Careers in Information Technology
NOV 03, 2017 13:25 PM
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Careers in Information Technology

by Lori Cameron
In the November 2017 issue of ComputingEdge, we asked Thomas N. Theis—professor of electrical engineering at Columbia University and executive director of the Columbia Nano Initiative—about career opportunities in information technology. His research interests include emerging types of devices and computer architectures for energy-efficient computing. He coauthored the article “The End of Moore’s Law: A New Beginning for Information Technology” from Computing in Science & Engineering’s March/April 2017 issue.
ComputingEdge: What information-technology-related careers will grow the most in the next several years?
Theis: We’ll see continued growth in digital and analog circuit design, in software design and development, and in computer science and architecture. Dramatic progress in information technology will be driven less by advances in the underlying device technology, which is maturing, and more by progress in circuit and system architecture. Dedicated architectures for machine learning are hot right now, but other new and specialized architectures will be developed and integrated into tomorrow’s information-processing systems.
Advances in device technology will continue—introduction of new memory devices, silicon nanophotonics for on-chip communication, increasingly sophisticated schemes for 3D integration, and more—and will generate career opportunities. But we’re in the “build-out” phase of the information technology revolution, with investment increasingly focused on the new goods and services that can be based on the maturing device technology.
ComputingEdge: What would you tell college students to give them an advantage over the competition?
Theis: You have to pick a field of specialization, of course, but learn as much as you can about related fields. For example, the most sought-after circuit designers will have a good understanding of software and system architecture, and will be able to work with specialists in those areas.
ComputingEdge:  How can new hires make the strongest impression in a new position from the beginning?
Theis: First, solve the problems you’re assigned. Once you’ve proven that you can do that, start identifying problems and opportunities that your bosses haven’t seen yet. Don’t be too discouraged if your suggestions aren’t immediately accepted.
ComputingEdge: What is one critical mistake young graduates should avoid when starting their careers.
Theis: If you join an established team or business, don’t push for change until you have some understanding of how it currently works.
ComputingEdge:  Do you have any learning experiences that could benefit those just starting out in their careers?
Theis: When I joined IBM Research, I had no interest in becoming a manager. I said “no thanks” when first asked, explaining that I wanted to establish myself as a hands-on researcher. After a few years, however, I said “yes” to an offer that seemed to mesh well with my evolving research interests. However, I soon found that the department I joined and the group I was managing had severe morale problems, so I had to spend a lot of time and effort wrestling with those issues. I also found that my established research interests were of little relevance to my new department’s goals.
However, I began to identify and address problems of greater interest. After a year or so of struggle, morale was much better, the new research results were exciting, and my bosses were appreciative. I had made the right decision by accepting the management position but for the wrong reason—furthering my established research interests. I found that I enjoyed coaching others to be more effective within an organization. And I learned that the willingness to drop an ongoing research program and set off in new directions is highly prized in industry.
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