VOL.10 NO. 2 THE MAGAZINE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH FALL 2000
Catch of the Day
Computer science graduates and professors find themselves in demand in a booming market.
by Kathryn Austin
"Being recruited has
been a blast."
said Janet Kirvoy as she prepared to graduate with a bachelor's degree
in computer science last spring. "Recruiters have sent e-mails inviting
me to interview. They threw parties and invited everyone in the College
of Engineering. They gave out gifts and they fed us. It's been really
As a result of her IT prowess,
Kirvoy not only experienced the thrill of heavy recruiting, she also landed
a dream job with Microsoft at a competitive salary. In fact, the National
Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reports that the average
salary offer for computer science majors nationwide has risen 8.5 percent
since January 1999 to $48,695. The average salary accepted by grads in
computer science from the U was $49,077, and offers ranged from $40,593
to $62,000, according to April 2000 data. This doesn't include signing
bonuses of $2,000-$12,000 and other perks, like stock options.
"The demand in Utah and across the nation for software engineers, analysts, and programmers is booming," reports Lisa Christensen BA'96, a career services advisor for students in engineering. Shane Brinhurst, a recruiter from Raytheon Company, agrees that electrical engineers, computer scientists, and computer engineers are in the greatest demand-"and they know it." These grads are able to negotiate starting salaries that exceed companies' offers. Moreover, as the demand increases, companies are forced to find ways to market themselves to students. "This is the first year that I have seen invitations for interviewees to bring their spouses with them to the place of potential employment," Brinhurst observes. "We have to sell the job to both of them."
On the other hand, the increased
demand for IT workers has led some companies to use high-pressure tactics
to ensure that they are not left empty-handed at the end of the recruiting
cycle. After extending a job offer, some employers are giving students
only a short time-as little as half a day-to accept it. Other companies
are setting deadlines that fall just before competing corporations are
set to enter the fray. However, with the vast majority of IT recruiting
at the U happening through its Career Services' office, students have
a refuge from such tactics. Nevertheless, students report that other recruiting
tactics are not so easily mediated. After accepting an offer, students
are often approached by other companies. Kirvoy expresses surprise at
how many of her fellow students allowed themselves to be poached away
by competing offers. "A lot of recruiters do come to you saying,
'I understand that you are not looking anymore, but we'd like the opportunity
to make you a better offer,'" she says, "and you need to have
the integrity to turn them down."
Faculty members are also finding
it difficult to turn down offers from the greener pastures of industry.
High-paying, fast-paced jobs in the computer industry are attracting both
seasoned academics and newly minted Ph.D.s nationwide who, in the past,
would have opted for careers in higher education, The Chronicle of
Higher Education reports. Even the U is not immune to the problem.
Tom Henderson, new chair for the Department of Computer Science, reports
that the U advertised five faculty positions this year, while the University
of Wisconsin and the University of Washington advertised seven each, Florida's
higher education system advertised 15, and most other schools advertised
at least three. "It's definitely a seller's market right now, and
it's a tough time for recruiting," Henderson laments.
Kessler, past chair of the department, explains, "Research labs are
hiring tons and tons of faculty. If you are maintaining your numbers,
you are considered to be doing well, even if that means losing three and
hiring three." In an attempt to avoid playing a game of tug-of-war
with industry, the U prefers giving faculty members a year or two of leave
to pursue their interests. Never-theless, there is always a need for new
faculty. Both chairs concede that the biggest concern when faced with
such a tight market is finding quality individuals.
A report released in June
1999 by the Computing Research Association called the faculty shortage
in computer science "severe," warning that competition for Ph.D.s
from the private sector may pose a significant threat to the health of
university departments. It is known as the "seed-corn" problem-an
analogy to those who consume too much of this year's crop, reserving too
little for next year's planting.
The problem starts with the
high demand for IT workers that siphons out students who would otherwise
pursue advanced degrees. The report points out that staying at a university
to teach undergraduates and steal time to pursue doctoral research is
not capturing the imagination of graduating IT go-getters who know that
faculty salaries tend to be low compared with industry salaries. Thus,
the pool of people who will join university faculties and teach the next
generation of students diminishes. The problem is compounded when industry
also successfully recruits current faculty members.
Even the U is caught in this
dilemma. "We are doing everything we can to expand the number of
graduates each year," explains Gerald Stringfellow, dean of the College
of Engineering, "but we're not keeping up with demand." In order
to produce more graduates, the department must expand the space, the faculty,
and the number of computers. "Our limitation has been resources,"
But major expansion is on
the way. This summer, the Depart-ment of Computer Science became the School
of Computing. Understanding that the department had outgrown its mission,
the Board of Trustees changed the name as well as the way the department
operates. "The term 'department' connotes a narrower field of influence
than 'school,' and computer science has become a well-defined discipline,"
Henderson explains. "Renaming the department as the School of Computing
allows us to take a broader role and place within the University community."
Stringfellow says the goal "is to double the size of the Department
of Computer Science in five years and to add five endowed chairs."
The Department of Computer
Science already boasted multidisciplinary programs, working with the Department
of Electrical Engineering to offer bachelor's and master's degrees in
computer engineering and with the geography department to offer a Global
Information System (GIS) certificate. The School of Computing intends
to broaden connections with the rest of campus. Right now, several opportunities
are being considered. "We are talking with the School of Medicine
about developing a program in bioinformatics, the College of Fine Arts
about an animation program, and the School of Business about a program
in software engineering," Henderson says.
As the school attempts to
address the changing needs of industry, however, there are times when
education is undermined. Two years ago, for example, Kessler began offering
a class that gives practical exposure to the process of creating large
software systems, including specifications, design, implementation, testing,
and maintenance. After taking this class, several students reported finding
jobs in the computer industry. Kessler believes that after the first paycheck,
many students opted to forego the degree. "I know that we are losing
students to industry," he says. Nevertheless, Brinhurst insists that
larger companies like Raytheon will not consider applicants without a
four-year degree. "I believe that for start-up companies, education
is probably less important, but established companies want employees who
are well-rounded," he says.
In the meantime, graduates like Kirvoy find themselves in a booming market. And projections published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that demand will not decrease in the future. In fact, the Bureau predicts a 110 percent increase in the number of jobs for computer engineers and systems analysts by 2006. The School of Computing is making its debut none too soon.
-Kathryn Austin BA'00 is Continuum editorial intern
Continuum Home Page - University of Utah Home Page - Alumni Association Home Page
Questions, Comments - Table of Contents
Copyright 2000 by The University of Utah Alumni Association