Although an IT professional's business acumen is generally fostered during practical career experience, the recently opened, Salt Lake City-based Northface University, which focuses on business and technology education, aims at expediting the process by sending more seasoned college graduates into the workforce.
Backed by $13 million from private-equity firm Great Hill Partners (Boston) and boasting an initial faculty that includes technology authors Terry Halpin, Tony Morgan and Joe Celko, Northface's first class numbers only 60 students. But the school foresees a much broader impact over the next few years, says vice president of internal projects Eve Andersson, a former entrepreneur and one of the school's professors of computer science. Andersson says the curriculum, which teaches students how to work in teams and understand business needs, is designed to create productive workers, not young academics. It will also train students on Microsoft .NET (Redmond, Wash.) and IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) WebSphere environments.
"It typically takes about one year for a computer-science graduate to function as part of a team in the business world," says Andersson, who co-founded ArsDigity Community System, a maker of open source tool kits that was bought by Red Hat Inc. (Raleigh, N.C.)-provider of Linux and open source technology. "It's a goal for our students to contribute from day one."
Alternative to Offshoring?
And as U.S. corporations continue to rely more heavily upon global technology resources, Maria Schaffer, program director, human capital management, META Group (Stamford, Conn.), sees the university filling a desperate need. "There is little curricula available that includes basic business skills" with technology, she says. "This is what we need going forward if we are going to keep good jobs here" in the United States.
In today's job market, it is essential for technology students to take advantage of available business/technology curricula, reports Schafer. "If you are an entry-level technology person [lacking business skills], you may die a slow death waiting for the economy to turn around," she says. "Companies are going to [hire] and pay more money for candidates with business and technology skills."
Although Northface is the first university to focus on these two disciplines, other universities have incorporated studies of both business and technology. "The 'Ivies' have moved to pulling these two [subjects] together," says Schaffer. "Penn combines business and [computer] engineering and MIT has a similar program. These typically last five years."
Coursework at Northface University will consist of 70 percent projects and 30 percent lectures, a setup intended to prevent students from getting instruction that's too focused on any particular topic. "We don't teach one subject at a time," Andersson explains. "We don't teach databases, and then modeling, and then programming. We teach it all in a spiral."
Andersson says the school has seen interest in Asia for a campus, but is concentrating on developing the Utah campus first. International expansion will wait until the school has a student body of at least 1,000 students. Andersson predicts that will happen in a couple of years.
Editor's Note: This article, written by Tony Kontzer with contributions from Julie Gallagher, originally appeared in InformationWeek, a sister publication of Insurance & Technology.