Globalization and Offshoring of Software

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2. CS education need to continue evolving, whether due to globalization or not. The skills and talents needed by software and IT professionals have evolved over the past half century, independent of issues such as outsourcing and offshoring. In general, IT professionals are more likely to work in an application-specific context than previously, and conversely, less likely to work on computer-specific areas such as compiler or operating system development. They are more likely to work on large software applications in teams that include applications specialists, and depending on the organization, also to collaborate with sales and marketing staff. They are also more likely to work in an environment where they are expected to be masters of certain software platforms and interoperability standards, and know how to reuse code. Thus in general, it will be increasingly important that a computer science or IT education involves training that enables the student to work on large-scale software applications, to understand important business, scientific, or other application areas, and be familiar with the tools and platforms that are increasingly the standards in the international marketplace. It also is increasingly important that the education emphasizes teamwork and communication skills, especially as they are practiced in a geographically distributed fashion.

3. There is a need for education to begin to prepare students for a global economy and its possible impacts on their careers. It is increasingly likely that an IT professional will be working in a global context. This may include being part of a multinational team, or collaborating with customers or suppliers from other parts of the world. Thus, it will be increasingly important that an education in computer science and IT help prepare students for this global workplace. Education that acquaints students with different languages and cultures, whether through courses, study abroad, or other means, will be increasingly beneficial. Finally, to the extent that English is the common language of the IT industry, the ability of nations to educate their IT professionals to be fluent in English will be a major factor in determining their success in the outsourcing economy and in multinational endeavors.

4. Educational systems that help prepare students to be creative and innovative will create advantages for those students and their countries. As the lower tiers of software and IT work become more commoditized, creativity and innovation will become even more important, particularly in countries that experience the loss of support and programming work. The creation of new products and new businesses will continue to lead to the greatest commercial and scientific successes, and even more, become the differentiator between organizations and between nations. Historically, some educational systems are seen as fostering creativity in students more successfully than others. One crucial differentiator in fostering a creative mentality in students is the research component of the educational system, and the participation of students at all educational levels in the university’s research enterprise. Another differentiator is the degree of rote learning versus more open problem solving. Nations that currently have an advanced research enterprise in their university systems may increasingly see this as their greatest competitive advantage in educating computer science and IT students for the higher tiers of the IT workforce. Nations that do not include a research component in their university systems will need to consider whether, strategically, the investment in developing this component and culture is needed to attain their goals for the IT economies in their countries.

5. Educational systems that not only pay attention to current business and industry needs but also provide a core foundational knowledge will create advantages for those students and their countries. To cite two national examples, the Indian educational system has been particularly good at teaching the latest technology that is needed in business and industry today. The United States has been particularly good at teaching foundational knowledge that is likely to serve a student through most of his or her career. Foundational skills help students remain current, and not become obsolescent, as the technology changes rapidly around them. Although the particulars of a new technology in the workplace may be different from what a student was taught in school, a basic understanding of computing principles and ways of addressing problems will remain current even as the particular technologies change. Of course there needs to be a balance between fundamentals and currently relevant technologies in the student’s education. In order to prepare students to be productive workers when they enter the job market, it also is important that the educational system pay attention to the current needs of business and industry and select the technologies it exposes students to in order to address industry needs. This goal can be achieved through respectful interchange between people in the academic and industrial/business worlds. No IT education can possibly fulfill all of the student’s educational needs for an IT career, however, and IT workers should expect to have to engage in life-long learning in order to keep up with the rapid pace of technological change and the rapid changes in the way that organizations employ information technology.

6. A good educational system requires the right technology, a good curriculum, good students, and good teachers. Fortunately, personal computers are relatively inexpensive, software for them has been commoditized, and fast, inexpensive broadband communication is readily available most places in the world. Thus, the technology for training an IT workforce is within reach of much of the world. The model curricula that have been designed by the professional societies have been and should be used in many places around the world. There is probably value in developing a process by which these curricula can have greater business and industrial input and react more rapidly to changes in the way that IT gets used in the world. Although adopted around the world, the model curricula have been designed primarily for degree programs in the United States. If the professional societies truly aspire to be world bodies and develop world curricula, they should pay attention to the needs of other countries and their degree programs as well. Shortages in the supply of students and teachers may be the most difficult problems to address. In developing countries, there has been a marked decline over the last few years in the number of students enrolling in IT degree programs, largely due to the perception that offshoring has diminished career prospects in IT. In the United States, there are also serious problems with the preparation of high school teachers who introduce students to IT, and several times in the past (in the late 1970s and again during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s) American universities had difficulty recruiting and retaining quality faculty because of the lure of industrial IT positions. They also had inadequate number of students obtaining doctorates, which are required to become faculty members. In India, critics complain about the general quality of IT faculty, salaries are low, and there have been no funds to enable research either by the faculty members or their students. Inducements to improve the quality of the faculty would be helpful in India, the United States, and other countries.

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