As an Intel enterprise architect and technology strategist, Enrique G. Castro-Leon knows a thing or two about computer technology careers. With research interests that include cloud computing and IT-enabled enterprise service innovation, he recently co-authored a guest editor introduction for the November–December 2015 IT Professional special issue on smart systems.
We asked Dr. Castro-Leon several questions about computer-related career opportunities, and he shared insights into how to prepare for the rapid changes taking place in technology today.
ComputingEdge: What careers in computing technology will see the most growth in the next several years, and why?
Castro-Leon: Selecting a field because it’s in demand or because it’s easy is not a formula for success. The student must select a general field she or he would love to work in, keeping in mind that society is moving from a product-oriented to a service-oriented paradigm. In economics, we talk about societies moving from extractive and manufacturing industries to services. Computer technology reflects this as well. There are probably more opportunities for innovation—integrating components and services that already exist to create other services—than creating the technology components in the first place. In any case, even component creators will need to reach out to other stakeholders, which requires networking skills.
ComputingEdge: What do you consider to be the best strategies for professional networking, and why?
Castro-Leon: Recent graduates may feel discouraged when starting to network. They might think, “I don’t know how to do it,” or “Nothing ever comes back.” However, this is only a short-term problem. Here’s a helpful analogy: every leader is like a lighthouse beaming out shining light signals. Most of the signals get lost. That’s a reality of life. However, some can touch and transform lives, yet the sender never knows as when a beam lands on a ship. When this happens, the ship uses the light to avoid a wreck. Even then, this is successful networking to me. The lighthouse keeper may get a thanks from just a handful of ships , but counting only these as successes constitutes a narrow view. There’s no right or wrong here. Ultimately it’s up to the individual to decide what the networking goal should be. There are two considerations: networking should be multimodal, and it’s important to have a role progression from observer to participant to leader. Multimodal means combining traditional personal relationships with both writing and using various social media. It’s important not to get discouraged. We get better with practice. These are useful skills applicable to other media even if one medium does not yield immediate results.
ComputingEdge:What advice would you give college students to provide them with an advantage over the competition?
Castro-Leon: Professionals with the best chances of success are T-shaped professionals. This is a well-known term in service science. It refers to people who have deep expertise in one area but with strong interdisciplinary skills and a level of comfort collaborating with experts in other areas. The lone inventor is I-shaped and does not fit well in an integration society, unable to build bridges to other people to make wonderful things happen.
ComputingEdge: What advice would you give people changing careers midstream?
Castro-Leon: There is no negative in changing careers as long as the events are part of a coherent strategy. This change can be used as a strength. Give it some thought to find the complementary angles. Music and engineering or law and engineering are not necessarily incompatible. In fact, I recommend that a T-shaped person engage in a totally different activity. It brings a broader perspective that can only improve chances of success, even if it’s not done professionally. For instance, I’m an electrical engineer and computer scientist by training, but I spend quality time playing classical piano. As an enterprise architect, I think a lot about the business implications of technology. I love it.
ComputingEdge: What should applicants keep in mind when applying for computer tech jobs?
Castro-Leon: A primary consideration is to break the apparent chicken-and-egg problem of job postings requiring experience where a job is required to get experience. It’s important to have reasonably good grades, but it’s not optimal to study to the exclusion of everything else. Participating in certain extracurricular activities, for instance journalism will provide good opportunities to learn communication skills and earn points on the résumé. Seek people who are positive role models. Seek opportunities for giving. Giving could be helping a friend in true need or volunteering. Worrying about the “me” part all the time clouds the mind.