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Tech Industry

Wanted: info professionals

The information revolution creates a myriad of new businesses from online market research to systems management. There just aren't enough people to manage them.

The information revolution has created a myriad of new businesses from online market research to systems management. While there is no lack of funding, there just aren't enough people to manage them.

Today, the new School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California at Berkeley began accepting new students interested in pursuing either a master's degree or a Ph.D in information management. The two-year program is designed to fill this personnel gap, training students with the skills needed to locate, organize, manipulate, filter, and present information--no easy task in this era.

Graduates will be "information professionals" who will seek jobs as systems administrators, Webmasters, database managers, and research specialists. Potential employers could run the gamut, from high-tech companies like Cisco Systems and Cable News Network to Harvard University.

Technical expertise alone is no longer sufficient for success, according to Hal Varian, dean of Berkeley's School of Information Management and Systems. Graduates will be expected not only to manage technology but also to handle information and people.

"You don't necessarily need to know a lot about finance or accounting to manage a Web site for a business," he said. "You do need to know about human-computer interfaces, information retrieval, intellectual property law, and network security."

The school has 12 full-time faculty members with backgrounds in computer science, business, economics, and law, and will have an interdisciplinary curriculum. Core courses will cover issues including information organization and retrieval, information users and society, and communications and networking. Students can then elect courses in subjects such as management and policy, economics and law, and information technology.

UC Berkeley is not alone in creating programs that address the specific needs of information professionals. The School of Information at the University of Michigan this fall formed its first class, consisting of 255 master's candidates and 20 Ph.Ds.

Rechartered in March 1995, the school encompasses the former school of information and library studies. But the program, developed by some of the same people working on the Berkeley curriculum, calls for a more integrated understanding of human needs and people's relationships to information systems and social structures, noted Daniel E. Atkins, the school's dean.

"The professions, the research, the problems that need to be addressed require a much more holistic approach," Atkins said. "Technology is ahead of how we know how to use it."

Graduates of the program will be valuable for a much larger range of professions, he added.

The makeup of the class of 1996 is perhaps most interesting. Contrary to what one might expect, the class is comprised primarily of recent graduates with liberal arts degrees. Of 118 new students entering the program this fall, 69 percent received undergraduate degrees since 1990, while only 16 percent graduated in the '80s, and a mere 10 percent in the '70s. Seventy-two percent of the class graduated with an undergraduate degree in literature, science, or the arts, while only 5 percent had degrees in engineering and 2 percent graduated in library or information science.

"These younger students buy into the age of information," Atkins said. "There are going to be jobs in these areas. The program is specific enough and defined enough, but it doesn't box you in."

Other similar programs are likely to crop up as the demand for information managers, network administrators, and computer researchers continues to grow. There also are some signs that this is happening already.

The Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which started out as a research and development program, is evolving into an interdisciplinary program and recruiting new faculty to keep up with rising demand. Carnegie Mellon University has added a Human Computer Interaction Institute to broaden its computer science masters program and Stanford University plans to expand its graduate computer science program as well. University of Illinois, Indiana University, and Syracuse University are all trying to stretch their library science programs in new directions.

And there will be more, predicts Atkins. "There are all kinds of people who want to specialize in informatics for their field. I think we will see more and more of these hybrid, dual-degree programs that are interdisciplinary and collaborative."