large, central industrial laboratories do not bode well for jobs in computer science and engineering research. These developments are part of a larger decline in the conventional research environment, and it is not apparent that we have an attractive model for continuing to meet national needs for research relating to computing and communications. Absent other changes, the research component of the job market may decline. Because occupations and functions are not necessarily identical, it is possible that new job opportunities may arise outside of research that can tap the higher skill levels of computer science and engineering Ph.D.s, thus conveying broad economic benefits. But broader use of these individuals is not the same as expansion of the research capability. Required levels of skill appear to be increasing. Employers represented among workshop participants reported that their skill requirements are increasing in all professional domains—research,
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Computing Professionals: Changing Needs for the 1990s applications and systems development, and applications and systems deployment. This circumstance suggests that requirements for formal education and training may increase, although to date nonacademic employers have not consistently demanded formal computer science education. Next Steps: Better information is needed to monitor and understand changes in demand for computing professionals. One approach may involve a systematic analysis of advertisements for computing professional jobs; the content of such advertisements may suggest shifts in the demand for skills as well as the evolution of job titles and hierarchies. To understand the direction and general magnitude of changes in skill requirements, decisionmakers need not only data, but also an understanding of relevant business and technical trends. Federal statistical programs will be a necessary part of the process; professional and trade organizations must also be involved. Next Steps: Workshop participants also suggested that some national effort be made to collect data on, monitor, and analyze the volume of (1) non-U.S. computing professionals working offshore for U.S.-owned companies, (2) U.S. computing professionals working offshore for U.S.-and foreign-owned companies, and (3) U.S. computing professionals working domestically for foreign-owned companies. BROADENING AND NURTURING THE TALENT STREAM Workshop participants expressed strong concerns about the growing difficulties in attracting talented individuals to computing professions, a difficulty reflected in declining undergraduate enrollments. This situation is exacerbated by the apparent difficulties in attracting and retaining people other than white males. Professionals in the industry reflect neither the demographics of today's population nor those expected in the future. Unless these conditions change, the field will diminish in vitality and even in size. Greater and more effective efforts are needed to attract a more diverse group of people to computing professions to more closely reflect the demographic makeup of the country and assure survival of the field. In particular, women and non-Asian minorities ought to be encouraged to choose and continue in professions in computing fields.
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Computing Professionals: Changing Needs for the 1990s Next Steps: Given its dependence on a quality work force, industry has a stake in attracting good people. Trade associations (e.g., the Computer and Business Equipment Manufacturers Association (CBEMA), the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), the Electronic Industries Association (EIA), and the American Electronics Association (AEA)) are a logical vehicle for public outreach activities that focus on interesting applications and challenges. Professional organizations (e.g., the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Computing Research Association (CRA), and the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI)), some of which have student chapters, are a natural vehicle for disseminating information about courses of study and career paths. Workshop participants agreed that increasing the diversity of computing professionals calls for leadership, information sharing, creativity, and perhaps most of all, sustained effort. A first step would be to gain a better understanding, through social science research, of why participation by women and underrepresented minorities has been disproportionately low and why, in particular, participation by women appears to have been declining. Participants noted that efforts aimed at attracting underrepresented groups should consist of specific activities that are appropriate in terms of gender, race, and ethnic background. Constraints on participation by women are not necessarily the same as those on participation by non-Asian minorities, and African Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities have different characteristics and needs. One minimum step discussed by several workshop participants was the establishment of a clearinghouse for ideas, programs, and experiences gained in efforts to attract and retain more women and non-Asian minorities in computing education and professional jobs. PROVIDING FOR ONGOING TRAINING The kinds of computing professional skills required by employers change relatively quickly, driving new and growing needs for training. Changes in skill requirements will be a way of life for computing professionals.
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Computing Professionals: Changing Needs for the 1990s Frequent retraining may be necessary to meet shifting needs for skills. The educational system can support this requirement both by producing graduates with broad and flexible skills and by contributing to more effective and more available retraining through interactions with industry. Corporations must reconcile themselves to the financial and organizational commitments implied by continuous shifts in skill requirements. Changes in skill requirements may result in some dislocation for individual employees. But rather than simply replacing employees, in the long run it may be more effective to update their technical skills while leveraging all of the other skills and capabilities required of employees to make organizations effective. Next Steps: Industry, professional organizations, and academia should recognize and support the trend toward lifelong learning. This concept is receiving increasing attention in other contexts (e.g., in various engineering disciplines). It is one that should become a part of the computing enterprise. While institutions—especially in industry—can provide resources to support retraining, individuals may require counseling and advice on how best to maintain their career currency. ACTING ON IMPLICATIONS FOR EDUCATION The large number and variety of apparently relevant education programs offered (computer science, computer engineering, information systems, information science, and management of information systems, among others) raises questions about the quality and appropriateness of available education. Because skill needs are changing rapidly in industry, educational institutions need to produce graduates with the ability for and commitment to continuing lifelong learning. In theory, these are consequences of good programs of basic education; in practice, it is not clear that these objectives are being met. Although differences in educational curricula across institutions are consistent with the rich and dynamic nature of the field, an excessive degree of variation may be counterproductive. For those who are interested in a computing career, the educational arena presents an array of choices so broad as to be confusing. Virtually every dimension, from labeling of programs to content, seems to vary, in every class of program. Perhaps improvements in taxonomies for data collection (see Chapter 2) can serve as a guide to educational institutions and students, helping to focus the skill development process.
