MS IT Faculty Speculation Article — What does the future of IT look like?

A Look at Working in Information Technology with Faculty Member Jess Kropczynski

If you’re interested in technology, solving puzzles, and you enjoy applying logic and critical thinking to work through problems, the University of Cincinnati Online’s information technology programs may be the key to your future.

Jess Kropczynski, UC Online Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director brings her thoughtful insights to a Q&A to give a clearer picture of the possibilities that an education, or continuing education, in information technology can bring.

Kropczynski’s pride in her work and enthusiasm for the field is obvious as she discusses what IT is and paints a picture of the types of interesting challenges through which she’s been able to work. She shares a bit about the undergraduate and graduate programs at UC Online, covers her perspective on the future of IT, and gives future graduates some valuable tips on what they can start doing today to put their best foot forward.

So what is information technology and what does it encompass?

“The field of information technology certainly encompasses networking, computers, databases, and analytics. But at UC Online, we see information technology as being much more. We see IT as being the intersection of people, information, and technology — beyond that, finding solutions within that space.”

A career in information technology can look like entering code on a computer screen, but Kropczynski says that doesn’t give a clear picture. “A better description of working in the IT field is solving problems with technology-based solutions.”

“When we’re presented with problems, we focus on identifying how technologies and applications can help address a solution to that problem.

“Computer science tends to be a little bit more theoretical. Engineering is more focused on hardware aspects. IT is the solution layer.”

As an example, she highlights a challenge that came up after Hurricane Harvey swept through Texas and Louisiana, devastating the area. “With 80% of phone lines down, people were posting to social media that they needed help. So as a result, there are groups interested in being able to better find and address requests for assistance posted to social media. I’m also looking at instances where smart homes can be better connected to infrastructure and smart cities in order to respond to crises.”

What is your background and area of expertise?

“My areas of expertise are social network analysis, informatics, and human-centered methods. We would call that user-experience engineering or usability testing. I often partner with local and state governments and other organizations, trying to design IT solutions to solve problems.”

Information technology may not be a field many associate with life-saving work, but part of Kropczynski’s career has involved finding IT solutions for emergency situations.

Figuring out how to leverage information on social media to get help to those who need it is one such project. Jess explains, “We try to get information from social media that would help in case of large-scale disasters. We’re basically trying to get people the help they need faster. The idea is to get first-responders as many details as possible so they can effectively respond to an ongoing crisis.”

That experience led her to work on another high-profile problem in need of a solution — how to report emergencies to 911 operators when a voice call isn’t possible. She recalls her work and collaborations to make text-to-911 a reality, pointing out, “A lot of places in the US have now adopted text-to-911.”

Are there areas where you’re currently seeing needs for new IT solutions?

“As a result of the pandemic, a lot of people are working from home now. With that, there are new types of infrastructure required to adapt to employees working remotely. Even though many are now returning to offices, the workplace has shifted. When everyone works in one building, we know how to secure that network. With more people working at home, companies are interested in securing the technology in the home workspace so it’s reliable and secure. Cloud computing has become even more important because that’s where data is being stored and sometimes that’s where we’re actually doing the processing of data. There’s a big emphasis on IT security and moving to the cloud.

“But in general, everything is going virtual, so there are lots of discussions around digital transformation plans. The University of Cincinnati is working on theirs, and being able to be a part of that is really exciting. There’s where we expect to see growth well into the future.”

What are the advantages and disadvantages of working in IT?

Sharing her views on the upside of working in IT, Jess describes it as a booming space in a big industry with a lot of growth. She points out there are not only a large number of available jobs, but you also have the opportunity to find high-paying jobs — a distinct advantage.

Her passion for her career shines through as she adds, “In my opinion, it’s really engaging work, so if you enjoy being a thinker, being able to solve logic puzzles or just trying to innovate in general, that helps.”

She notes that virtually every employer is building out their IT department further, and talks about how valuable IT skills are in just about any setting.

“There are very few professions where having IT skills does not benefit somebody. You can get an IT degree and then end up not necessarily working in an IT department. In pretty much any profession, having IT skills can enhance your capacity and your ability to do your job.”

The only downside she mentions is that it’s rapidly changing, which means you need to have a certain personality type to be able to keep up with that. “Not that it’s hard to keep up with the changes. I would just say it means that you sort of have to be adaptable.”

What technologies are important for students and graduates to understand in IT?

“At UC, we’re interested in training students with the skills they need to prepare for a deep dive once they get on the job so they can be successful in the IT industry. Our degree program consists of classes everyone will take, but students will also choose a number of electives.

“We have an IT seminar, which is an introductory course that introduces students to many different areas. So if you wanted to build an area of specialization in cybersecurity, you could take all of your elective classes in cybersecurity. If you were interested in cloud computing or infrastructure, you could choose those as electives. Coming into the program understanding some general sectors of IT and what you want to do in the field is going to help when it comes to selecting those classes.

“On the other hand, there are advantages to knowing a little bit of everything. If you work for an IT department, there’s a lot of different kinds of challenges to solve. So you can take different elective courses from different areas if that appeals to you. In the end, all students come out of the program with a degree in IT.”

In your experience, what kinds of skills and commitments are necessary to be successful in IT?

Kropczynski describes a need for an ongoing commitment to a continual learning process. She talks about a level of acceptance that there is no destination within IT where you know everything there is to know.

Emphasizing the importance of having an interest and passion for technology, she says, “That goes a long way. Beyond that, having a willingness to take on new things is important, because while students can be taught a certain programming language, it’s a dynamic and rapidly changing field. That’s why we want students to be tapped into resources where they can get more information about those areas they’re interested in.”

What characteristics are employers looking for in IT candidates?

“I think they’re very interested in people who have completed projects and demonstrated their skills, so all of our courses are project-based.

“Because employers want people who are going to be able to work well in teams, we often assign group projects whether you’re in the classroom or online.

“Also being able to think critically when a problem arises. You have to be nimble, adapt and come up with the best solution to that problem.”

What recommendations would you have for anyone considering a career in the IT field?

“I would encourage them to check out our program. There are opportunities at UC to deep dive into different types of research projects in different areas of IT. I would start looking for those once you realize what you’re passionate about.

“All of our faculty in the graduate program are doing their own research projects, and a lot of them are partnered with others in the industry. Different research labs are getting similar types of hands-on experience, so if you’re interested in being part of that, you can talk to your instructors.

“We also have an IT practicum that gives students a 100-hour professional development course within their first or second semester.

“Our University of Cincinnati Co-Op office has been ranked as one of the #1 programs in the country. They can help place students into various summer co-op positions. That’s another way to get hands-on experience. Sometimes they end up hiring those students. Other times, it’s a resume-builder.”

What can UC Online students do to make themselves more marketable and competitive in the IT field?

“If you have an area of specialization in mind, build your skills within that space. Trying to network and meet people within that field through LinkedIn or elsewhere is a good idea. Find somebody that’s doing the job that you want to do and ask them how they got there. Select your courses according to where you want to go with your degree. Seek out professional development or a mentor to help you market yourself effectively and build a great resume.”

Thank you to Jess Kropczynski for your time and insightful answers.

Are you ready to learn more?

Explore our IT programs to discover how you can achieve your goals with a degree from the University of Cincinnati Online; or take the first step in advancing your career by beginning your application today.

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