CS and software engineering grads choose from a growing number of options
Skills or experience with big data and cybersecurity lead to opportunity
�Find a reputable organization that not only professes diversity, but demonstrates it.� � Teri Mitchell, Lear
By Claire Swedberg
The current focus on big data and cybersecurity is bringing CS and software engineering grads a new era of challenges and opportunities. Career options are becoming more diverse, but workforce diversity is not keeping pace.
Many companies have increased their efforts to recruit women, racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and members of the LGBT community. Increasingly, companies recognize the many benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce.
But there�s still plenty of work to be done. Anita Borg Institute (ABI) president and CEO Telle Whitney says, �About eighteen percent of computer science and engineering graduates are women. And for that small percentage, the challenges can start as early as the job interview.
�High-tech companies have made it even harder for women to secure jobs by setting up interviews that include problem-solving questions with a male focus,� she explains. �Candidates might be asked to do analytics for NFL games where you have to know the terminology to understand the problem set, rather than a problem that was designed around delivering water to multiple locations in an African country.�
Many tech companies are discussing the problem in public forums as they work to find ways to attract female and other diverse candidates to their companies for interviews, and to make the interview process more diversity-friendly, and particularly woman-friendly. �I do see positive change in that area,� Whitney says. She points to the fifty new companies that participated in the 2018 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC), ABI�s signature conference. �We also see companies bringing more executives and leaders, and a significant number of their own technical women, to GHC.�
Meanwhile, opportunities in high-tech firms continue to tick upwards, she adds, as security and issues like the management of large amounts of data become important across industries. Many employers, especially financial firms, are now seeing technology as their core competency. That may be good news for women, especially as their current representation in the tech workforces of financial institutions like banks and insurance companies is already higher, at about 30 percent.
Strategies for a good fit
For any graduate with a computer science, software engineering or similar degree, Whitney recommends some in-depth homework to collect information on the job and the company before pursuing a position. �That first job can often lead you down a very specific path, shaping your future career. Also, realize that company cultures are radically different and should be part of your decision,� she says.
Interviews can provide a window into the company and its diversity, she says. A homogenous interviewing team, whether all male, similar age or single race, could be an indicator of a lack of diversity. �Research the top management at a company. If few women or minorities are represented, that may mean limited options for advancement at the company,� Whitney points out.
She adds that applicants should also understand the depth of company leadership�s support for diversity. �Ask about the kind of programs they have,� she suggests. Employee resource groups and mentoring programs for women and members of minority groups are typical at diversity-friendly organizations.
Overall, Whitney expresses great optimism for new college graduates in technical fields. She sees more opportunity in more areas, at more kinds of companies, than ever before.
Teri Mitchell travels the world implementing global projects for Lear
Teri Mitchell works at automotive seating and electrical distribution systems company Lear Corporation (Southfield, MI). She completed her BS in information systems management in 2001 at Wayne State University (Detroit, MI), but she started at Lear in 1997.
During college she was employed with Lear�s IT department, which gave her an opportunity to apply what she was learning in a real-world setting. And the company�s tuition reimbursement program, she says, �was instrumental in helping me pay for college.�
At first, Mitchell planned a career in computer programming. But her classes and her work at Lear showed her that there were many appealing career options in IT, purchasing and finance. �I realized that concentrating on programming would limit my flexibility in an organization. So I made the switch to information systems management.�
A worldly opportunity
Throughout her career, Mitchell says, she has looked for challenges, and she has continued the learning process. She�s traveled to Lear locations around the world, advising on the appropriateness of IT controls in logistics, finance and other business systems. She�s also provided senior management and audit assurance for IT controls that ensure the accuracy of Lear financial reports. �My travels have taken me to Brazil, Spain, Belgium, Austria, Slovakia and other countries,� she reports.
