The Architects of Cyberspace: Stalking the Hedgehog of 21st-Century IT

December 19, 2006 § Leave a comment

As one of my many extracurricular activities, I
happen to serve on the Dean’s Advisory Council for GCCIS, the College of Computing and Information
Sciences at RIT
. The thing I enjoy most about that experience is the
opportunity to contemplate (and hopefully influence) the future of Computer
Science/Information Technology education. Below is an essay I submitted for the
last Dean’s Council meeting, which I hope will provide a “manifesto” of sorts for the next generation of
computational educators. Combined with feedback from other members of the
Council, it led me to a “graphical hedgehog” representing the “one big
thing” I believe they should focus on. Let me know what you think!

Architects of

Stalking the
Hedgehog of 21st-Century IT
In his landmark best-seller “Good
to Great
“, Jim Collins defined
as the “one big thing”
a company needs to focus on — a “simple, crystalline concept” that concisely
captures the intersection of their deepest
greatest potential
and most fundamental
driver. As GCCIS wrestles
with the question of how to integrate
into a coherent, world-class academic program, I believe we need to first
articulate a “hedgehog” describing GCCIS

Fortunately the
answer to all three questions — passion, competency, and economics — can be
found on the GCCIS website, which declares its mission as
preparing students to be
highly skilled computing
.” I don’t know if the
proper economic metric is “alumni dollars per square foot” or “tuition dollars
per tenured faculty”, but I do believe that the school’s passion — and
potential for both greatness and financial success — is and must be centered
around attracting, training, and graduating top-notch

If so, though, then
that raises a whole host of additional questions:

? How do we attract such
? What and how do we teach
? How do we attract, retain, and
develop the right kind of faculty to teach

I believe the answer to
those questions is, or at least should be, another hedgehog: a single unifying
concept that is not just a brand for external consumers, but a cultural
touchstone that binds the diverse interests of faculty, students, and
administrators into a coherent community. More than a slogan or a logo, it
needs to represent a deep, shared understanding of what the 21st-Century IT
professional should look like. Yet while it needs to be specific enough to
guide concrete decisions, it must also be open-ended enough to allow generations
of students and faculty to continually yet collaboratively reinterpret it as

And today, that
reinvention is needed more than ever. The functionally-trained IT professional
is being outsourced out of existence. To command jobs in the new emerging
American market?places, graduates will need to be more like entrepreneurs,
having a deep understanding of customer needs, technical possibilities, and
financial realities.

Therefore, I believe GCCIS
should focus on skills analogous to that of a brick-and-mortar architect: the
ability to balance
to deliver a coherent product within a specific context. I submit to you that
the greatest good GCCIS could do for our industry — and for itself — is to
leverage its expertise in interaction, informatics, and infrastructure to
develop a new discipline of “cyber-architects” who know how to build usable,
robust, data-rich, real-world hardware/software systems. Even if few students
master all those disciplines, they should have a deep appreciation of the
synergistic vision underlying everything that they learn.

For I honestly believe that
their professional future — and yours, and ours — depends on

Ernest N. Prabhakar

November 29th,

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