June is “Information Technology” month at University of Maryland University College’s (UMUC) Office of Career Services. Throughout the month, we are highlighting the University’s information technology experts to examine career and industry trends, and provide students and alumni a chance to learn about different career paths within this industry.
Recently, UMUC Undergraduate School Computer Science Vice Dean S.K. Bhaskar answered questions about career trends and opportunities in computer information systems and technology. Dr. Bhaskar joined UMUC in 1998, after working for several years as a senior programmer and analyst. He earned his PhD in computer science from the University of Maryland, College Park, and holds a Master of Science from the School of Automation, Indian Institute of Science, in Bangalore, India. Dr. Bhaskar joined UMUC as the Academic Director of the Computer & Information Science program. Later, he also managed the Computer Science program, and since 2005, has been serving as the Vice Dean of the entire Computing Department in The Undergraduate School. His primary areas of interest are in the Analysis of Algorithms and Data Structures.
Q. How much do computer information systems and technology professionals today need to understand both the technical and business goals of an organization to help determine the technological infrastructure needed to maintain the business’ current needs, but also be able to forecast future demands?
A. IT professionals do need to understand, and understand very well, several aspects of the business side of the institution where they work. At the very outset, they have to realize that IT exists to serve the business interests of the organization. In many of our program outcomes, we explicitly state this. Secondly, they need to be able to make an effective case for a particular IT approach or solution, to realize a particular business need. To do this, they need to be effective communicators. They need to be able to see things from the perspective of a business manager, and be able to make their case in terms that the latter can understand.
Finally, since IT is a continuously evolving and improving field, an IT professional needs to be acutely aware of trends. She/he should be able to propose solutions which are modular in approach, and which can be easily replaced or modified, if needed. The IT professional should be able to work closely with their business partner to choose the solution which best meets current needs, while also accounting for future changes. This requires the competency of being to work effectively as a member of a team.
Q. What career paths could one pursue working in computer information systems and technology?
A. There are many, many rewarding and fulfilling career paths that are available to a student pursuing a major in an IT program. Here at UMUC, we offer six different majors that address different aspects of IT, and depending on one’s chosen field of study, distinct career paths can open up. We also offer four different minors, so that students following a major program of study can select a different minor, in order to diversify their skills.
The Computer Networks & Cybersecurity (CNAS) program prepares students to take widely required IT certifications, many of which are required in order to perform certain kinds of jobs. Some of the career tracks for a student graduating from this program are: Network Administrator, Systems Administrator, IT Manager, Network Engineer, Network Security Administrator, Penetration tester, Digital Forensics Analyst etc.
The related Cybersecurity Management & Policy program addresses the non-technical side of cyber. Career tracks for this major include: Chief Security Officer, Cybersecurity Manager or Administrator, Cybersecurity Architect, Cybersecurity Operations Analyst , Cybersecurity Engineer, Cyber Operations Planner etc.
The Software Development & Security program prepares students to address security issues within computer applications. Possible career tracks are: Software Penetration Tester, System Architect, Information Security Officer, Software Developer, Software Engineer, Software Security Analyst etc.
The Information Systems Management program prepares students for careers such as: Chief Information Officer, System Analyst / Designer, Data and Systems Architect, Business Process Analyst or Functional Analyst, Enterprise Architect, Program Manager or Project Manager, Information Assurance Manager, IT Policy / Planning Specialist etc.
UMUC’s Digital Media and Web technology program prepares students to be Web Designers, Web Programmers / Developers, Graphic Artists / Designers, Motion Graphics Artists / Designers, Electronic / Desktop Publishers etc.
Finally, the Computer Science program can lead to careers such as: Computer Scientist, Software Engineer, Software Architect, Systems Analyst, Programmer Analyst, Lead Technical Analyst, Designer, Developer and Tester of Computer Applications and Systems etc.
UMUC has a wide variety of IT programs which lead to a variety of career tracks. Students should work closely with their advisors in order to determine the program which best fits their interests and needs.
Q. What inspired you to pursue a career path in computer information systems and technology? What education path did you pursue? How did you begin your career?
A. I began my career as an Electronics Engineer – this was my field of study when I was an undergraduate student. Working with discrete components, and later, Integrated Chips, opened my eyes to the power of computing. For my master’s and Ph.D, I chose to work in Computer Science. I had always been interested in Mathematics, and once I learned about the field of Analysis of Algorithms, it seemed to me that this was the ideal fusion between the fields I loved – computing and Mathematics.
