Did You Know?

NPR recently spotlighted results from a Nielsen Co. evaluation of 60,000 wireless customers’ bills, and the results are fascinating.  Those of you who attended the NCWIT May 2010 Summit breakout by Shireen Mitchell (founder of Digital Sista) will recognize a correlation with the statistics she cited.  Here are some examples:

  • Blacks and Hispanics talk on the phone more than whites.
  • Blacks are more likely than whites to use their phones to access the Internet.
  • Women talk and text more than men.

Then there’s this little nugget: “The Nielsen panel of 60,000 households was weighted to match the Census. However, it looked only at households that got phone bills. People who have prepaid service generally don't get bills and make up about 20 percent of wireless subscribers.”

What do you think?  To what degree might access to technology, and the how/why of technology use, impact a person’s likelihood to consider a technology vocation?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

A piece in CNN Money this week profiles Sal Khan, a former hedge fund manager who recently has become famous on YouTube for his simple, clear video lectures on topics ranging from algebra to economics to SAT prep. Khan, who has an MBA from Harvard, as well as a BS in math and a BS and a master's in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT, started out by making a video to help remotely tutor his 7th grade cousin in math.  The videos he created turned into “Khan Academy,” whose more than 1,600 videos have now received 18+ million hits.  Even Bill Gates has jumped on his bandwagon, saying  "It is awesome how much he has done with very little in the way of resources," and "I'd say we've moved about 160 IQ points from the hedge fund category to the teaching-many-people-in-a-leveraged-way category.” Detractors say that the videos are simply tutorials, and aren’t a substitute for the classroom, with its teacher/student interaction and performance testing.

What do you think?  Do you think we’ll see more free, online education like this? Do you think this kind of educational resource is more of a supplement, or a substitute for traditional education?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

At General Mills Inc., the average tenure for an IT staffer is about 13 years; and 16 years for an IT manager. Turnover is below the industry average of 5, and more than 15% of the company's IT staffers hold MBAs. According to Computerworld, this hiring and retention pattern represents a business strategy: “companies … are looking to hire smart, tech-savvy, collaborative business professionals for 20- or 30-year multifaceted careers, not for IT jobs.” According to Xerox CIO, John McDermott, "The movement of talent between organizations is at the most senior levels and pretty significant," he says. "The previously impenetrable wall between IT and the business became permeable."

What do you think? Is your company hiring people with multiple skillsets – not just IT? Does your company groom talented employees for an extended tenure? Does it allow for lateral mobility between IT and other segments of the business?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Computerworld features an article this week looking at whether colleges are adequately preparing students for the complexities and rapidly changing needs of the IT workforce. In interviews with IT companies, the magazine asks whether schools are teaching vital soft skills, such as project management and business basics: "You bring a programmer or network administrator on board, and they don't have the big-picture view of how the business runs. One recent hire … could program user interfaces but had no concept of a database. Another didn't know what an invoice was.” To address the gap between college and real-world experience, the ACM has introduced new curriculum guidelines for undergraduate IT programs that address how computing is manifested in industries such as law, health, finance and government.

What do you think?  Does your department work with industry in updating its curriculum? Should computer science education be required to include complementary, “real-world” skillsets?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Many of you are familiar with technology transfer programs at universities and how these programs sometimes lead to technology patents, spinoff companies, and – in some cases – hefty profits.  NPR recently profiled the University of Utah, which surprisingly has one of the best track records in the country for the number of successful spin-offs it has produced.  “When it comes to creating new start-ups from academic research, only MIT compares to the University of Utah — despite the fact that MIT's research budget is five times larger.”  School officials, who lately have entertained numerous visits from other institutions looking to mimic their success, chalk it up to a rich and collaborative entrepreneurial ecosystem – “a focus on the entrepreneurial process as a scholarly activity."

What do you think? Can academics and scientists be trained to become entrepreneurs?  How might more universities incorporate entrepreneurism into their technology education?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Did You Know? is a brief round-up of news, events, resources, and other factoids that crossed our radar this week and we think are worth sharing. Got an interesting conversation-starter to share? Let us know.