Everybody recognizes the long-term demand for software engineers, although in a sluggish economy, some industries are hesitant to load up on new hires right now.
There may, however, be better opportunities than you’d think. Surprisingly, there seems to be a shortage of U.S. citizens, particularly African Americans, in the software field.
Heather Gagnier, technology recruiter at billing and customer care software company Convergys (Cincinnati, OH), explains that “Many software jobs used to go to foreign nationals. As the U.S. continues to tighten immigration restrictions, we’ll look to hire more U.S. citizens to fill those positions.”
This is particularly true in government jobs and in defense-related industries, where citizenship is often required for any sensitive work. “It will be a good opportunity to find a job in a tight employment market,” Gagnier notes.
For Eve Gohoure, diversity program officer at Argonne National Laboratory (Argonne, IL), “Software engineering is an attractive field because it requires innovative solutions to overcome complicated problems. This often positions the engineer to understand the business, its function, and what it needs to function more efficiently.”
“I think it’s the constant software technology evolution that makes software engineering attractive,” says Debbi Koldewey, senior technical recruiter at e-business application provider Integic (Chantilly, VA). “You stay on the cutting edge by constantly increasing your skills.”
|Howard Malachi’s job at Integic is pure software development, from client consultation through coding.
Howard Malachi: strategy and development at Integic
Howard Malachi’s job at Integic is 100 percent software development. He’s a software engineer working in the product strategy and development group. That group turns out the products that the company’s business units sell to external customers.
Malachi starts by talking to internal clients to get a handle on what the software is supposed to do. Then he moves into the design phase, which “involves a lot of research and writing,” he says. “I actually compose the documents and the logic that go into the new system.”
Next the team implements the system. They code in various programming languages, including C, VB, Pascal, Fortran and Web-enabling languages. “That phase is pretty intensive,” says Malachi. “We sit down and code all day.” Finally the code is tested to make sure it’s up to spec, and “Then we hand it off to a QA group,” he says.
Malachi completed a dual degree program: three years of EE at the Georgia Institute of Technology plus CS work at the University of Maryland. He received a BS from U Maryland in 1987.
Then he spent three years at Personal Library Software (Rockville, MD), a developer of indexing and search technologies, followed by jobs with several small computer firms specializing in document and imaging management. In 1991 he signed on with BTG Corp (Fairfax, VA), a provider of IS and tech services to the government and business, and the next year Integic hired him as a software developer.
“They literally put me on a plane to New York my first day,” Malachi says. He was on his way to help the Port Authority, an Integic customer, with its leasing records. The experience, he says, improved his communication and stress management skills – skills that have come in handy over and over again as Malachi manages his career at Integic.
Most weekends you can find Malachi immersed in subjects like algebra and calculus, tutoring students as part of an outreach program at his church. “It’s a warm feeling to do that for the kids,” he says. “Not as many African American students as we’d like take a real interest in math and science. I try to show them that math and calc are things they can use.”
|Boeing’s Denise Kelley manages simulation and tools software development for the International Space Station.
At Boeing, Denise Kelley works on the Space Station
“I thought I was just OK in math and science, but others thought I was very good,” says Denise Kelley. Her teachers, counselors and parents convinced her that she was equipped to study engineering or computers.
Money, however, was an issue for Kelley, the oldest of six children. But then she learned of a scholarship sponsored by oil companies in her hometown of Houston, TX. The program, with Texas Southern University and Rice University (Houston, TX), would give her a dual degree in computer science and engineering. The program sponsors also thought Kelley was very good, and she was on her way.
In college she had two internships at Exxon, doing lab work in the oil exploration division. But it was her freshman internship at NASA, just a little after the shuttle made its maiden voyage, that made the biggest impression. “It put space in my blood,” she says. “I thought that was the greatest thing in the world.”
After graduating in 1982 she returned to NASA. She worked in the Johnson Space Center as part of the shuttle program in the spacecraft software division. But her job was managing the contractors who developed the software. The position lacked the hands-on experience she wanted.
In 1986 she joined a startup technology company near Houston. She spent three enjoyable years immersed in the full software development cycle, from conception through to customer delivery.
Then Kelley became a Houston employee of Mitre Corp, the nonprofit systems engineering company that NASA used as its research and theoretical expert. It was a high point of her career. “I got to work with the smartest people on the planet,” she says. “It was the kind of life experience where you are continually learning and growing.”
When Mitre’s contract with NASA ended in 1992, a colleague steered Kelley to McDonnell Douglas, which was looking for software development people in Houston for the International Space Station program. She started on the integration team within the software verification facility, developing interface control documents for station-related projects.
McDonnell Douglas was purchased by Boeing in 1997, and Kelley is now manager of the simulation and tools software development organization for the International Space Station. Her team designs, develops and tests simulation tool software, which is used to test the actual software that will fly on the space station.
“I am still trying to figure out what I did in my life to deserve such an awesome opportunity,” says Kelley. “This is something I will tell my grandchildren about one day.”
|At Convergys, Ricky Flowers is a systems analyst, doing development work and maintaining a billing system.
Ricky Flowers is an analyst at Convergys
The constant change in technology keeps Ricky Flowers on his toes at Convergys. “You always have a wide variety of things to do,” he says. He is currently an analyst in the company’s information management group.
When Flowers started college he was thinking of becoming an engineer. His advisor, however, recommended computer science. “I decided he was right,” says Flowers, “and I switched at the end of my sophomore year.”
Flowers liked software for the wealth of career options it offered, and received his BSCIS from Troy State University (Troy, AL) in 1995. He and his wife relocated to her home state of Ohio, where he met up with Convergys at a local job fair.
He started as a programmer/analyst, designing billing programs for the company’s telecom clients. He was promoted to analyst in 1997 and got into mainframes and Cobol programming.
He also began to deal directly with customers. “With most clients wanting things immediately, you have to consider how their requests will affect the business,” he notes.
Then the software market moved toward client/server apps and Convergys offered retraining to all its mainframe programmers. After completing the training, Flowers was assigned to develop client/server systems in C++ and Unix. “It was a different way of viewing things,” he says.
Today he’s a systems analyst, doing development work and maintaining a billing system. He writes up specs and works with his group to develop, code and test programs. He still keeps his hand in with mainframe and responds to client requests.
“If you get burned out in coding, you can move onto another aspect of the job such as customer project management,” says Flowers. “I like having that variety.”
|Ahmed Ali Abdulai of Unisys: “We analyze the problem and provide a fix.”
Ahmed Ali Abdulai came from Ghana to do software at Unisys
As a young man in Ghana, Ahmed Ali Abdulai got to like computers better and better. He’d learned programming in Basic and Pascal while earning his 1989 BS in geography and resource development and his 1991 MS in demography from the University of Ghana. In 1997 he emigrated to the U.S., hoping to make computing a full-time occupation.
He began to study for an MSIS at Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA), and found a co-op post as a systems analyst with Bristol-Myers Squibb (Princeton, NJ). He was assigned to the business planning and information analysis division.
“I really wasn’t treated like a student at all,” Abdulai says. “I took the heat when I made a mistake and got the commendations when I excelled.” His responsibilities included soliciting client requirements, developing database queries and reports, and modeling sales projections.
He got his MS in 1999 and was hired by Unisys (Blue Bell, PA) as a software engineer level V. A few months into the job he took on an extra project.
“I mentioned to my manager that I thought the orientation program I went through could be enhanced,” he says. “He told me to see what I could come up with, and I suggested new curricula and added additional technical information.”
Abdulai’s revamp became a permanent part of the orientation program and was added to the Unisys University training program. In 2000 he received an award for improving quality and reducing the learning curve within the organization.
He’s also had three promotions, and is currently a software engineer III in communications support for platform engineering. His group works on messaging, call-in services, voice recognition and mobile access products for the communications and service provider marketplace.
Right now Abdulai is focused on maintenance and support. “My colleagues and I are like doctors,” he says. “When our clients encounter problems we investigate, analyze the problem and provide a fix.
“Unisys is a good place to work,” he concludes. “I learn new technologies every day and there are opportunities for career advancement.”
|Ellina Sims directs network software centers for telecom provider SBC Midwest.
Ellina Sims directs software centers for SBC Midwest
As director of network software centers for telecom service provider SBC Midwest, Ellina Sims is responsible for the states of Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan. “Everything that’s required from a translation – the tech term for switching – perspective in the region is touched by my folks,” she says.
One of her daily challenges is to make sure that communications and procedures are consistent at all the call centers. “I talk to my five area managers every day and at monthly staff meetings,” she notes. “Standardization is a prime goal in all my groups. We want to be more efficient and more effective in what we are doing.”
Sims received a dual degree in math and CS from Jackson State University (Jackson, MS) in 1987. During the summers she interned at the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (Boulder, CO) and AT&T; Bell Labs (Naperville, IL). AT&T; had her testing and verifying software for new switch releases, and “I realized that is what I wanted to do when I graduated.”
AT&T; was happy to accommodate, and put her to work as a member of tech staff. Sims was responsible for all new services included in the company’s 5E-SS switch releases to various phone companies.
Then she branched out into verifying the Signaling System 7 interconnect. It was part of a 1986 FCC order that Bell operating companies provide access for other long-distance carriers. “My job was to test that software across the various switching platforms that AT&T; provided,” she says.
In 1992 Ameritech called. “They were looking for someone familiar with Signaling System 7 to help roll it out at their company.” Sims came on board as a member of tech staff in the new product integration group. She implemented a lot of the things she’d done with AT&T;, and became manager of the group the next year.
In 1996 she was asked to head up Y2K preparations for the network. She coordinated testing and upgrading of the company’s switches and managed several Y2K industry forums.
In 1999 she moved over to network ops as area manager for the Chicago center in the centralized translations group. By last year she was directing all five centers.
Sims appreciates the opportunities her teams have to provide great customer service. “The challenge is making sure we all do our jobs well,” she says.
Eugene Williams does Web development at Argonne
Eugene Williams is a senior systems analyst with the computer and instrumentation solutions group of Argonne National Laboratory (Argonne, IL). He does Web development for the plant facilities organization which tracks waste movement inside and outside the lab.
He likes the client interaction and the chance to offer recommendations on computers and programs. It reminds him of his early days as a consultant.
When Williams started at Jackson State University (Jackson, MS), he was thinking of teaching math. But he took a CS course, and the instructor recognized his knack for grasping the material. “He saw that I could work out complex problems without any difficulty,” says Williams.
The instructor talked to the dean, and the dean got Williams a summer internship with Eastman Kodak (Rochester, NY). In the fall Williams added CS to his major.
He had three more internships with Kodak. He did some mainframe development in Cobol and TL1 and worked in artificial intelligence. When he got his BS in math and CS in 1990, Kodak hired him as a junior analyst and put him in the professional rotation program.
His first assignment was in the CS group, supporting the sales department. “We were developing laptop apps that sales reps could take out on their calls,” he remembers. Then he rotated to the educational center as a junior Sun admin, responsible for maintaining Unix systems and Oracle databases.
Next Williams joined Kodak’s legal area. On a two-year assignment, he worked up apps to keep track of dockets and other legal matters.
When he moved back to the CS group as a senior analyst, one of his projects involved work on Omnis 7. It was a complex system, one of the first to give developers the opportunity to work on multiple platforms.
Williams left Kodak in 1995 to start his own computer consulting business. One of his clients was Argonne National Lab, and they brought him in because of his experience with Omnis 7. “They needed somebody who could get it running right away,” he explains. In 2000 he went to work for Argonne full time.
Williams doesn’t really miss the consulting world, although he’s glad of what it taught him about client interaction. His goal right now is to get involved with working out “best practices” in software development. “The need is there and I feel I have something to offer,” he says.
|Medtronic’s Byron Roberson: “The goal of all of us is to support the patient.”
Medtronic’s Byron Roberson: software support for patients
Byron Roberson always wanted to be an EE. Like so many other incipient techies, he spent his childhood taking things apart and putting them back together again.
No formal computer classes were offered in Roberson’s high school, but he read the programming books at the local Radio Shack store and tried out what he learned on the store’s computer. “I really liked the fact that I could write something and see it immediately on the screen.”
Roberson went on to Clark Atlanta University (Atlanta, GA). He started out as a dual degree student in CS and engineering, then switched to a new program which let him leave school, in 1994, with a BS and an MS in CS.
In college he interned twice at AT&T; Bell Labs (Naperville, IL). The first time he worked on a virtual phone that could be used from a PC. The second internship involved maintaining code on a 5E switch.
The company hired him after graduation as a member of tech staff. He worked on a virtual display of operator services designed for use in Japan, and wrote scripts for AT&T;’s U.S. operator services. He also managed some projects and wrote project management software.
He learned about medical device maker Medtronic (Minneapolis, MN) at an NSBE conference in 2001. Today he’s a senior software engineer in the patient management department, part of the company’s cardiac rhythm management business.
Roberson supports the Chronicle device, used to monitor the pressure in a patient’s heart. He deals with calls from patients and offers technical help with problems. He also builds software tools that help the device gather data and transmit reports.
Project management is still a big part of Roberson’s job description. He works closely with other developers, database people and a Unix team. “One of the challenges is creating a synergy between the groups,” he says. “The goal of all of us is to support the patient.”
|Stephan Stanton manages QA and makes sure that Keynote Systems’ enterprise monitoring software meets end-user requirements.
Stephan Stanton: SW QA at Keynote Systems
As a software quality assurance manager at Keynote Systems (San Mateo, CA), Stephan Stanton loves to dig into software. Keynote provides enterprise monitoring software for large e-commerce sites. Determining how software works and making sure it meets end-user requirements is the daily challenge for Stanton and his team of four software test engineers.
Stanton graduated from California State University-Chico in 1986 with a BS in applied math and a heavy load of CS courses. His first job was in telecom with Pacific Bell in San Ramon, CA. He spent three years as a project engineer in the telephone switching systems department, where he implemented digital and electronic switching systems.
He moved over to the IT side in 1989, doing software testing and then software application support and troubleshooting. In 1993 he returned to software testing and QA.
In 1998 Stanton left to do similar testing and QA for retailer Williams-Sonoma (San Francisco, CA) and Bechtel Corp (San Francisco, CA). He joined Keynote in 2000.
Stanton likes the diverse technical environment at Keynote. “We run a lot of different operating systems,” he says. “You get different flavors of Unix, Windows 2000 server and different databases. We have one of the biggest Oracle databases running anywhere.”
He enjoys the chance to “continue gaining expertise in the field of software management and testing architecture.” One day, he says, he’d like to develop software that makes testing easier, faster and more thorough.
Skip Waugh is a freelance business writer living in Denver, CO.