I believe that we are truly living in what might be called the golden age of computing. Computing has become ubiquitous – it is virtually impossible to find any field of human endeavor which is completely disassociated from computing. Even as computing has become so widely accepted and integrated into the fabric of society, we continue to make numerous advances in every aspect of computing – hardware, software, theoretical computing, cybersecurity, etc., and we have been fortunate to live in the same era as many giants in computing, whose work continues to inspire all of us. There are new challenges, new possibilities, new boundaries, and new solutions that are being constantly discovered in virtually every field, from Astronomy to Zoology, because of the application of computing, and because computing liberates the human mind.
Q. How have some of your career experiences shaped you into the professional you are today?
A. I was fortunate enough to have had inspiring teachers throughout my career as a student. I can trace all my best experiences back to people who taught me, starting from the teachers in my school years, to my dissertation advisors. To all these people, I owe an incalculable debt. Even when I was working in the private industry, I was waiting for the right opportunity to return to teaching, and when an opportunity at UMUC presented itself, I had no hesitation. UMUC has an attractive model of employing working professionals as faculty, so that students can learn the skills and competencies that are needed and used in the workplace.
When I joined UMUC, we were just beginning to broaden our offerings in online education, and it was a tremendously interesting and invigorating experience for me. All of my learning experiences had been in the traditional face-to-face format, but after coming to UMUC, and working with experts at UMUC’s Course Development team, I learned how education could be made to transcend the barriers of time and place, and how the internet could be used as a powerful multiplying factor in bringing quality, effective, and affordable education to many people.
Q. What personality and character traits must computer information systems and technology professionals possess?
A. Above everything else, one must be intensely curious. Curious to discover how things work, curious to find out how things could be made to work better, curious to discover solutions to problems that don’t yet have solutions, curious to try new approaches etc. I think being attentive to details is also an extremely useful trait, as is the ability to communicate. If one can express in words, fully and in detail, an idea or concept that one has, the chances are much better that they can implement that concept or idea on a computer.
Q. What advice would you give UMUC students entering computer information systems and technology?
A. I would encourage students to trust in their strengths. Believe in yourselves. Be willing to seek out and try opportunities, and use each experience – be it a success or not – as a learning experience. Many jobs require some prior experience – so be willing to work as an intern or apprentice.
UMUC has an excellent Career Services department which can help you find such opportunities. Work with them to create a polished resume, and brush up on your interview skills. As you take classes at UMUC, build up a portfolio of notable work that you have done –for e.g., papers that you have written in your classes, computer programs that you have written, competitions that you have participated in etc. Such demonstrations of actual work completed while taking classes will carry significant weight in supporting your resume. Research the area which you seek to enter, and acquire professional certifications that are important and relevant to that area.
Q. For UMUC students and alumni already working in computer information systems and technology, what advice would you give them on how to keep advancing within the industry?
A. Continuous learning is a must. Technology is constantly evolving – so it is essential for students to keep pace. If you have earned IT certifications, complete the CEUs needed to keep the certification current. Consider furthering your education – if you have earned a bachelor’s degree, consider deepening your knowledge by acquiring a master’s or a doctoral degree. Focus on your areas of interest, and keep up with developments in that area by reading well-regarded journals. Broaden your network of colleagues and co-workers, and share your knowledge and skills with your colleagues and teams.
Q. Any final thoughts or recommendations you want to share with computer information systems and technology UMUC students and alumni?
A. For those who are still students at UMUC, I would urge you to devote 100% of your efforts to mastering the skills and competencies that you are studying. Be focused on the task at hand, and be curious to learn. Treat the time you are investing in your studies as a valuable resource, and ensure that you get the best return for that investment, by mastering every single concept to which you were exposed – in all of your classes, not just the IT ones. You never know when one of those concepts might be needed later!
For those who have already graduated – I only wish to say congratulations on completing the first step – but don’t ever stop learning and sharing what you have learned.
For more information on career opportunities and resources available to UMUC students and alumni from the Office of Career Services, click here.
Jennifer Tomasovic is the director of Communications for Career Services and Alumni Relations at University of Maryland University College. She has spent her 15 year career crafting communications strategies and messages using both marketing and public relations tactics enhancing the brand and reputation for both the clients and organizations she has represented.