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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

finding talent to replace software pioneers

interesting stuff from Steve Mills (ibm):

The ``space race'' of the 1960s between the United States and the Soviet Union demonstrated that successful execution of a technology strategy can benefit a nation politically. In 1961, when President Kennedy pledged to put an American on the moon by the end of the decade, schools, parents and students responded with a regimen of math and science courses designed to help the nation accomplish that goal.

As we mark the anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination on Nov. 22, it's important to remember the profound effect his challenge had on education.

Those students were part of the baby boomer generation of 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 -- the largest segment of the U.S. population. We continue to benefit from that generation's emphasis on scientific achievement and the new industries they created.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Standards says software development and engineering are among the Top 10 fastest-growing occupations through 2012.

According to UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute, the nationwide percentage of incoming college freshmen who want to major in computer sciences declined by more than 60 percent from 2000 to 2004, and is now 70 percent lower than peak levels in the early 1980s. The proportion of freshmen women who showed interest in computer sciences as a major has fallen to levels unseen since the early 1970s.

We need to find creative ways to transfer technical knowledge and skills of retiring workers to a new generation, while at the same time, inspiring young people to pursue careers in math, science and engineering. Failure to do so could have serious economic ramifications for our nation, California and Santa Clara County.

We need to capture the experience of the baby boomers and encourage them to pass along their experience in classrooms to help meet the shortage of teachers accredited in math and science. We need to take steps at an early age to ensure that all students, including girls, minorities and youngsters with disabilities, have accessibility to math and science courses in middle school years, which will enable them to take the college and post-graduate courses to pursue technical careers.

Sometimes that involves unusual methods of teaching. Based upon the popularity of ``CSI,'' a TV program about forensic scientists, IBM has offered forensic science activities as part of its math and science camps for pre-teen girls around the world, such as a camp held in June in San Jose. The girls learned how to solve a ``mystery'' using scientific methods and, more importantly, realize the integral part that technical knowledge plays in our daily lives.

Computers, video games and iPods, among other devices, give today's students a familiarity with technology not possible by earlier generations. We need to channel the enthusiasm of early adopters of the latest video games into a transferable technical skill they will pursue for the rest of their lives.

STEVE MILLS is senior vice president and group executive of IBM's Software Group, the second largest software business in the world. He led IBM's Silicon Valley Lab in the early 1990s. He wrote this article for the Mercury News.

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