A LITTLE HIGH TECH GOES A LONG WAY
When Dominic Sagolla entered Swarthmore College in 1992, he had no clue he would end up working with computers. An English Lit major, Sagolla saw himself becoming ''a writer and Shakespeare curmudgeon.'' But after the school gave students access to the Internet from their dorms during his sophomore year, Sagolla was smitten. He took programming, graphics, and other computer-science courses and worked part-time as a World Wide Web consultant. Then, upon graduating, he landed a job as an information-technology specialist with Hewlett-Packard. ''Until my senior year, everything that had to do with computer science, the Web, and the Internet for me was a hobby,'' Sagolla says.
Surely most English, art, music, or poli-sci graduates are not planning to seek propeller-head positions at big high-tech companies. But given the direction of today's competitive job market, corporate recruiters and college career directors are advising liberal arts majors to bone up on their techie talents, regardless of whether they're required to take courses. ''Any exposure to technology, whether through a class or self-teaching, is an additional set of tangible skills a student offers to an employer,'' says Simone Himbeault-Taylor, director of career planning and placement at the University of Michigan.
WALK IN. Computers are certainly pervasive on campuses these days. Just about every major college grants students free Internet accounts. Students routinely chat up professors and classmates via E-mail. They hand in assignments over the Web. Often, individual courses have their own dedicated Web pages.
Roughly 85% of Swarthmore's students have their own computers, with scores of other public PCs available on campus. At Indiana University, undergrads not majoring in computer science can take courses in installing and configuring networks, programming databases, and building Web sites. Meanwhile, University of Nebraska students who want to register with the career-services office to check on job listings and schedule interviews must do so via the Net. ''They can't walk in with a resume or bring in a disk,'' says Larry Routh, the department's director.
Students who enroll in even basic technology courses may gain invaluable experience. Yale University professor Roman Kuc, who teaches a course on the digital information age for nonscience majors, recalls one history major who got a summer job with a U.S. senator. Aware that the student had taken Kuc's class, the senator asked him to work on analyzing the problems of conducting an election over the Web.
When you're campaigning for your own job, being better trained in computers may tilt the contest in your favor. Dan McElroy, corporate placement representative with Principal Financial Group in Des Moines, asks grads applying for nontechnical entry-level positions in the pensions area about computer courses they have taken, what applications they are fluent in, and whether they've worked with spreadsheets. ''I'm not looking for them to have created a monster spreadsheet,'' he says, ''but I want to know they have the problem-solving ability to figure that out.''
Sometimes, the more heavy-duty classes on your transcript the better. A programming course may be helpful, even if you'll never have to write a computer code once you graduate. ''Programming is a discipline requiring structured thinking and problem-solving,'' says Jeff Sherman, director of staffing at Philip Morris Management Corp. ''The reality is, if they take a couple of courses in college, they're going to be better equipped to understand how applications run in the corporation they work for.''
NET WHIZ. But students who can't imagine learning Java, HTML, or C++ programming need not break into hives: Not every potential employer wants to see how capable you are choreographing 1s and 0s. Andersen Consulting, APM, and Booz, Allen & Hamilton all will hire bright liberal arts grads who can think on their feet. While the companies won't dissuade students from taking computer courses, they don't require them. ''We look for things that are indicative of analytical ability, whether it's math or rigorous philosophical classes,'' says David Reed, Andersen's director of recruiting for the Americas. ''There's nothing magical, in our opinion, about teaching someone programming.''
Whether you take a programming class or not, most employers will want you to have basic computing skills: using word processors, creating databases, zipping around the Net. No matter what you want to do after you graduate, you must show employers you're a master of the Information Age.
Edward C. Baig
Updated Oct. 30, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1997, Bloomberg L.P.