IT takes a page from business to get an edge

Schools and seminars offer coursework on getting positioned in the global economy

A series of workshops at the University of Texas, Dallas that's geared toward augmenting core technology experience with management skills is just one example of recent initiatives among institutes of higher learning to offer IT workers coursework that will give them a fighting chance in the global IT labor market.

“We tell students the world is going virtual and global, and the quicker you learn how to manage in those areas, the better off you'll be,” says Jim Joiner, director of the Project Management Program at the University of Texas, Dallas School of Management.

“Managing Projects Across Borders” is a series of six workshops that began in May and will continue through March 2006. The five remaining workshops are “Initiating International Projects"; “Influencing and Negotiating in Other Cultures”; “Managing Remotely and Preventing or Resolving Cross Cultural Conflicts”; “Building a Collaborative International Culture”; and “Leveraging Cultural Difference in Risk Management,” which explores components of organizational culture that foster ownership, cooperation, and accountability in a dispersed and ethnically diverse workforce.

The workshops are “aimed at people already immersed in, or are about to jump into, managing projects across international boundaries,” Joiner says.

Meanwhile, IT executives are sharing their knowledge in various forums. At April’s two-day Software 2005 conference in Santa Clara, Calif., attendees could avail themselves of no fewer than 10 breakout sessions that were devoted to topics such as “Building the Global Startup,” “Key Trends in the Asia Pacific Software Sector,” “Offshoring of Intellectual Property-Related Legal Services,” and so on.

For many hiring managers, the emphasis on education in the framework of a global labor force is on target.

“If there’s a new talent [in demand] it’s international business skills,” says Mark Lewis, executive vice president of EMC Software. “It’s the ability to assume that your entire team is operating globally, which requires a greater level of communication skills. Project management becomes a much different task when you have a team of 100 people and they’re all in different countries.”

But Norm Matloff, professor of computer science at the University of California, Davis cautions that students pursuing this plan of action are headed down the wrong path. “The pipeline, which up to now has supplied those managers with American workers, will become empty in the future, and thus young Americans should not look to such management positions as a viable career path,” Matloff says. “Those managers will not be Americans in the future. They will be foreign nationals.”

For now, that’s unlikely to deter Shashank Samant, president of Ness Managed Labs, to seek director-level talent in the United States. For those roles, he’s inclined to hire Americans because they are more apt to have 15 to 20 years of experience, as opposed to six or seven, which is more typical of Indian candidates, he says. “When I want to hire an R&D chief [to work] in India, first I check for someone in the United States with senior management experience,” he says.