In 2011, still working full time at Lear, Mitchell completed her MBA in information systems management at Wayne State University. �I was a little too comfortable with my IT role at Lear, and was ready to challenge myself further.�
Today Mitchell is global SAP user access control administrator. This relatively new position was created to implement a fully integrated MRP/financial software system for staff worldwide. Mitchell also defines best practices in user access controls and other activities that ensure accuracy in Lear�s financial reporting.
Reflecting on the journey so far
Mitchell speaks Spanish, and she�s found that a key asset in her career. She�s also benefited from certifications in data analysis and information systems audit. But it�s her soft skills, she says, that have served her best: her ability to work with all types of people and lead them on key projects.
�Perhaps the biggest surprise I�ve encountered in my career is the lack of minority presence,� Mitchell says. She recalls attending college with other minorities who were preparing for IT careers, but �that population is not readily visible in most major organizations.�
Mitchell has been pleased, however, with the opportunities she�s had in her own career, especially the chance to travel and grow with Lear.
�Minorities should not let limited representation in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math discourage them from pursuing these majors and career opportunities,� Mitchell says. She says students who work hard and are willing to learn can grow despite any barriers they may encounter.
�The glass ceiling is only a metaphor, and it can be broken,� she notes. �Pursue employment in a reputable organization that not only professes diversity, but demonstrates it. Actions speak louder than words.�
Ishita Gupta gets a holistic experience from BASF�s leadership program
Ishita Gupta has just finished the information systems professional development program (IS PDP) at global chemical company BASF (Florham Park, NJ). The IS PDP is a two-year program that includes assignments at a variety of BASF sites.
Gupta earned her BS in computer science in 2006 from Rajasthan College of Engineering for Women (Jaipur, India), and three years later, got her MBA in systems and marketing from Balaji Institute of Telecom and Management (Pune, India).
After graduating, Gupta came to the New Jersey Institute of Technology (Newark, NJ) for a graduate certification in business and information systems, which she received in 2011. She got a master trainer certification from the American Society of Training and Development in 2013.
Gupta�s aim as an undergrad was to become a software developer and eventually a project manager. She did internships at an electronics company and a software company, working with databases and then at Spice Jet Airline (Delhi, India), where she worked on improvements to the company�s booking management system.
�I developed a deep technical know-how in coding and database development,� Gupta says. She also learned project management, working with large integrated and diverse teams.
In her final rotation with the BASF information management group, Gupta worked as a liaison between the business units and IT. �I also served as lead for value-added initiatives in the group, like designing our SharePoint site, working on change requests, and serving as the primary IT point of contact for external vendor interactions.� At the end of her rotation this fall, she started a permanent assignment as an IT training development specialist.
The contrast between school and work
She�s found a big difference between her student experiences and the corporate world. In a corporate environment, she notes, efficient interaction and healthy team dynamics are essential. �In the corporate world, it�s unlikely that any one individual with a specific skill set will carry the entire workload. That underscores the importance of making the team composition multifaceted and diverse.�
She says one IS PDP assignment, with the internal audit group, �gave me a broad perspective on the company�s internal processes as well as commercial business knowledge that I believe will be very beneficial throughout my career.�
BASF seeks creative entrepreneurs
BASF looks for diversity among its new CS and software engineering hires. �We value the skills and abilities of all types of people, no matter what role they will fill,� states Bernadette Palumbo, director of talent acquisition and university relations. �We seek talented people who collaborate effectively, want to connect with others to solve problems, have a thirst for continuous learning, and can engage a team to accomplish goals.�
Before applying for a position at BASF, Palumbo advises, �Prepare for your interview by reviewing the job posting, and tailor your resume and all other supporting materials to the job you are applying for.�
Jasmine DeCarish helps support IT quality and innovation at General Mills
Jasmine DeCarish is an SAP analyst II at food company General Mills (Minneapolis, MN). She works in an office in Golden Valley, MN.
When she first went to college, she wanted to be a software developer. �I was fascinated by code. If you can code, you can do practically anything you want.�
She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond) in 2010 with a BS in computer science and a minor in business. She�s pursuing an MS in project management at St. Mary�s University of Minnesota (Minneapolis) and will finish in May.
