Want Better Tech Employees? Give Students More Data, Educators Say

San Antonio—Developers, analysts, and data scientists: Every tech company needs them, particularly in hot areas like cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. The U.S. Department of Labor projects that computer and IT jobs would grow 13 percent by 2026 from 2016, which is faster than the average of all occupations.

Even though there’s demand for workers, educators say the companies that need them are holding back something that would help universities and coding schools train potential employees: data. It’s particularly important for the data scientists that employers need to analyze (and monetize?) the reams of information they are increasingly utilizing for their businesses. When companies like Codeup, a coding school in San Antonio, TX, ask businesses for some of that data so they can use it to train new analysts and data scientists, they get stonewalled.

“When the rubber hits the road and you ask for data, the industry says no, you can’t use our data,” says Jason Straughan, who discussed developing a cybersecurity workforce during a panel Thursday at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “They don’t want to share the information they have because they know what they have. They don’t know if sharing this is going to be a liability for them or if it is going to be a net positive.”

Data and the use of it—as well as the mismanagement of it—is a core issue impacting every area of modern life, from the way a person buys products online to their social network. The ability of companies like Facebook and Google to track user data and monetize it has turned them into billion-dollar businesses, though the fallout from concerns about privacy and data abuse is ongoing.

Data will of course remain a core asset for modern business, and if those businesses want quality employees—in particular ones who can write advanced algorithms and develop new ideas—they need access to businesses’ data sets to mine and play with, says Bernard Arulanandam, a vice president at UTSA focused on research and economic development. Not just any data, but unfiltered data that would allow students to understand a business’s needs, says Akhtar Lodgher, a professor of computer science and cybersecurity at Texas A&M University.

“Provide students with real data sets from your companies,” Arulanandam says. “They need a critical problem set.”

Straughan of Codeup has started reaching out to tech businesses the coding school has previously worked with to develop new educational courses, such as a data science training program, in hopes of making students more attractive prospective employees. He’s also getting more companies to come in and mentor students, which also gives companies early access to talent.

“You’re looking for the pick of the litter,” Straughan says. “The ones who have a good fit for your organization.”

Likewise, UTSA is investing in a physical space in San Antonio, which it is calling the National Security Collaboration Center, to be a central gathering place for government agencies and businesses who are seeking both future cybersecurity workers and contemporary research by students that might aid the organizations’ existing projects. The space may also house a startup incubator, a computing center for research, a data visualization lab, and other research and training facilities, according to UTSA.

David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at dholley@xconomy.com Follow @xconholley

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