Archive for December, 2011

People Skills Are Crucial to Technical Careers

Friday, December 16th, 2011

handshake

This week’s episode on ATETV demonstrated that it takes more than just technical know-how to succeed in the Information Technology field – people skills are also crucial to success.

In fact, last week we talked about Convergence Technology, which brings together various platforms – video, audio, data – into single sophisticated networks. Well, it turns out that our super-connected technologies also depend on super-connected technicians – and for that, communication and interpersonal skills are key. As tech consultant Eric Berridge recently wrote in a ComputerWorld.com blog post, “In order to architect and manage the systems that connect employees across departments, management and customers, [IT staffers] are going to need an intimate knowledge of not just how an organization operates, but how people communicate.”

People who understand people possess several important qualities. Listening skills, for example, are key and a sign of an “active listener” is the ability to offer insightful follow-up questions. IT employees with good people skills also share a collaborative outlook and are able to work with other staffers to successfully solve problems. They can also guide “non-techies” in understanding complicated computer issues, presenting and explaining complex technological material using every-day conversational language.

Several lesson plans highlighted on ATECentral are designed to help students develop these important soft skills. The Interpersonal Effectiveness Curriculum, for example, was created with the field of Manufacturing Technology in mind, but can be applied to other technical fields as well. Developed at the University of Washington, the lesson plan aims to provide participants with an opportunity to hone their interpersonal skills through interactive exercises in a team setting, with the end goals of understanding teamwork (such as establishing ground rules or avoiding making assumptions) and building communication skills (including asking effective questions and giving effective directions.)

Another Lesson Plan, The Toothpick Factory Project consists of a simulation game that takes students through a series of interactive exercises in which they run a company, and rates their abilities in several soft-skill areas including listening, working in teams, leading, adapting and speaking. As The Toothpick Factory Project notes, soft skills benefit both employer and employee: While employers benefit from well-rounded, high-performance workers, employees are empowered and better positioned for promotions and other opportunities.

As ComputerWorld sums it up, “[Today’s IT employees] are going to have to make sure systems are in line and reporting to each other, and map the technology to business processes so that employees can….improve practices on a daily basis. They’ll need to do all this and more….within the context of human communication.”

A High-Demand Career for Our Hyper-Connected World

Friday, December 9th, 2011

It’s almost hard to remember, but not so long ago, technologies handled one medium or accomplished one or two tasks. For example, each type of entertainment medium had to be played on a specific device: Video was played on a television, using some type of video player, music was played on a compact disc player and video games were played through some type of console. In the same way, each type of communication media used its own technology for transmission: voice conversation by telephone, e-mail via computer, and so on.

But as everyone now knows, devices can now interact with lots of different formats. So while the primary purpose of the Xbox video game console is still to play video games, it can also play back video and music and connect to the Internet. And, of course, cell phones are used for far more than just making phone calls, also functioning as personal music players, digital cameras and text messaging systems.

Convergence Technology brings together these various communications – voice, video and data – into a single network and it’s indispensable in today’s uber-connected world. And that makes Convergence Technology specialists indispensable as well. According to ATE’s Convergence Technology Center skilled specialists in the areas of Convergence Technology and Home Technology Integration are in great demand to design, build, test, secure and troubleshoot communication infrastructure and devices for both home and business markets.

As Copeland Crisson told ATETV in this week’s Episode, “A lot of students have been exposed to a lot of the [different] technologies, but they’ve never been exposed to the point at which these technologies come together.” Training programs like the Convergence Technology Program at Collin College in Frisco, Texas offer both degrees and certificates to prepare students for the workforce and for professional certification exams.

What does a Convergence Technology program of study look like? It generally begins with the basics – courses in Network Fundamentals and Routing Protocols and Concepts, as well as College Algebra. But it soon expands to include training in classes such as Digital Home Technology Integration, Wireless Telephone Systems, Information Storage Management and Operating System Security, among others. Students are also exposed to plenty of hands-on applications and real-world problem solving to get a firsthand look at how technologies come together.

“The jobs in this area are very attractive, whether building a network, maintaining a network or troubleshooting a network,” Dell Computer’s Glenn Wintrech told ATETV. And while the constantly-changing field means that today’s jobs may be obsolete within a few years, there’s no question that a new crop of jobs will be on the horizon.

As Cisco’s Corey Kirkendoll puts it, “Everybody has a computer, everybody wants to be networked and connected, so there’s always an opportunity. We are positive that there will be more jobs available than we can fill.”

Stop Procrastinating!

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

One of the big challenges facing students as they transition from high school to college is how to manage their time and structure their days – and how to avoid the peril of procrastination.

According to PsychCentral.com most everyone procrastinates at some point. As the website notes , “We put things off, especially things that are boring, lengthy, drudgery or might challenge us in some unexpected or unforeseen way.” Need some help adjusting to a challenging college workload? We selected a few of PsychCentral’s “10 Tips for Getting It Done Today.”

  1. Complete small tasks quickly rather than postponing them. The sense of accomplishment you get from successfully finishing the small assignment will help encourage you to take on larger and more complicated tasks.
  2. When you get to the larger, more complex tasks, break them down into smaller, more manageable parts. If you’re writing a lengthy paper, for example, compose just one section at a time. As PsychCentral points out, by breaking things into more digestible parts, you’re setting smaller, more realistic milestones. For example, writing a paper might have 5 or 6 milestones: selecting a topic; researching the topic; organizing notes into a paper outline; writing a rough draft; asking a friend to review what you’ve written; writing a final draft. Set a due date for each of these separate tasks to help stay on track and work backwards from your due date so that you’ll know where you stand each day and each week.
  3. Identify your best time of day to do your work– everyone has a “peak performance” time, whether it’s early morning, mid-day or later at night. Then start with the assignments that are the most boring and/or challenging. You’ll have more energy for the tougher tasks when you’re feeling refreshed.
  4. Treat school as if it were a job, and aim to accomplish your assignments and tasks within a set time frame, just as you would in the workplace.
  5. Stay organized. Keep all school-related materials organized and in one place and use some type of system for each class to keep track of the syllabus, class notes, handouts, etc. Locate a space in your home or room where you will keep all school-related items – notebooks, textbooks, research articles, equipment, etc. and create a way to keep track of all paper, whether it’s a 3-ring binder or file folders stored collectively in a single file box.

If you’re prone to procrastination, a daily to-do list, whether on paper or on an electronic device, can help you stay on track. At the start of every day, review the full day’s list of tasks, and also look at what lies ahead for the rest of the week. Be sure to keep your to-do list updated, crossing off the tasks that are completed and adding new things that need to be finished. Check out some of the many time management apps that are available, such as My Homework.

Remember, there’s no time like the present. “You will be no better motivated in the future than you are right now, at this very moment,” notes PsychCentral. Don’t wait to start an assignment until you’re “in the right mood – sometimes you have to do something even when you don’t feel like it, just to get it done.

Check out PsychCentral for more ideas to help you get organized and manage your time. And to learn about other apps that can make college life easier, check out these selections from the editors of Businessweek.com.