The Profession of IT
The Whole Professional
A new book inspires a reflection on what it means to be
a whole, competent, and effective professional—and may
portend a wave of disruption in education.
aeronautics. Our scientists pioneered
in applying supercomputers instead of
wind tunnels to the design of full aircraft, conducting science operations
from great distances over a network,
and studying neural networks that
could automate tasks that depend on
human memory and experience.
But there was a breakdown: our
NASA customers frequently complained that our engineers and scientists failed to make their deliverables.
This was a major issue, since the research funding for the institute came
ANEW BOOK invites deep reflection about what it means to be a whole engi- neer. That is, an engineer who is not only competent at the analytics and technologies
of engineering, but can bring value to
clients, team well, design well, foster
adoptions of new technologies, position for innovations, cope with accelerating change, and mentor other
engineers. The book is A Whole New
Engineer, by David Goldberg and Mark
4 The authors summarize
their principles in “The Big Beacon
5 What they say applies
equally well to computing professionals. The book’s invitation could not be
more timely given the building forces
of disruption to education (see my June
2014 Communications column).
Michelle Wiese and Clayton Christensen released a report about how private organizations are developing new
education offers with online, competency-based modules.
7 They see a bigger wave of innovation after MOOCs,
threatening an even greater disruption.
Whereas MOOCs automate traditional
classrooms, OCBMs automate skill testing by employers that hire based on
performance rather than credentials.
A Whole New Engineer portends a third
disruptive wave, where students disenchanted with automated classes and
tests seek education that cultivates their
mastery as designers and innovators.
This column summarizes my own
journey on the question of educating
this kind of professional, illustrating
the difficulties of trying to get a tradi-
tional university to do this. Three ex-
periments begun in the 2000s show
that it can be done in a protected set-
ting and that its students have been
wildly enthusiastic. Mainstream edu-
cation, which is struggling to produce
value for students, may now be ready.
The New Engineer
In the 1980s I directed RIACS, a research institute at NASA-Ames Research Center that brought computer
scientists together with NASA scientists on big problems in space and