IT execs seek Master’s degree in software management

Carnegie Mellon West has set a deadline of June 1 for applications to its Master of Science (MS) degree in software management program, which will be offered on a part-time basis at its campus in Silicon Valley. The two-year course, which includes 14 weeks of practicum, is open to IT or business professionals with five or more years of experience, a technical undergraduate degree, and experience managing one or more technical teams. Carnegie Mellon is also asking prospective students to be generally familiar with object-oriented software development.The program reflects a general move by post-secondary institutions to offer more specialized education for managers of technology strategy. Two years ago, for example, Oshawa’s University of Ontario Institute of Technology began offering a Master’s degree in IT security, while Toronto-based Ryerson University is now offering two different Master’s degrees in technology management.

Broad brush
“We wanted to create something that was tied to business strategy. rather than do a broad-brush MBA program woven in with software strategy,” said Martin Griss, associate dean of education at Carnegie Mellon West. “We’ll be looking specifically at business scenarios for software, not just business courses about what goes into making shoes or running Coca-Cola.”

The first-year courses under the Carnegie program include Metrics for Software Management and The Business of Software, which explores emerging business models such as software-as-a-service. The second year features a closer look at open source and the management of internal as well as third-party projects.

“I would hope this would be a way to escape from the cubicle and move to an office,” said Jim Morris, the school’s associate dean. “In some companies they might become the director of technology. Our fondest hope is that some of them become entrepreneurs.”

Ray Moss, an instructor at Ryerson who developed curriculum for its Information Technology Management program, said the school hasn’t talked about a speciality software degree, but he didn’t rule it out, either.“There is a high demand for this sort of competency,” he said. “Especially with a lot of lower-end type of software skills getting offshored and outsourced, companies still need that degree of management control.”

Tony Wasserman, the program’s director, said software deserves its own Master’s degree because of the growing range of licensing issues and approaches to developing and deploying applications. That being said, some of what will be taught might be considered fundamentals in a range of disciplines.

“The thing the students need in addition to technical skills is ability to understand the organization, to communicate clearly as they are writing and speaking,” he said. “There are things they need in order to work with different divisions – how to manage a project, how to deal with some of the financial issues around projects and products.”

A few students have already signed up for the program, including executives from vendors such as BEA Systems.

“Quite a number of our students are supported by their employers. They have the tuition picked up at least in part by their companies,” Wasserman said. “They see it as a perk and way to retain the best people.”

Moss said it can be difficult getting across what students should expect from a graduate IT program, particularly when the industry as a whole is evolving what it expects from employees.

“Our graduates are going more into straight management and analysis positions – security, quality analysis,” he said, adding that the phenomenon is not limited to graduate-level students. “Entry-level positions have moved up a notch in a manner of speaking, so that students are going directly into applied positions.”

Carnegie is working with a range of corporate partners, including Microsoft, Oracle and Intel, to sponsor software projects that will be tackled by students over a three-and-a-half month period. Another course will feature a business plan competition whose winners will receive a “significant” cash prize.

“In general, the difference between us and the big universities is that our grad programs are not being driven by researchers so much as experts in fields you want to teach you,” Morris said.

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