MISSOULA – High-demand jobs of the future include investigating large-scale impacts of cyberattacks, creating stories for professional video games and analyzing big data for government and business. As the world continues to rely on digital technology, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 28% growth in the field, with more than 500,000 new jobs for workers with skills in cloud computing, the collection and storage of big data and information security.
When it comes to technology in the Big Sky State, Montana’s high-tech industry is growing seven times the overall Montana economy, paying twice the median wage and generating more than $1 billion in annual revenue, according to the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research.
Now, UM students have the option to explore some of the most in-demand technology skills for the future workforce. The Montana University System Board of Regents recently approved three new degree options in software engineering, data science and algorithm design ¬− each offered in UM’s Department of Computer Science.
The increased awareness and demand for cybersecurity, data design and information systems professionals is an opportunity for UM to innovate and respond, UM President Seth Bodnar said.
“Software engineering, data science and algorithm design are among the most in-demand careers for which there are significant workforce shortages,” Bodnar said. “UM students will benefit from these new degree options and be positioned for exciting careers in the digital technology sector. Look for UM to continue to innovate our degree offerings to prepare our students for cutting-edge tech careers now and for the future.”
Created with input from UM’s Department of Computer Science advisory board with support from the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, the new degree concentrations will be offered this fall and are tailored to the needs of Montana’s high-tech employment sector.
Jesse Johnson, UM professor and chair of the department, said the new programs expand the accessibility of the computer science profession to a greater percentage of the student population, particularly those lacking some of the training in formal mathematics.
“While the classic computer scientist, highly skilled and well versed in mathematics, continues to be an important part of the workforce, so too does the software engineer,” Johnson said. “The software engineer makes informed decisions about the suitability of existing software libraries for solving a particular problem. The training in the new software engineering program will stress practice over theory; primarily for development, operation and maintenance of software."
The new programs complement UM’s robust undergraduate technology certificates in cybersecurity and big data analytics and, master’s degrees business analytics and data science. Additionally, UM also offers undergraduate options in game design and interactive media through the College of The Arts and Media.
Michael Cassens, assistant professor in UM’s School of Media Arts and director of UM Esports said while the gaming sector is growing by leaps and bounds, UM’s gaming design program is committed to developing a well-rounded student who can “connect the dots” between practice and theory. Some of that training includes students building applications for local nonprofits, so students have the experience of creating something “that’s not just fun, but something that’s useful.
“There’s a lot more to game design than just the entertainment side, which is important, but there’s so much more to it,” Cassens said. “We teach our students how to be good writers so they can create a compelling narrative, and we teach them how to create a visual aspect and incorporate sound so that an emotional connection is created.”
Cassens said his program focuses on the programmatic side for the web, mobile as well as virtual and augmented realties.
“We want our students to push the limits and put it all together and have knowledge in all of these areas, and that’s what we do best,” he said. “Our students come out of the program able to have an intelligent conversation about all of these aspects and build real-world applications.”