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Deficit of young IT minds can't fill demand

Deficit of young IT minds can't fill demand
Deficit of young IT minds can't fill demand 

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 
for businesses.

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 
leaves it.

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 
account information.

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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