September 27, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
University of Hawaii at Hilo
Auburn University at Montgomery
Saint Xavier University
John Brown University
Seminole State College of Florida
University of Hawaii at Hilo
Department of Computer Science
Travis Mandel Ph.D.: The number one thing that employers typically look for is a project that demonstrates your ability to program something new and useful. The best projects are ones that someone undertakes independently or with a small group of others - if it is the latter, you need to clarify what you contributed. It's even better if you include a link to public code on Github so that employers can look around your Github page and get a sense of your coding style. A working demo is also very impressive. Ideally, this wouldn't be something you were forced to do for a class but rather something you took the independent initiative to do.
College GPA doesn't matter as much as people think it does - most companies care much more about what you can do than how well you did in class. Unless it is extremely low, it shouldn't be a problem. Listing courses can be useful, but even better would be listing skills you learned in classes. For instance, the class "Artificial Intelligence" means completely different things at institutions. So employers may not necessarily understand what skills you learned in that class unless you highlight them.
Travis Mandel Ph.D.: Although computer science seems like a highly technical field, soft skills are really what differentiates software engineers. One of the most important qualities of any software engineer is explaining their code clearly at various levels of technical depth and explaining why certain design decisions were made. You could write code that does amazing things, but if that code consists of snippets you pasted from StackOverflow without really fully understanding them, it will be a huge headache for anyone who needs to come into the codebase later and maintain or update it.
Another one is asking the right questions. Imagine you are dropped into a huge codebase and asked to add a new feature (very common!). There's no time to understand everything that is going on, but on the other hand, you need to understand enough of the code to do your task effectively, which involves asking questions. A failure to ask questions will likely result in you wasting a huge amount of time working on something that is ultimately not useful, for instance, re-implementing a complex function that already exists somewhere in the codebase.
Travis Mandel Ph.D.: Being comfortable with refactoring code is definitely one of the big ones here. Absolutely no one writes perfect code right off the bat - a good software engineer should recognize that and always be open and receptive to suggestions about improving their code. Even in the absence of such suggestions, a software engineer must be able to independently recognize that "the tower is about to fall over"! Meaning, if the code is turning into a real mess, a good software engineer will be able to realize that and independently begin refactoring it into a better state, even if that takes time away from implementing new features.
Another one I'll mention briefly is designing class inheritance diagrams to solve a new problem. The right structure here can allow components to be easily re-used and extended. But the wrong structure can lead to disastrous consequences, so it requires a lot of thought about how things will likely evolve in the future.
Travis Mandel Ph.D.: Solid foundational skills in data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. Even if you are not an AI researcher or machine learning engineer, with AI becoming so pervasive, chances are your code will have to interact with it at some point. Although listing many of the latest technologies (Tensorflow/Keras, Pytorch) looks great on a resume, what is even more valuable is a solid grasp of the fundamentals that transcend specific libraries. Employers will be impressed by someone who can analyze large data sets in languages like Python, communicate effectively with the machine learning teams, and identify new potential ways to integrate machine learning into the product. This is a highly in-demand skillset that can easily help unlock higher-paying positions.
Dr. Stephen Frezza Ph.D.: New computing graduates, more and more, need to understand the delivered value. Software is becoming ubiquitous: the breadth of industries and the depth of industry needs continue to expand. More than ever, the skills and competencies to reliably design, implement, and deploy software solutions are becoming paramount; it is not enough to be good with IT solutions or programming.
The need for computing graduates to be themselves adaptive, to work creatively to see and capitalize on opportunities, not just solve tech problems, is expanding. What is wanted are students who want to be computing professionals, women and men prepared to work together to deliver value to their organization, customers, and the world.
Dr. Stephen Frezza Ph.D.: Computing is ubiquitous, and with more industries moving to remote work, location is becoming less critical. If the internet reaches a place reliably, computing jobs can be located there.
