The University of Wisconsin Applied Computing program hosted a webinar focusing on careers in the field of computing. The panel featured four experts representing different areas of computing, including a graduate of the program and three of the program’s Advisory Board members, a group who meets regularly to provide feedback that improves the program and ensures the curriculum aligns with workforce trends:
- Brandon Ward, Manager, Data Science and AI at UW Health
- Daniel Meighen, Senior Programmer Analyst at City of Green Bay
- Carl Schweitzer, Senior Software Engineer at Microsoft
- Samantha Thompson, Developer at J. J. Keller & Associates
Each panelist shared their personal experiences and provided insight on the computing field to help prospective students and current students plan for their careers. The discussion, which was facilitated by UW Applied Computing Academic Program Manager, Jennifer Cox, and Success Coach, Jenna Lassila, also explored the latest computing trends and what companies are doing to foster inclusive workplaces.
Today’s Job Market
When it comes to what employers expect from today’s computing professionals, Thompson said companies are searching for workers who have problem solving skills, a knowledge of database management, and an understanding of certain programming languages. With network vulnerabilities like ransomware and phishing becoming more common, cybersecurity awareness is also a crucial computing skill for protecting companies against bad actors.
“It’s really vital that cybersecurity awareness is prioritized in the job space,” she said.
Another key expectation for workers is having a willingness to learn and adapt. You may have experience with a certain programming language or other specialized area, but the computing field is constantly changing, which makes it important to adapt to new technologies.
“Being able to see throughout the interview process that you’re able to learn something new and can adapt and you’re flexible to that is honestly, [in] a lot of cases, more important than knowing the exact type of software that you’re using,” Meighen said.
Ward agreed with this point by stating the significance of being able to work and communicate with stakeholders at all levels, along with handling and meeting deadlines. Strong communication skills are essential when explaining what you’re developing to other departments, especially now that many in the field are working remotely.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Computing
The panel spoke at length about what’s being done to address and improve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in the workplace.
At Microsoft, Schweitzer said the organization does a substantial amount of work in the DEI space across many levels. This includes publishing the company’s annual Diversity and Inclusion Report, which shows the demographics of company hires each year, because “with transparency comes accountability.” Hiring managers are required to take diversity and inclusion training, and workers at the company can join employee resource groups, including groups for those with disabilities and employees who come from military backgrounds.
UW Health is also dedicated to diversity efforts, as Ward said his team works closely with the health system’s DEI team to provide statistical metrics and population health data to design specialized programs for different populations.
“I think it’s really important to remember that employers at this point are looking globally for talent. So you can expand your employment search wider as well since this is a remote work world.”
Many of these efforts also take place in organizations not directly tied to employers. Thompson is a member of Women in Technology Wisconsin (WIT), which has in-person meetups throughout the state as well as webinars that are available online. WIT features programs for all ages, including women in college and even middle school students who are hoping to someday enter the field.
If you’re on the outside looking in and are curious about a prospective employer’s DEI efforts, Meighen recommended researching the company’s website to see what actions they’ve taken to contribute to equity and inclusiveness, and whether you would align with the company’s culture and values.
“Maybe they are doing public outreach programs, or if they’re doing other sorts of organizations or nonprofit work, that can give you an indicator,” he said. “There are a lot of ways to find out this information before you get hired on as an employee and see things that you don’t quite agree with or that aren’t up to the proper standards.”
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The Future of Computing and New Technologies
The panel discussed the career outlook for computing and how the field is expected to evolve. Thompson believes computing will continue to expand and become more globalized. The development team at J. J. Keller has contractors who work in Mexico, and the company has opened a new technology center in India. Workers in both countries are collaborating with Thompson’s team in the US, meaning even day-to-day interactions are now on an international level.
“I think it’s really important to remember that employers at this point are looking globally for talent,” she said. “So you can expand your employment search wider as well since this is a remote work world.”
Schweitzer reiterated how working remotely opens up a number of opportunities for computing professionals. The industry is vast and consists of information technology, information science, computer science, and business. With newer specialties in the field such as data science and DevOps (a combination of software development and operations), Schweitzer said there are more opportunities than ever to find a role you truly enjoy doing.
“As we go forward, I would expect this to happen more and more, which gives us opportunities to really define what you enjoy most out of the work that you do and to be able to pivot and shift into those areas that interest you most,” he said.
Ward believes these advancements in the field will continue to happen at a quick pace. With computers and systems constantly evolving, businesses are making an effort to keep up. For computing professionals, he recommended continuing education as a way to stay ahead of current and future trends.
“That’s the only way you’re going to be able to at least attempt to keep up with where the industry is going in whatever industry you’re in, whether it be healthcare or computing,” he said.
“Continuing education is huge. I push it on my associates heavily. Continue to learn new pieces, new codes, new systems, take new opportunities, go to the conferences.”