Her first internship was in 2008 at NASA�s Goddard Space Flight Center (Greenbelt, MD), where she was a Java developer. The next year she went to General Mills as a programmer analyst. That internship, she says, �opened my eyes to positions in IT besides developer and showed me a range of corporate technologies.�
After graduation she started with General Mills�s IT rotation program as a programmer analyst. After a number of rotations, she�s now an SAP analyst.
In her first rotation, she did development, analysis and project management and supported the sales department. Next she worked as an analyst supporting HR. �I gathered requirements, wrote specifications and did testing and validating for SAP issues, new functionality and enhancements.�
In her current role, she supports the innovation, technology and quality department. �I have the same responsibilities, but for a different area.�
DeCarish explains that the applications she works with today can range from creating a new product formula to labeling or packaging the product. �I work on projects to enhance current applications, bring in new applications and technology upgrades, and provide support.�
Exciting to witness IT�s impact
Before joining the workforce, she says, she didn�t understand the impact of an IT department on an organization. �I now see how much the organization relies on IT services not only to keep it moving, but also to make it competitive and innovative.
�It�s a great experience to be able to work with the various technical teams within IT toward a solution,� she says enthusiastically. �As technology advances, the future of IT seems endless.�
General Mills seeks diverse collaborators
�General Mills seeks individuals who have excelled as leaders in school, workplace and society, and who know they can make a valuable contribution to our brands, our organization and the broader community,� states Ken Charles, vice president of global inclusion and staffing.
�We also want employees who don�t crave the individual spotlight, but find joy and fulfillment working collaboratively with others to win as a team and make a positive difference in the world.�
Diversity is central to General Mills�s company values and business. It�s critical, he says, to driving innovation and consumer engagement around the world. �Our goal is to build a diverse employee base that mirrors the consumers of our products. Attracting, retaining and developing employees who represent a variety of backgrounds is a top priority.�
General Mills has affinity and professional groups that allow employees to connect with their peers and share ideas. They include groups based on ethnicity and family origin, a veterans� network and ten women�s groups.
James Getonga: a passion for innovation at Thermo Fisher
James Getonga is a recent college graduate who�s wrapping up the last of four rotations in the IT leadership development program (ITLDP) at life sciences tools company Thermo Fisher Scientific (Waltham, MA).
Born in New York, Getonga was raised in Kenya and returned to the U.S. to attend Boston University. He graduated in 2012 with dual degrees in management information systems and operations and technology management. The dual concentration enabled him to combine finance and IT.
�I have a passion for new technology, with the aim of one day creating the next high-tech product with a huge impact,� he enthuses.
Immersion in IT
Getonga recalls that his college coursework often looked at computer and software systems on the �surface level.� He wanted to dig deeper, and he had that opportunity in his first job. �In the workplace, I found myself surrounded by experts with an immense amount of experience. I had to quickly play catch up to work at that level.�
Getonga�s ITLDP experience at Thermo Fisher fueled his passion for innovation and gave him confidence to try new things alongside �some of the smartest people in the world.�
His rotations took him to some of the largest IT operations in the company. He was a junior IT analyst in glo-bal infrastructure services, a junior business analyst in enterprise e-business, and a junior project manager in enterprise application services. In his fourth and final rotation, he�s now a strategic planner in CIO special projects.
He has traveled to the United Kingdom, where he helped implement SAP in Europe. He�ll continue working with SAP following the rotation program, as a project leader under the company�s enterprise application services section.
He advises people who are still in college to �go into the real world with an open mind. Listen closely and have a can-do attitude.�
Paola Boettner brings security tech to Bank of America
It�s been a quick rise for Paola Boettner.
She attended the American School of Asuncion (Asuncion, Paraguay) and came to the United States in 2005 to attend Wellesley College (MA). She earned her bachelors degree in 2009 in computer science and mathematics, then got an MS in information technology and information security at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA).
