No matter where you go in the vast Latin America information technology marketplace, there is a palpable sense of angst about how far the region may ‘fall behind’ if it fails to produce adequate graduates to meet industry demands. Making the region competitive and preparing larger numbers of technology graduates is a theme that reverberates from North to South America.
In Chile, one institution, Duoc UC, is leading the way in educating the Chilean population in IT. It is churning out top-notch technical professionals who are being scooped up by corporations big and small after graduation. Case in point: the graduates of the Duoc UC School of IT & Telecommunications (Escuela de Informática y Telecomunicaciones) have a 95% employment rate. Moreover, 90% are working in the industries associated with their areas of study.
An Experienced Institution
Founded in 1968, Duoc UC forms part of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, one of the country’s leading and longest-standing educational institutions. DUOC offers degrees through nine separate schools, one of its strongest being that of IT & Telecommunications – most commonly referred to as the IT school (escuela de informática). In 2013, roughly 10,000 students attended the school, and that number is expected to reach 11,000 in 2014.
Traditionally, the school’s students have focused their studies on IT – as opposed to networks and communications – and specifically on engineering and computer programming. “This is principally due to popular understanding of the IT industry, which associates everything technical with an IT major,” asserted Roberto Barriga, Director of the DUOC School of IT & Telecommunications.
However, a number of students have started to demonstrate interest in more specific and specialized areas of study, focusing more on human capital needs and identifying related opportunities. “As such, majors in the area of networks and telecommunications have consolidated as an alternative for those with more knowledge of how technology moves and with high potential in these types of specialties,” he noted. For example, infrastructure and technology platform engineering – a field associated with data centers – has piqued the interest of prospective students and potential employers alike.
Along those lines, Duoc UC also makes a concerted effort to connect students with businesses from the get-go. Four years ago, the IT school launched the Center of Innovation and Technology Transfer (CITT), a space that brings together both parties to develop and formalize new ideas.
Not only does this spark entrepreneurial (and intrepreneurial) aspirations among students, but it also helps them to identify new opportunities and technological trends. Barriga added, “It generates in students the ability to learn on their own and tolerate frustration, improving their self-management skills and bettering their communications abilities. All of this translates to added value in their professional formation, preparing them with the abilities required for the 21st century.”
This is part of an overall approach employed by DUOC administrators to provide contexts that are as faithful as possible to the business world. It recreates and emulates environments, labs and workshops that are in line with industry standards and also offers specific academies and courses. In fact, DUOC gives students access to the Cisco Networking Academy, the Red Hat Academy, the Oracle Academic Initiative and the Microsoft Alliance.
It boasts partnerships with Cisco, Microsoft and SAP. The educational opportunities provided to Duoc UC students with these multinationals poises them for eventual positions in the corporations and in related businesses. Also quick to hire graduates are entities like global IT and outsourcing firm Tata Consultancy Services, data management company NetApp, and Chilean BPO and software leader Kibernum. And some alumni end up working abroad in companies like Oracle and IBM.
“Our employment is spread out among a wide range of businesses and industries, from companies that offer IT services to organizations that require in-house technical and professional expertise in their human capital structures,” Barriga remarked. “However, we have more developed relationships with some companies that are strategic, not only because of the hiring levels they require but also on account of academic development and the collaborative possibilities carried out.”
Value for Money
Samuel Pizzaro Silva, a graduate of and now professor at DUOC, emphasized the return on investment the institution’s education incurs for students, essentially in a business-like fashion.
He also highlighted the certification programs – in his case, he teaches Linux. Because the school has agreements with numerous technological and telecom entities (Pizzaro Silva told us that “Microsoft is involved in everything at the university”), students graduate not only with their degrees but also as certified professionals in specific technical areas at a fraction of the price that it would have cost them independently.
As talented as the professionals Duoc UC is producing are, the institution is also faced with the task of attracting even more students and conveying how worthwhile a technological education is.
“We’re trying to show them the most attractive side of technology,” Barriga explained. That task entails getting students to see beyond the stereotypes generally associated with studies in the hard sciences, IT and engineering and understand the opportunities ahead for those willing to take on the challenge.
Technology adoption rates in Chile and Latin America are working in favor of such evolution. “Right now, most people use information technologies every day, generating huge amounts of information traffic utilizing communications network infrastructures that are quite developed and robust,” Barriga said. “Those who dominate information and communications technologies are able to do things that others can’t, and that’s valued by society and recognized in the market through the appeal of developing professionally with above-average salaries and diverse career possibilities, both collaboratively and remote.”