Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Kenyon, Whurley, Elkins Richter

Diane Kenyon, Whurley, Stephen Elkins and Melissa Richter

Austin Women in Technology hosted a lively conversation at Chez Zee Tuesday night about the future of tech jobs in Austin.
The panel discussion featured Whurley, founder of Chaotic Moon Studios, Austin City CIO Stephen Elkins, Melissa Richter, IT Executive with General Motors and Diane Kenyon, Senior VP of IT at Harden Healthcare. The session was moderated by Nathan Green, VP of SureScore. The consensus: Other than advanced technical skills, the most important skills are being able to write and communicate, to get along with a team and to innovate.
Most of the panel agreed that the pace of change in tech makes it impossible to find Lego-style matches for jobs. No matter how cutting edge the school is, it can’t keep up pace with technology, so by the time students graduate, they’re already behind. And tech people may have skills that were all the rage when they took a job several years ago, but the job description they once filled no longer exists, or the skills are obsolete.
“It’s impossible to prepare core content that’s updated enough,” said Whurley of universities. “When I worked at Apple all we had to do was develop for iOS. And every year there are 3,500-to-5,000 APIs that next year are useless….” By contrast, he said, people he hires from artistic backgrounds, who are closet coders, do really well.
By contrast, Kenyon said the people she hires who have college degrees can: “Write a memo, write a business letter, communicate with my customers…. There’s no longer the ‘nerd’ section at any shop that says ‘You don’t have to be able to talk to people in a language they can understand. I’m looking for people who have skills and an understanding that their skills are transferable to my needs and if there’s something you don’t know how to do and understand that you need growing and training on communication and you understand boundaries, these people I can train.”
And, Whurley said, people have to be able to work in teams. That doesn’t mean they won’t fight, if they’re passionate about what they’re doing. But “it’s like with your spouse, it’s what you do after a fight that’s important…. We need the right person, in the right job, in the context of the team we’ve built. We’ve got to be 100 percent on all three of those.”
There are, however, some specific skill sets IT employers need. For example, a knowledge of big data and 3D printing. Those are key, said Richter, for moving GM forward with its idea that the car will be the new cellphone: a mode of transportation and data center all in one that consumers will engage in a whole new way. 3D printing, she said, will “take the humans out of what we’ve all been doing for the last 30 years and free us up to innovate.”
Austin has one of four GM Innovation Centers to bring the company’s tech development in-house.
Elkins joked that the skill set he needs is whatever’s on today’s “vacancy report.” But generally, he wants to hire people who understand the tech side and the business side and can communicate between that space. He also said that data security issues would be a crucial growth area in the future as data continues to grow.
Kenyon also mentioned data, asking if she could post a job for a “dataholic, because that’s what I really need.” As a healthcare company, she said, her biggest challenge will be moving her company through the phases of Obamacare. And that will take a lot of innovation. “I can’t sit in my fifth floor penthouse across the street and decide ‘This is how workflow should be for the nurse.’ We have to maximize the information at their fingertips and minimize the feeling of doing data entry.”
It boils down, she said, to “Can you do the job? Will you do the job? And can we put up with each other?”