One of the most popular topics in computing this past year has been artificial intelligence and its potential. While professionals are still learning the complexities behind AI, Schweitzer said this isn’t the first time new technologies have caused a stir in the industry.
“It started in the late ’70s with personal computing,” he said. ”It happened again with the internet revolution. It happened with smartphones. And even cloud computing disrupted how we worked. This is yet another wave.”
Ward believes AI will take on a prominent role in software development, data science, and everyday life in general. With systems like ChatGPT and DALL-E, employers are beginning to see how generative AI can positively impact their businesses and workflows. However, it will be important for companies to enforce ethical practices to ensure workers are using and developing AI in appropriate ways.
As far as the concern of whether AI will take and replace the jobs of those in the field, Ward said there will always be a need for an actual person to review code and take part in conversations with other business units.
“Do people going into the field of computing have to worry about AI?” he said. “No, it’s just going to be a really awesome tool to help us be even more productive than we’ve ever been and develop cooler things than we ever have before.”
How to Get Started in the Field
If you’re trying to gain experience and break into the computing field, the panel had plenty of helpful advice to share.
Networking is important, and you must learn how to make a positive impression with connections and potential employers. For Schweitzer, networking effectively was how he landed his first job in the field.
You can also network with colleagues in other departments at your employer. Ward said he contacted UW Health’s data science manager and director to establish a connection and have a mentor figure. He found out about his current role this way and was able to apply shortly after the posting went live.
Networking doesn’t always have to be intimidating—sometimes it can take the form of a casual meetup.
“Even if you’re shy like me, just meeting people, having a drink, introducing yourself, and showing your face puts you at an advantage if you happen to meet again at an interview scenario,” Thompson said. “It’s really that simple a lot of times.”
Another piece of advice the panel recommended was expanding your computing knowledge by staying up-to-date with tech news and changes happening in the industry. This can be done through continuing education, informal online training, and listening to tech podcasts.
“Continuing education is huge,” Ward said. “I push it on my associates heavily. Continue to learn new pieces, new codes, new systems, take new opportunities, go to the conferences.”
If you’re new to computing, you might be concerned about the dilemma that can come with job openings: You need to get experience to have experience, but many entry-level positions tend to require two or more years of experience, which can sometimes be complicated for recent graduates.
Meighen said a way to counter this is by taking on internships to gain experience while still in school. You can also work on personal projects as a hobby, be it version control or collaboration tools. If you want the knowledge necessary for exceeding in the field, consider a bachelor’s degree in applied computing.
Applied computing goes beyond theoretical knowledge and gives students practical experience with the business and technical skills needed to work in computing roles. The University of Wisconsin Bachelor of Science in Applied Computing culminates in a capstone project where students gain real, hands-on experience that can be shared with potential employers.
Want to learn more about the UW Applied Computing program? Talk with an enrollment adviser by emailing email@example.com or calling 608-800-6762.
The full webinar is available below:
About the Panel
Brandon Ward | Manager, Data Science and AI at UW Health
Brandon is the manager of UW Health’s Data Science and AI Automation program and an Advisory Board member for the UW Applied Computing program. With a background in mathematics and statistics, he worked several years in the finance industry and transitioned into the healthcare field to give back to his community by helping patients and medical staff.
Carl Schweitzer | Senior Software Engineer at Microsoft
Carl has been an Advisory Board member since the UW Applied Computing program’s inception. As a senior engineer at Microsoft, he works on the customer experience team and focuses on independent software vendors to help them operate successfully in the cloud. He also takes customers’ feedback to improve products and learn about the latest computing trends.
Daniel Meighen | Senior Programmer Analyst at City of Green Bay
Daniel originally started working for the City in a junior position before advancing to his current role. He describes his position as being a mix of business analysis and software development. One of his main responsibilities includes digitizing processes that used to involve physical documents between departments. In addition to his analyst role, Daniel serves as an Advisory Board member for the UW Applied Computing program and teaches online courses at Rasmussen University.
Samantha Thompson | Developer at J. J. Keller & Associates
A graduate of the UW Applied Computing program, Samantha previously worked in medical research before transitioning into computing. She moved to Wisconsin and held technical support roles, which led her to earning her applied computing degree. She became a developer for J. J. Keller, where she collaborates with her team and works in programming, troubleshooting, and debugging to solve particular issues using coding.
Jenna Lassila | Success Coach at UW Extended Campus
Jenna is a Success Coach for the UW Bachelor of Science in Applied Computing and UW Master of Science in Healthcare Administration. With experience in teaching, tutoring, advising, and coaching, Jenna helps students improve their connectedness to the program, their home campus, and online resources.
Jennifer Cox | Academic Program Manager at UW Extended Campus
Jennifer has worked in research, project management, and information science at the Universities of Wisconsin since 2007. She became the Academic Program Manager for the UW Applied Computing and UW Data Science programs after completing the MS in Data Science degree program in 2018.