Computer skills

Today computer skills are as important as reading and writing but not many students understand the impact of computer technology in their fields of study. Few weeks ago, a business student asked me: “Why do I need computer skills? I go to school to be a Business Manager not a Computer programmer.” I told her: “Today business managers need information to make decision. You may not need programming skills but you must know how to use a computer to support your work. In the business administration program, there is a course called “Business Analytics” where students learn to access database and use Business Intelligent software to make decision. I recommend that you take the “Introduction to computer systems” first to understand the application of computer technology in industry as well as some basic computer skills before taking the “Business Analytics” course where you will learn how to collect data, analyze them, and organize them into useful information to make decision.” Today almost every job require computer skills and with so many jobs open, the question is why young people do not learn more about computer skills?

Last summer when I was teaching in China, a professor complained: “Today students only look at the current job market instead of what the industry trend is. The hot jobs now are in construction, marketing, finance, and banking so most students select these fields. The software industry is not well-established here and it does not pay well so students do not select it. In China, software jobs are mostly supporting jobs and the pay is low. Software graduates often work in information systems that support the banks, financial companies or manufacturing factories. Only graduates from top schools may get jobs in software companies like Alibaba, Tao Bao, Huawei, or Baidu. Those jobs are difficult to get because you have to know someone in order to get hired. Currently most students think of software works as “coding and testing”, which are not appealing.”

Another professor added: “There is not enough information about career planning in China. Most students only think about getting a job but not develop a career. They do not know how to plan ahead and most only think about jobs after they graduated. Of course they would take any job that they can get and many do not work in the field relating to their education. The sad fact is their education is a completely waste. It is common to find science graduates selling clothes or work in tourist offices. The reason is students often select what is hot today without thinking about what will happen in the next five years or ten years so many miss the good opportunities. Before the financial crisis, most students enrolled in business school and today China has several million unemployed business graduates. Even with information available on the Internet, most students do not pay attention. The sad fact is today students do not read much, if they read something; it is mostly on consumer trends rather than technology trends. They know very well about the latest mobile phones and the latest fashions so they can buy the latest iPhones, iPads or iWatch etc. Basically they are consumers of technology but not inventors of technology. In China software is not considered a good business because it is so easy to copy. Most software being used in China is pirated since few people would pay for them. Basically in China we copy everything, from hardware to software and fashion products. That is why the software industry does not do well here and few students select this field.”

But the issue is not about study computer science or software engineering because I cannot imagine any job today that do not use computer. Yet most schools do not give students a chance to study it. In the past three summers teaching in China, I kept hearing from professors that their educational system needed to change so China can be a knowledge society with strong economy to solve unemployment among college graduates but I do not see any evidence that change is happening. A friend asked me: “Then how do you see as evidence?” I told her: “I understand that it may take time for education system to change but the first step is to teach the basics computer skills in all fields. Without these skills, it will be difficult to transition to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

A student questioned me: “Why do I need computer to study Math? For thousand years, we can learn mathematics without any thing.” I explained: “Of course you can learn Math without anything but let look back in history. Is it the first computer ever invented is the Abacus in China? For thousand years the Chinese have used the Abacus for computation. It is the skills to use tools to make calculation faster and better. Today we have so much data, and computer is created to collect, analyzed and process these data to give us information that we need to make decision. Today computer skills are essential because most companies will expect college graduates to have these skills as a condition for hiring. They also expect college graduates to be familiar with multiple platforms and devices such as personal computer, mobiles and tablets. Most office works will require graduates at least to know how to use Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook) and how to navigate the Internet. Of course most young people today are very familiar with these skills but learning how to use them in a business context is not the same as in casual context. The language that you use in chat room and twitter is not the same as the language that you will use in a business. Yet many students I met do not distinguish the differences. When you write an email to your manager, you do not use the same short language as you use in twitter or chat room. One the most important computer skills are data analysis. Regardless what field of study that you select, most jobs will require workers to have the ability to assess and analyze information, then use that information to make decision, recommendations, or to plan projects.

The problem is that while education system is slow to change but it still produces a lot of university graduates. If they do not have the skills they need to meet the job market needs, if they do not have the basic computer skills, if they do not how to work in teams or think critically, if they cannot solve problems and have soft skills, then they may not be able to get a job in this competitive market.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University
Don't forget to follow us on Facebook!