Dr. Stephen Frezza Ph.D.: Breadth and depth: Computing is becoming more like engineering; where the value of the product, its lifetime risks, costs, and benefits are more critical than just it's roll-out. So the engineering competencies that have always been a part of computing will become more central. Computing is also expanding; the role of data and the shift of once-research technologies (like machine learning) into production applications will continue to require computing graduates to broaden their base and continue as learners. This will cause shifts in what is considered 'fundamental' and the need for professionals to continue to hone and redevelop their technical skill sets.
Dr. Semih Dinc: I personally think there may be a positive impact of this pandemic for CS graduates in medium/long term. Even if many companies have frozen or slowed down their hiring process now, I believe this is a temporary decision. There is still a big need for new CS graduates in the industry. And to me it is more clear that people realized they can work remotely for many CS related positions. This means that many companies can cut their physical office budgets and hire more remote people. One of the factors for our students is the challenges/expenses of the city they would work. Some of them do not want to move to big cities. I am assuming with more remote working opportunities graduates will have more options.
Dr. Semih Dinc: I may be little biased on this question maybe because of my research field. But I notice a significant demand on machine learning experts in the industry. Today I think a CS graduate should have skills such as machine learning, computer vision, and programming for mobile environments.
Dr. Semih Dinc: According to my experience, most companies are not looking for "straight A" students. Instead, they look for someone with real world experience in their field. A recent graduate will most likely stand out if he/she has somehow contributed real projects. This can be achieved through internships. For many students, who do not have this option, they can still stand out by sharing their "good" school projects to platforms like GitHub. This way they can show companies that they are aware of these tools, and they will be ready to adopt the new company environment.
Department of Computer Science and Affiliated Faculty in Integrative Informatics
Oliver Bonham-Carter Ph.D.: Pandemic has accelerated social connectivity trends using technology, including technology for remote work, and e-learning, and technology to make e-commerce more comfortable and faster. I foresee these accelerated technology trends to continue, even after the pandemic, and therefore job markets in these areas to continue to grow. Another big surge we have seen is in data analytics, which has been increasing over the last decade, and COVID-19 has spotlighted this field. I expect data analyst jobs to continue to be in demand and to grow. Also, the pandemic showed us the interconnectedness of technology with other areas. As the need to develop better solutions to fight various diseases heightens, for example, I expect jobs in biotech to grow.
Oliver Bonham-Carter Ph.D.: In the next few years, technologies related to artificial intelligence, data analytics, cloud computing, container-orchestration systems, and cybersecurity will continue to become more important and prominent. These technologies have the foundation to improve the quality of life in terms of health, education, fighting misinformation, creating better connections, fighting climate change, etc. IoT with smart devices connected online will continue to rise, thus producing more data, which will necessitate AI, data analytics, and security solutions. Additionally, I foresee 5G technology to play an essential role in the next few years, as e-commerce expands into autonomous delivery services. In the software engineering field, to enable fast, secure, and connected software development, technologies allowing to automate a part of that process, such as version control, containerization, and Kubernetes, will also become increasingly important.
Oliver Bonham-Carter Ph.D.: More technology and expertise to use online productivity, development, and communication technologies, is now needed to build and maintain online infrastructures to bring people together in a smaller world. The increase in demand for graduates in the areas mentioned above will result from the current dependence that the pandemic has forced upon Internet-based technologies for communications and productivity. For instance, more will likely be done online after the pandemic since companies have grown used to the convenience of organizing online meetings, working in the cloud, and completing development and scheduling tasks, using freshly-minted, online productivity technologies from GitHub, Zoom, Google Meet, and similar organizations.
In academia, conferences used to be in-person only, and so if you wanted to meet colleagues in your research area, you had to attend in person. Due to the lessons learned from conducting meetings during the pandemic, participants are encouraged to attend conferences virtually, give presentations, develop collaborations, and become involved in new and exciting projects without leaving their living rooms.
These events have grown used to this freedom to organize events, without physical boundaries, when getting people together to meet, think, and work. It is logical to perform more online work now, to be done so conveniently to include more people and more productivity, with less travel and hotels to worry about. It would seem that those who design technological innovations, permitting better communication, development, and productivity for online users will be the creators of the collaboration spaces of tomorrow.
