Thursday, July 30, 2015

Information Technology: The Accidental Career for Ph.D.s

The Chronicle of Higher Education
July 30th, 2015

The United States has two major employment dilemmas. On the supply side, American universities produce a well-documented surfeit of Ph.D.s, far in excess of the number of tenure-track job openings. On the demand side, the American information-technology industry is greatly in need of skilled workers. But there has yet to be a move to direct Ph.D.s into IT careers in large numbers.
We need to change that, and to encourage Ph.D.s — especially those in the humanities and social sciences — to pursue technology-related careers.
Today I’m an assistant professor of computer science at a small, private liberal-arts college in Southern Illinois. But my first career was in IT, where I spent eight years developing software for a series of companies (sadly, most of them long-extinct start-ups). I stumbled into that work with some interest, little experience (I picked up a few IT skills from part-time jobs in my undergraduate years), and almost no preparation. My bachelor’s in English literature was, on the surface, not optimal training for a IT career. But because IT companies move quickly and adapt rapidly, my ability to learn — a skill common to Ph.D.s of all ilk — outweighed the technical expertise I was missing.

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