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Lessons Learned from Teaching the Next Generation of IT Professionals

What Great American CIO Piyush Singh learned about the character of up-and-coming IT professionals while teaching a graduate class at the University of Cincinnati.

Piyush Singh
Piyush Singh, Great American Insurance Company
Teaching a graduate course at the University of Cincinnati's College of Business, Great American Insurance Company (Cincinnati) CIO Piyush Singh has tried to prepare students for some of the irrational aspects of business along with sharing more straightforward insights. However, along the way Singh has gained insight into the behavior and mindset of the next generation of IT professionals.

Singh's first words to students in his "CIO Forum" class were, "If you think business is a rational and logical world, I'm here to burst your bubble," he says. "If everything were rational and logical, you wouldn't need a manager. It's a people world, and that's what makes it both fun and challenging."

Singh's pedagogical approach stressed students' learning from experienced professionals, starting with CIOs and vendor speakers, followed by business executives. "The business people talked about how they interacted with CIOs, what they liked or not, how things worked or not and what the problems were on both sides," Singh recalls. "It was very good."

The class sessions generally began with a guest speaker, after which Singh expanded on themes touched upon. The course also included the requirement of a weekly write up on the part of students. Singh experimented with the length of the assignments, starting with three pages and reducing the length to two pages, then one, then half a page. "Once I went to half a page, they predicted [correctly] that the last assignment would be a tweet," Singh relates. One student suggested the reasoning, he adds: "Hey, professor, it is so much easier to B.S. at three pages!"

The students were generally quick on the uptake and very creative, according to Singh. They also displayed various characteristics that distinguished them from earlier generations of professionals.

[For more on cultivating the next generation of IT professionals, see Jackson National Teaches Recruiters, Colleges and Technology Professionals the Value of Working in Financial Services IT.]

"All of the students have a desire to change the world through social impact, but for them work is just a gig," Singh explains. "Their view is, 'I have other things in life; I'm not going to just come to work, work my butt off an go home.'"

The graduate students were also tremendous multitaskers, Singh reports: "You could see that they were definitely not looking at projected slides, but when you asked a question, they were clearly attentive."

"They like to work in teams and were very effective at teamwork," Singh adds. "They also want to work in smaller organizations — they want to a place where they feel recognized for their contribution and don't feel lost."

Singh emphasized the unexpected and irrational side of business in the final exam. Students were broken into six groups and then given a topic to consider for one hour before delivering a 10-minute presentation to a panel of four judges. Singh planned a few surprises for the presenting groups.

"During the first group's presentation, only one of the judges was paying attention during a given point of time," he says. "We did that intentionally."

Another group was given a uniformly hostile reception. "We wouldn't let them answer a question," Singh recalls. "Later one of the students said, 'That doesn't happen!' and I said, 'I assure you that it does and will!'"

Other techniques to challenge the presenters included unplugging the projector, informing the presenters that they had not 10 but only five minutes to present, and making two of the judges French speakers for whom an interpreter had failed to arrive.

Realizing that they had no choice but to make the best of the situation, the teams showed considerable creativity in their responses to the adverse conditions.

"The highest points went to those who got the hostile questions," Singh says. "We told all the students that in real life you never know what you're going to get, so you need to learn to adapt and improvise, and we told them that we wished we'd had a coaching opportunity of that sort."

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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