Friday, January 28, 2011

Questions from an Industry Point of View

Yesterday I had another conversation with an industry acquaintance about interdisciplinary computing. Once again the conversation drained my latte but left my head full of interesting ideas. Part of our conversation was intentionally oriented towards what a large corporation might want to know about interdisciplinary computing initiatives. It is always refreshing to look at things from new perspectives and ask the tough questions. I'd like to share some of the questions that arose and my initial thoughts on them.

For fun, I'm going to pose them in the form of a fictional conversation between myself and a CEO. I'll call her CEO C (for computing :) . This is *not* a report of an actual conversation with a CEO.

What might CEO C want to know?

CEO C asks: From having discussions of the benefits and challenges of interdisciplinary computer science initiatives (see Lisa's posts going back to Jan 7th in particular) how can you then create action? Cynical CEO C says she has seen many great ideas that don't make it past the idea or prototype stage.

My Thoughts: There are examples of success out there (see my post on the 10 year track record of an IC program in Missouri). We need to ferret out as many examples of success as we can find and look carefully at what made them succeed. The people involved in the Missouri program have a wealth of information to share. There are other programs out there in academia - we need to do our research and look for patterns. We also need to nail down what did not work and why. We don't need to stick to Computer Science. We can learn a lot from other disciplines that have a record of interdisciplinary integration. Two areas come to mind. The Physics Education community has done an excellent job of gaining acceptance and respect for education research from with Physics departments. Math Education has also done well. These are examples of interdisciplinary success of a particular type - we can learn from them how they got there.

Bottom Line: We do not have to reinvent all the wheels. We can learn from others.

CEO C then asks: How will you get measurable results?

My Thoughts: This sounds like a classic Goals, Outcomes, Measurables discussion that needs to take place. Given that this is an area I consult in, I could go on for a long time about the topic. But I'll keep it brief and just say that if the time is put in up front to develop these items clearly and concretely and in the proper order, understanding what each term means, then we will be in a position to obtain those measurables.

CEO C then asks: Ok, are you gaining a better workforce out of these initiatives? Global competitiveness is very important.

My Thoughts: I'm sure that others will have excellent ideas to add, but my thoughts on this are that one way to answer the question is to build it into the development of Goals/Outcomes/Measurables. Ask the right questions, develop the right assessment mechanisms and follow up longitudinally. Include industry deeply in the conversation.

CEO C says as a comment: If you accomplish all of the above, we will spur the economy and overall economic growth.

I respond: Yes :)

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