Jamika Burge is heading back to Virginia Tech this fall to pursue a doctorate in computer science, but her research is spiced with anthropology, sociology, psychology, psycholinguistics — as well as her observations of cranky couples trading barbs in computer instant messages.
"It's so not programming," Burge said. "If I had to sit down and code all day, I never would have continued. This is not traditional computer science."
For students like Burge, expanding their expertise beyond computer programming is crucial to future job security as advances in the Internet and low-cost computers make it easier to shift some technology jobs to countries with well-educated engineers and low wages, such as India and China.
"If you have only technical knowledge, you are vulnerable," said Thomas W. Malone, a professor at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the author of "The Future of Work" (Harvard Business School Press, 2004). "But if you can combine business or scientific knowledge with technical savvy, there are a lot of opportunities. And it's a lot harder to move that kind of work offshore."
Work is multidisciplinary, which is why it is short sighted to focus so strongly on experience, which is what most companies do (at least that is how they come across if you read job postings). Why? Because it is unlikely you will find someone with the varied background you need if your primary evaluation criteria is "7-10 years experience designing databases." You will attract people who think that rank and years of experience matter more than anything else.
Work isn't what it used to be. If you hire like it is yesterday, you will build an organization that is ready for… yesterday's challenges.