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Computing Professionals: Changing Needs for the 1990s While computing professional jobs are likely to continue to attract people from other fields, increasing skill requirements may call for more fundamental education in computer science and engineering than was needed in the past. However, the trend toward greater cross-disciplinary interaction in addressing problems in computing and other domains might serve to fuel further in-migration. How different trends will balance out is unclear at this time. Next Steps: Workshop participants agreed that better definition of degree programs (categories and essential content) is needed and that fewer program categories would be desirable. Both would be of value to employers and prospective students. The CSTB and professional organizations could play a role in helping to better inform employers and prospective students about the various types of programs. IMPROVING THE LINKAGE BETWEEN SCHOOL AND WORK Another qualitative dimension of education is the fit between what is taught to students and the skills employers seek in filling their jobs. There will never be a perfect fit between the two, since educators focus on teaching students how to think and apply concepts, whereas most employers focus immediately on acquisition and application of specific, job-related skills (including skills in communication and collaboration). But workshop discussions suggested that there may be middle ground to explore; it may be possible to work within the framework of the traditional computer science and engineering educational programs to do more to develop skills relevant to the workplace. Also, as long as there continues to be a range of different programs, different types of schools and programs could concentrate on different types of skills and preparation. Next Steps: Options should be explored for greater interaction between industry and universities on matters of curriculum. Workshop participants recognized that this may be easier said than done. Given natural tendencies to insularity in both sectors, better mechanisms need to be established to facilitate communication. Some participants suggested that periodic workshops and/or conferences organized by organizations with solid connections and reputations in both academic and industrial communities could be effective vehicles for meeting this need. Exposure of students and, in particular, teachers to real-world problems and working conditions was encouraged by work-
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Computing Professionals: Changing Needs for the 1990s shop participants from industry. Opportunities for students to work for a limited time in industry could be achieved through cooperative or work-study programs, summer jobs, or internships; summer or part-time opportunities could be provided to teachers. IMPROVING DATA GATHERING AND ANALYSIS The biggest obstacle to specific assessments of and recommendations for the computing professional labor market is the absence of adequate data on the existing skill base and job mix. Available data are inadequate to guide employers, students, educators, and policymakers. Both the kinds of data and delays in their publication pose problems. For example, data that are updated every 4 to 5 years will be inconsistent with technology and industry dynamics that change as quickly as those for computing. Because acquiring a comprehensive set of skills data could be prohibitively costly, modest insights might be obtained by collecting and analyzing skills assessments that, according to workshop participants, are currently being undertaken in industry and government. A robust high-level taxonomy of computing professionals is needed. Currently, data are collected using taxonomies or sets of job titles (see Box 2.1) that are too detailed and too prone to obsolescence as skills needed in real jobs change. For example, ''hardware professionals,'' "software professionals," and "deployment professionals" (responsible for supporting and facilitating the effective use of systems; see Chapter 3) could be developed as gross categories of computing professionals that could have more lasting meaning than do the current large, but inappropriate, sets of occupational titles. However, a high-level taxonomy alone will not provide information on shifting skill requirements; meeting this need requires developing better, more detailed occupational data that take into account shifting technology and industry dynamics. A major need is community agreement on how to label different types of computing professionals and whom to count in each category. But workshop participants differed on how to implement these changes: academic participants placed a high premium on degree and skill attainment, and industrial and government participants focused more on the nature of the work to be done and the skills applied. This disparity in perspective is not surprising; it reflects the greater challenge evident in industry and government to adapt job descriptions to evolving technology and applications. Thus a number of nonacademic workshop participants referred to skills assess-
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Computing Professionals: Changing Needs for the 1990s ments they have conducted for their employees and clients and emphasized the evolution of job titles and progressions. It is necessary to identify and evaluate changes in portfolios of skills associated with jobs, occupations, and individuals. Like portfolios containing stocks and bonds, portfolios of skills are subject to change over time in their individual components and in the volume of each component. A job taxonomy is needed that partitions jobs into sets that are equivalent in terms of the skills required. A similar taxonomy for individuals is needed to partition workers into groups with sets of embodied skills that are equivalent. Finally, one must also be able to convert functions required on the job to skills possessed by workers before one can meaningfully assess the strength of the fit between workers and jobs. To properly gauge shifting skill requirements, it is necessary to build on a greater understanding of shifts in technology and industry dynamics. The proposed high-level taxonomy should be related to portfolios of skills, providing a vehicle for tracking shifts in skill requirements that is independent of changing preferences in job titles. For example, the high-level taxonomy category "software professionals" might include skills that range from simple programming tasks to sophisticated database design or other software development skills. Over time, some skills will diminish in importance as others become more important (see Chapter 3); it is important to track both the details of change and the gross numbers of computing professionals employed in hardware, software, and deployment. Next Steps: Workshop participants agreed that the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Science Foundation should develop more realistic taxonomies for data gathering. Those taxonomies should be based on a broader, more contemporary view of the field. Toward that end, these agencies should involve the computing professional community, drawing on professional organizations, trade associations, the National Research Council, and other vehicles for achieving broad-based, consensus input on more appropriate ways of describing the dynamic and rapidly changing market for computing professionals. NOTE 1. Follow-up meetings have already begun and have included representatives of statistical agencies, professional organizations, and others, as well as CSTB and OSEP.
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Representative terms from entire chapter: