Message to Students and IT Pros: Prepare Today for “Careers of the Future”

REDMOND, Wash., Sept. 21, 2009 — It’s no secret that a weak global economy has slashed jobs in nearly every industry.

Less well known is that the technology industry has weathered the storm relatively well. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ July 2009 household survey shows that the number of “computer systems design and services” jobs actually increased over the previous year. A July 2009 article by Annie Fisher of FORTUNE magazine cites unemployment among tech workers as less than half of the overall U.S. jobless rate, according to tech-industry career hub, and points to an 400,000 technical jobs remaining unfilled in the United States, as estimated by industry group CompTIA.

(Clockwise from upper left) Abu-Hadba, Guggenheimer, Rashid, Golden, Passman, Muglia, Elop, Scott.

According to Lutz Ziob, general manager of Microsoft Learning, these trends can be explained in large part by the ever-changing nature of the tech industry “There is always a demand for the latest skills, and even during lean times companies have a hard time finding the right candidates to fill certain technical positions,” Ziob says.

To help solve this challenge for technology professionals and the company recruiters who hire them, Microsoft provides resources that help students and IT professionals keep current with the latest trends and technologies, and develop skills to keep their careers moving.

Those efforts will get a higher profile this fall as Microsoft launches a new career campaign to build awareness of the many resources the company provides to the IT community.

“A commitment to lifelong learning and skills development is essential for success in the technology world,” Ziob says. “We will continue to offer an array of programs that help students and professionals develop the skills they need.”

So what sorts of skills will be the most useful over the coming years? PressPass asked several of Microsoft’s top executives how the tech world has changed during their careers, and what opportunities they see on the horizon.

Q: What do you think the career of the future will be, and how do you think students aspiring to be technology leaders can prepare for this?

Walid Abu-Hadba, corporate vice president, Developer & Platform Evangelism: Most high-tech software companies have been started by a student in a dorm room somewhere, so you can’t necessarily separate the concepts of the “career of the future” and “students aspiring to be technology leaders.” Time and again, we’ve seen students lead technology shifts. Sure, R&D often starts with commercial companies and educational institutions, but students are the ones who get to engage with technology and make it real for us. Those aspiring to become technology leaders need to continue getting their hands dirty playing with technology and pushing the boundaries of innovation.

Steve Guggenheimer, corporate vice president, OEM Division: I hope the career of the future isn’t just one career, but all technology careers becoming richer and more interesting. The blending of what is going on across robotics, computers, DNA research, nanotechnology and other fields is particularly fascinating. It’s not one specific science per se, but the fact that over time these various areas overlap, blend and combine to create new career opportunities, beyond technology, in fields that help build solutions and insight, which in turn help improve the society we live in and the quality of life for all people. What’s extremely interesting about technology is its ability to help us understand our world more deeply, and from that, help people build devices, medicine and solutions that impact everything we do.

Rick Rashid, senior vice president, Microsoft Research: Computer science is finding its way into so many different areas of science and engineering — biology, ecology, physics, astronomy, chemistry and more — that a foundation in computing will be an important part of almost anything a young person wants to do in the future. My general recommendation for any student is to learn as much as possible in as many areas as possible. The world changes quickly, and a broadly educated individual who is able to adapt to change is in the best position to take advantage of opportunities as they come.

Michael Golden, corporate vice president, Education: It’s amazing to think that many students today are studying and preparing for careers that haven’t even been created yet. Regardless of the path they choose, students can prepare for nearly every career — today or in the future — by focusing on what some call “21st century skills” and what I consider core competencies such as problem-solving, collaboration and critical thinking.

Tony Scott, corporate vice president and chief information officer: Careers in the IT industry are increasingly in demand. We live in a digital world and therefore companies are relying heavily on IT to serve as a connector as they make their way through the digitization process. IT is unique in the sense that we have the greatest opportunity to see how a company operates in every department — from marketing to product development. By having this visibility, we are able to provide feedback on what works and what doesn’t work for a company, and create the opportunity for change.
Stephen Elop, president, Microsoft Business Division: I believe the career of the future will continue to be about the application of technology to our most pressing challenges, whether on a local, national or global basis. Globally, technology will continue to play an essential role in dealing with environmental challenges. In the United States, we already see a pattern where technology is addressing the nation’s healthcare challenges. Aspiring technology leaders will ensure that they are developing the skills, experience and consciousness about contemporary technology and how to use it to address critical issues. Leadership will not arise from technology for technology’s sake: it has to be effectively applied to the most significant contemporary challenges.

