By DAVID ELBERT
REGISTER BUSINESS EDITOR
October 22, 2006
The education pipeline for information technology is low and needs to be
There are not enough smart students coming up to supply the future IT
needs of employers and technology companies, says Iowa State
University's Doug Jacobson. Not enough in college, not enough in high
Jacobson should know. He's one of the nation's leading experts in the
He created the computer security curriculum at ISU, and he's the founder
of an Ames business, Palisade Systems, that provides technology security
The market for such services is big and growing, Jacobson said. It's
estimated to be between $60 million and $70 million this year, and is
expected to grow to several hundred million dollars in the next five
The lack of students, he said, dates back to "sort of a triple witching
hour" five or six years ago that wrongly convinced people that the
bottom had fallen out of the market for information technology jobs.
The "Y2K fizzle," the burst of the dot-com bubble and fears that
computer technology jobs were all being outsourced overseas combined to
discourage students from majoring in computer science, software
engineering and other information technology fields, Jacobson said.
Six years ago, when the triple witching started, Jacobson's own company
had a half dozen employees. Today, it has 25. That's not a huge number,
but the growth is significant if you take into account that it happened
during a time of dramatic change, when a lot of technology companies
were going belly up or being forced into downsizing mergers.
After the dot-com crash, there was a glut of IT workers in Silicon
Valley on the West Coast, and news stories about that situation
convinced young people nationwide that computer science was not a good
field to enter, Jacobson said.
Iowa felt some of that fallout, but big financial service companies
here, including Principal, Wells Fargo and Allied, continued to hire IT
professionals and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future.
A variety of other metro-area businesses, from technology suppliers like
Alliance Technology and G-Commerce to high-tech manufacturers like
Accumold and Embria Health Systems, are also growing.
Jacobson's own area of security is an example of how the need for
computer experts continues to evolve and grow.
The ISU professor said his work amounts to "wall building."
The first product that his company, Palisade, sold was called
ScreenDoor. It created walls to block Web sites that parents considered
objectionable or inappropriate for children, as well as sites that were
unproductive for workers.
The next two products, PacketDecoy and PacketGuard, built walls to keep
outsiders from getting into computer networks.
Today, the fire walls built by Palisade and other security systems have
largely defused the threat of outside hackers, but now two new
battlefields have emerged.
Now, the worry isn't what gets into your computer, so much as what
For individuals, it's the threat that someone will gain access to your
home computer through an Internet connection and steal valuable
identification information, such as Social Security numbers and bank
For businesses, the threat has shifted from outside to inside.
"It's really easy for stuff to leave an organization, either
accidentally or on purpose," Jacobson said.
Palisade's latest product, PacketSure, tacks the movement of data within
a computer network with the goal of preventing sensitive information
from being attached to an e-mail or disk or other vehicle that could be
used to carry data to places it shouldn't be.
The bottom line for businesses is that they need to be aware that
computer technology is a double-edged sword.
It can increase the productivity of workers by leaps and bounds, but
it's also created hazards that didn't exist and that few people could
have even imagined a decade ago.
The good news for smart young students is that every technology advance
creates new opportunities.
The pipeline is open. Jump in and take a ride.
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