Computer science grads Featured

12:32pm EDT September 21, 2006
If a business is to keep ahead of its competitors, it had better keep ahead of them technologically. These days, the success of a company is most accurately reflected in the faces of its computer system architects, programmers, analysts, network managers, engineers and IT directors.

And it’s up to today’s educators to make sure that computer graduates are on the cutting edge of technology.

“A Bachelor of Science degree in computer science is not the right major for every job in the computer field,” says Ron Hartung, program chair of the computer science programs at Franklin University. “The field is becoming a little more specialized.”

Smart Business talked with Hartung about the past, present and future of computer education.

What are some of the major fields of study in computer science?
Our curriculum is always changing. There isn’t a single course that’s the same now as it was in ‘91. We offer four undergraduate majors in the computer and information science area: management information systems (MIS), computer science, information technology, and digital communications (Web design and e-marketing).

We find out what kinds of things our students want to do and guide them to the program that takes them in the right direction.

Where is the field of computer science headed, and how can today’s students plan ahead for that time?
It’s abundantly clear that our society cannot live and function without computing. But computer use is becoming focused more on what the user does and less on the older centrally controlled view of computer systems. So in the future, computer scientists will have to be more involved with the rest of the world, in order to find out what users want and need.

Also, the business world is becoming globalized. Because of information technology, we can move just about any job anywhere. We can ship the information overseas and get it back in a heartbeat. So part of the challenge is having a global mindset. And that mindset needs to be a permanent approach for anyone who wants to move their business forward.

Is the educational community clear on curriculum requirements for its computer students?
Computer scientists used to be people who wrote little bitty standalone programs. Now they’re much more about integrating multiple pieces into bigger systems; fitting them into an infrastructure of a business.

That’s a big part of a multi-faceted, vibrant debate.

As educators, one of our mantras is that computer science is more than just programming. Students have to know how to program and much more.

Is that why some schools are offering entirely new courses, like software architecture?
Our curriculum pays a lot of attention to enterprise architecture and enterprise systems. We also teach trade-offs — that is, looking at economic value equations in terms of how we build computer systems. Those are the high-level skills, but you still need software engineering, development and basic business skills.

We can’t fully replicate all the experience that students need in the real world, but our programs are based on teaching people architecture, because we think that’s where business is going.

What are the other obstacles that graduates face?
From an educational point of view, a big problem is getting into the field for the first time, because a lot of companies are still looking for specific skills and years of experience. So we’ve instituted what is called a ‘practicum,’ which is a simulated business that has all the normal job functions that you would have across the computer science spectrum.

The practicum is done to an industrial standard in a real way rather than in the abstract setting of a college classroom. It’s an attempt to fully simulate a state-of-the-art, well-run business.

In the end, all the things the students did — their projects, evaluations, progress reports — will get bound together into a CD-ROM portfolio that they can show prospective employers.

Given that the field of computer science is evolving almost by the day, what continuing education is available?
This is a field that requires lifelong learning. Whatever you learn in school will change within a few years. Maybe not a lot, but computer scientists will still have to grow and change with it.

One of the options we offer is called a ‘subsequent degree.’ In that program, we can teach computer programming to people who are degreed in other fields, because computer sciences cross through so many different domains.

Computer science is a continuously growing field. The jobs are out there, and in demand. They aren’t going away.

RON HARTUNG, Ph.D., is program chair of all the undergraduate and graduate computer science programs at Franklin University. Reach him at (617) 947-6139 or hartung@franklin.edu.