Bob Muglia, president, Server and Tools Business: There are really two areas of opportunity from my view. One is business analysis and strategy, and the other is computer architecture. There is a great need for people to understand and analyze the business, business process and customer requirements, and ultimately for companies to create business strategies that are differentiated. Strategic business analysis is a very information-centric role, and I think it will become increasingly important within organizations. The other role that will become very important is the systems architect. This is the person who designs and builds an information technology system to implement the business strategy. Ultimately you need somebody who understands the strategy and business, and somebody who builds the system to implement that strategy. Without both of those together, a business cannot be truly differentiated and effective.

Pamela Passman, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel, Global Corporate Affairs: We live in a knowledge-based society that is increasingly dependent upon technology. That has a direct impact on the careers that are available today, and into the future. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that in five years, more than three-quarters of all jobs in the United States will require at least a basic level of technology skills. It’s one of the reasons that we launched Elevate America with the aim of providing free and low-cost resources to those most in need, to help them develop and learn the skills needed for those jobs. As we move into the future, I think that students will need to develop higher-level analytical and technology skills and they will need to combine those skills with a commitment to lifelong learning — unlike previous generations, today’s students will need to continue to cultivate new skills for a changing job market.

Q: Looking back on your own career in technology, what has impressed you the most about how opportunities in the field have evolved?

Scott: The impact technology has had on how we even think about what “work” is, and the notion of how we go about delivering, is the biggest area of transformation in my mind. I don’t think there is a single job in the technology field that isn’t either dramatically different or at least significantly more interesting than it was just a few years ago. We have better tools, which has resulted in a broader business impact. Overall, the importance of what we do has never been greater.

Muglia: When I joined the company more than 20 years ago, we used overhead projectors with transparencies for presentations, and memos were printed and put in mailboxes. The idea of doing business analysis was almost nonexistent. You could get a printout of your business results, but you certainly couldn’t get access to the data. When you think about the amount of information people have, and the ability we have to communicate and work together, it’s so dramatically different. Ultimately, what that means is that technology has allowed people’s productivity to increase exponentially — and the roles of IT professionals and developers have been key in making that possible. Technology and the people supporting it, creating it and developing it will continue to improve the productivity of business, and that’s fueling global economies. 

Guggenheimer: In less than 20 years, the technology we used to dream of for computers is now in phones, TVs, servers, game machines, radios and more. The range of solutions we work on extends from the coolest consumer technologies to the most scalable enterprise technologies, with a set of common threads across the software and hardware. This means we can work on an incredible range of technologies that serve an incredible range of audiences using the same fundamentals. The types of jobs and roles in our industry have exploded in just over two decades, and there is so much more to do as we see technology disciplines blend with others.

Golden: I’d say it’s less about how the opportunities evolve and more about how one prepares for opportunities. We all have the ability to proactively learn and contribute to our own successes. If we are deliberate in our actions we can recognize and prepare for those evolving opportunities. Fundamentally, I believe that success comes through hard work, being a lifelong learner and finding inspiration in what you do.

Elop: From my very earliest moments of engagement with technology, I can recall a series of discrete moments of disruption that allowed me to recognize a fresh new opportunity or previously unexplored perspective on technology. The first time I was exposed to a full-screen text editor, or the first “aha” moment as I engaged with the Web, or the first time that I saw a customer apply a technology in some completely unanticipated manner to solve a business problem — these were all points in time when a new opportunity was made apparent to me. What I find impressive about the technology industry is that even after more than 20 years in this field, those fresh new moments of disruption happen at a rate that is only constrained by our ability to absorb them.

Passman: I’m continually amazed by the increasing impact that technology has in society, from how we think about our day-to-day lives to new approaches to addressing some of our most pressing social issues. Technology is enabling incredible innovation in areas from education to healthcare, which in turn is leading to a diversity of technology careers that we’ve never seen before. The growing impact of technology, and the implications that has for individuals, businesses, community organizations and public policymakers, is one of the things that attracted me to this industry. Technology is at the center of our economic and social development — and that’s an opportunity for everyone.

Empowering People Throughout Their Careers

Microsoft provides a host of resources to help anyone interested or involved in IT to develop their skills:

  • Students. Microsoft’s Career Forward program provides multimedia tools to explore career options. Through Partners in Learning, the company engages in public-private partnerships that stimulate positive change in education. The Microsoft IT Academy provides training and certification that increases employability. And the company’s DreamSpark program provides tools to develop and design software that solves practical challenges.

  • Educators. Microsoft contributes to educators’ professional growth by helping them use technology effectively in teaching (Partners in Learning), and through training and certification on Microsoft technologies (Microsoft IT Academy).

  • Job seekers. For those adversely impacted by the economy, new career programs such as Elevate America provide an opportunity to develop skills relevant to any market, and the Career Campaign will help people gain skills and advance in IT.

  • IT pros and developers. For those already in the profession, there are many programs that help keep people current and further their careers, including Thrive, Microsoft Learning initiatives and offers, and the BizSpark program.

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