Dr. Jonathan Geisler: The best companies to work for are the ones that are responsive to both their customers' and employees' needs. They are the ones that have tried to be proactive during the pandemic and not just survive until everything got "back to normal." They know that a damaged workforce leads to a damaged company, and so they provide good management, encouraging everyone to be healthy mentally and physically.
Dr. Jonathan Geisler: There will be a continued increase in demand for computer engineering
graduates as computers become more heavily integrated into the fabric
of our lives. Things like self-driving cars, the Internet of Things, and
mobile computing will become more commonplace and increase the demand for engineering talent; the long-term trend of using smartphones and web-based applications will not slow, leading to an increase in the
demand for computing talent.
Dr. Jonathan Geisler: All the places that have been good for computing will continue to have
jobs, including the Bay Area in California, Seattle, and Austin, TX. We
may find that remote working will open up more options for workers in
all areas of the country, but I would encourage entry-level students to
strongly consider finding a company they can be physically present at. I believe that there is a better experience, interacting with people
in-person, rather than over a video connection. The video connection works fine for established relationships and impersonal interactions, but is not as
effective at replicating things, like overhearing conversations of fellow
employees, seeing how co-workers tackle new problems, making a mental model of the social networks present in the job already, etc. These are skills that most have not learned in college and need to develop on-the-job in their first position in the industry.
James Vanderhyde: The best companies to work for are companies that respect you as a person and not just a cog in the machine. They are inclusive, and they recognize and appreciate diversity. They have a track record of handling sick leave and family leave as needed. They will not expect you to eat dinner in your office and then go back to work after an already long day. All software companies experience crunch times around release dates, but the best companies do not experience constant crunch. That is a sign of poor management. The best companies will give you challenging problems to work on and reward innovation.
James Vanderhyde: There has been a steady increase in software and IT jobs for the last 20 years, and this is not going to slow down any time soon. In the next 5 years, demand will increase, particularly in software development and cybersecurity. The technology field changes so quickly that beyond 5 years, it is difficult to make predictions. That is why we thoroughly prepare our computer science and information systems students for technology changes and career shifts to discover the best in themselves and to be prepared to meet the demand and excel within the field.
James Vanderhyde: Any big city will have lots of opportunities for computing, software, and IT work. Silicon Valley and the rest of the west coast are the most famous, but innovation is happening everywhere around the country and around the world, including here in Chicago. Chicago tech companies have hired our students upon graduation, and likewise, our graduates have found success and gratification in the field.
Dr. Ted Junseok Song: As it always has been, the ability to communicate with others would be a critical skill for college graduates. Additionally, it will be more necessary for professionals to work cross-culturally, as the U.S. is becoming more diverse.
Dr. Ted Junseok Song: Due to COVID-19, people have more choices on location as more companies allow their employees to work remotely.
Dr. Ted Junseok Song: The question is not whether technology will advance or not. It is, rather, how it will advance. Professionals in the industry need to be equipped to see the customers' demand and where our society is headed. I would recommend college students to be interested in broad topics apart from topics in their major. Well-rounded people will have more opportunities to impact the future.
Perry Kivolowitz: Expect the possibility of working remotely. That's here to stay. Therefore, develop habits of good discipline and work ethic. A general comment for the current generation, you will have to pay your dues. Don't expect raises and promotions every 8 seconds. For gaining and thriving in a job, concentrate on learning to articulate your ideas and merits. Writing and Public Speaking are more essential skills than most everything you learn in CS because, if you cannot convince others of the quality of your ideas, it is hard to stand out.
Perry Kivolowitz: While some technologies continually come to the fore, including new technologies invented all-together, CS is a field that enjoys continuous utility and opportunity for existing technologies. Witness the demand for COBOL programmers, for example. Infrastructure, once built and paid for, goes away slowly. One trend that I predict will see an increase is Game Development, but not for games. The same learning necessary to portray an Orc swinging a Two-Handed Sword will prepare one for representing surgery simulations. Training and simulation will be growth fields.
Perry Kivolowitz: Companies will see that work-at-a-distance has value. More companies will compare fixed physical space costs versus, in many cases, productivity increases when allowing people to work remotely. I believe, those in the office real estate business should be concerned as companies downsize their physical space, opting for more flexible practices such as remote workers and hotelling, or time-sharing of reduced physical space.
Dr. Howard Rees: I'll answer that presuming that this is advice I might give to someone who still has some time to spend in school, learning.
There are two general approaches for a student to take to become a valued future employee: to learn in-depth (think, long and thin like an "ice pick") or to learn broad (think, wide and shallow like a "comb"). Of course, there are hybrid versions, e.g., the "fork,"where one goes pretty deep but also has a little breadth to their experience and knowledge. I'm done with my utensil metaphors.
By deep, I mean that you focus on a narrow subject and become knowledgeable and good at it, specifically. By broad, I suggest that you learn about a lot of different (related) topics and work to become somewhat knowledgeable and competent at them all. This is especially important in tech fields as it's nearly impossible to identify precisely where the next big thing will come from and what the next expanding tech sector will be. You could be lucky, but it's like timing the stock market, random darts often succeed, and highly paid managers. If you come from an elite school (e.g., a Stanford or NYU), you can go deep and rely upon networking to find your first job. On the other hand, being more of a generalist gives one a leg up during volatile times and provides one freedom to develop whatever the future holds. The truth about the school, work, and success (and happiness) are that serendipity (accidental opportunities) and learning on the job is how many people find their calling. Once you get the job (which depends a lot on your schooling, personality, recommendations), you learn the situation by doing the job (much easier if you're a "comb," but even you're an "ice pick" you will do OK, too). Whether you'll be happy is a question of whether exciting challenges and good people surround you.
Dr. Howard Rees: Hmm, what technology? That's a question with many different levels of context. For some undergraduates in CS and IT, I would look at systems programming in massively parallel environments, application programming with particular focus on security and privacy, and data science and analytics. For other undergraduates, they might look at artificial intelligence and machine learning, for business applications especially. AI is becoming ubiquitous throughout the business, but it's often used as a "black box."
Meaning that the applications (and those "operating" them) do not understand what's happening inside. AI systems are often "designed, trained, and tested" by the provider and certified as generating the output most desired by the customer but only in a statistical sense. There is no "proof" that the AI black box is, with certainty, doing what the business customer (or the provider for that matter) thinks it is doing - it just does a good job when tested on data. There will be a significant need for tech-savvy people to design, train, monitor, and apply them so that they do not deviate from the desired goals. Such deviations can result in socially destructive business practices. As you can't properly manage what you don't understand, there is a risk in using AI too blindly. CS and IT graduates will need to help out.
Dr. Howard Rees: We're moving into a volatile time for the economy, and planning for an uncertain future is what big companies are concerned with. In many ways, the pandemic and concerns over future pandemics that we now know can be globally devastating will be a boon for CS and IT graduates. Face to face business interactions and transactions will be dramatically reduced, both in the short term and in the long run, as there will be a need to hedge against future pandemics. Everything changes from production and operations to supply chain and risk management and diversification to the nature of "office work." And all of that must be underpinned by computer technology: communications, security, data analytics. These are trends that have been developing for the past few decades but the pandemic will accelerate them, and that's all useful, if you're a CS or IT graduate with a broad base of knowledge, which provides you the freedom to adapt.
Brian Glas: [Something]-as-code will continue to grow in prevalence as we strive to automate more processes and technologies. More jobs will need, at least, the essential ability to understand and write in some scripting language or similar. We should also see an increase in collaboration tooling to support communication and collaboration with more of the workforce spread globally.
Brian Glas: Build relationships: Different technologies will interest and challenge you, but throughout your career, you'll find that it's the relationships that are the most important. This is harder to grasp earlier in your career, but much easier to understand after 15-20 years.
Gain different perspectives: Spend time with people in other roles that your job interacts with, and gain a solid understanding of how they view things; this is most valuable for career progression and understanding of how your work fits into the big picture.