After graduation Boettner joined Bank of America. Today she�s an assistant vice president, managing software development projects in corporate security technology. Her team develops applications for corporate security employees and manages security applications at the company.
Boettner recalls that in high school, she excelled at math, but never took a computer science class. But she was comfortable with computers. �I enjoy new challenges, and had always been the go-to person when friends or family had technology-related issues.�
After her first college programming class, she was hooked. She chose computer science as her major and minored in math.
In 2008, Boettner participated in the National Science Foundation�s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program at Florida International University (Miami). She and five other undergrad students shadowed two computer science PhD students. �That summer, I had my first experiences with graduate research work. I learned the process of publishing findings in a formal publication and the structure of research projects.�
In 2010, Boettner worked as a summer intern at an aviation company, doing projects in corporate security technology. That fall, she also participated in a practicum with a software security company. �After my internships, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in technology in the corporate world,� she says.
The importance of tech and communication
At school and afterward, Boettner reflects, �I�ve met a lot of people who are good at developing code and can find solutions to difficult problems. I�ve also come across managers who are great public speakers and strategic planners.�
However, she says it�s rarer to find people who possess technical, communications and managerial skill sets. She believes today�s grads need technical skills like programming, problem-solving and critical thinking skills, but should also present themselves well. �Whenever my job permits, I attend trainings, lectures and seminars in an effort to develop both my technical and managerial skills.�
Challenges and strategies
Boettner�s greatest challenge might be learning how to balance doing a good job with having a life. �The first few months, I felt like I had to stay in the office until I could check off absolutely all the tasks on my to-do list, even though many could wait until the next day.�
Since then, she�s learned to manage her time better, and do a better job of setting priorities. �I�m able to do my work efficiently and have time for activities outside of work as well.�
Another challenge Boettner faced was acclimating to a new environment at Bank of America. �There was so much information to process and so many people to get to know,� she recalls. �As I got a better overall understanding of the business, I found it helped me focus on my part, and has made me a better employee and contributor.�
She suggests that new grads focus on building a professional network in the workplace early on. Find a mentor, or many, she recommends, to assist with career coaching and advice. �Get to understand what your co-workers do, and reach out to other employees. Building a network is the best way to get a well-rounded view of your team, your organization and the company.�
Carrie Stienen rolls out software systems at American Family
Carrie Stienen is an application development engineer at insurance company American Family (Madison, WI).
Stienen earned her bachelors degree in computer science and mathematics in 2013 at the University of Wisconsin (Madison). Also in 2013, she completed an internship in Nara, Japan at NEC Corporation�s Innovation Laboratory. She perfected the Japanese she�d studied in college, and learned Android app programming.
After the internship, she returned to the U.S., finished her final semester of college and went to work for American Family as a contract programmer. After six months, she moved to the company�s web application team. �I took part in an initial software rollout, and since then I have stayed with the same group working with other projects, like the rollout of a new software system for 50,000 American Family agents around the world.�
Tips for the trade
Stienen says her flexibility has served her well. �I can find enjoyment in anything,� she says. That�s helped her adapt to working in a field that�s still predominantly male.
Her flexibility also helps her navigate the growing IT world. �Computer science in the real world is not always as straightforward as students may think. There are a lot of different languages and it�s always changing,� she says.
Stienen urges students to do as many internships as early as possible. She also advises students to hone all their skills, not just the technical ones. �Whether you join a big or small company, communication skills are essential.� That�s something her internships taught her, she notes.
When seeking work, she says, graduates should be willing to consider positions for which they have some but not necessarily all of the requested skills and experience. �Have confidence in what you have done,� Stienen urges, �and present yourself with a can-do attitude that demonstrates you catch on quickly.�
Stienen expects computer science opportunities to grow, especially in big data handling storage. She is carefully considering her own next steps, including possibly returning to school for a masters degree.
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