Brian Glas: The infamous answer: it depends.
Potentially, it may depend on how long what we used to consider "normal" is disrupted. The longer we work this way, the more "normal" it becomes. Over a more extended time, HR processes will have to be updated to handle remote onboarding. Operations will need to be updated to handle things that were managed in person - things like that. There will likely be a higher acceptance of a remote workforce in the technology areas, and better tooling to support it. Several company cultures will have to change from geo-centric to more global and distributed.
Seminole State College of Florida
Center for Information Technology
Craig Tidwell Ph.D.: Students who are graduating with a degree in computer and information systems should focus on being lifelong learners. The most challenging, and sometimes frustrating, aspect of a career in information technology is that it is always changing. Employers are also looking for employees that can work well with others, especially in teams. Having a good understanding of the development and design process, and project management (DevOps) is a plus. Currently, there is a high demand for graduates with cloud and information security knowledge and skills.
Craig Tidwell Ph.D.: Understanding cloud technologies such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google are needed. Since many organizations have a hybrid structure, where they have internal and external cloud technologies, learning how to integrate them with existing technologies is critical.
Craig Tidwell Ph.D.: Many I.T. employees already have the option to work remotely (telecommute), but this will become even more important with the Coronavirus challenges. Employees must be able to work remotely and be organized and self-directed. Employers are looking for teleworkers that can work on a task from anywhere.
Frank McCown Ph.D.: The market is stable for software developers, despite the economic challenges created by the pandemic. Before accepting a job offer, talk to the company's employees through online meetings or email, and see what they think of the company. Do they enjoy their work? Are there opportunities to learn new technologies? How does the company treat their employees? There's a good chance you will be working remotely in your first job, so you will need to exercise a lot of self-discipline, be punctual for online meetings, do the work you've been assigned, and know when to ask questions when you get stuck. Expect a steeper-than-normal learning curve if you are working remotely instead of in an office.
Frank McCown Ph.D.: Software continues to move to mobile devices and the web and away from desktop applications. The pandemic has encouraged growth in applications that make in-person transactions go away, and that trend will likely continue. Obviously AI-enabled or assisted applications will continue to grow.
Frank McCown Ph.D.: Many companies have changed their hiring practices. It's not unusual for a new graduate to jump straight into remote work. I predict the move from in-person work to remote work is only going to accelerate as we get more comfortable with it. Once the pandemic dies down, and economic uncertainties start to go away, companies that had been on hiring freezes will likely jump back in, creating a strong market for graduates.
Aaron Napierala: The most important advice I can offer, is to let them know to work toward something they are passionate about. Many people have the impression that CS is all about programming. While programming can, and does, deal with programming, an education in CS lays the foundation for students to work with technology, whatever that might be. If students are not passionate about what they are doing, I believe students would be hard-pressed to achieve their true potential. If you have a solid foundation, but nothing to build on top of that, where are you? This is why I always recommend students explore other areas, outside of CS, that they are excited to learn more about, to complement their technical knowledge. If students can't relate to people outside of their discipline, I think they will be limited on what they can do and ultimately not satisfied.
Aaron Napierala: Indeed, data-driven decision making is high on that list. We have all this data floating around, but making use of it and turning it into useable information is a valuable skill. Also, ensuring ease of access and usability of technology is critical as we continue to move toward technology inundating our daily lives.
Aaron Napierala: I think the pandemic's lasting impact on graduates will be decisive in preparing them for careers in technology. A recent graduate of mine just completed training for a new position with a company, completely remote. It was the first time the company had ever done anything like this before. It was a success, and the graduate raves at the entire process. The pandemic is forcing companies to scrutinize how they operate, to ensure the best possible outcome, for whatever it is they are doing. Once they see the success of being able to accomplish something more efficiently, or they are more cost-effective, they may continue on this path. Why would a company post their ad locally and interview a handful of candidates, when they can open up access globally and draw from a much larger pool? So for graduates just now entering the workforce, they have a distinct advantage: having access to technology for the majority of their lives and just coming out of situations that were forced on them to communicate remotely.