The vitality of Pensacola’s growing tech community and its promising future was on full display recently at Pensacola’s Institute for Human and Machine Cognition.
The standing-room-only event was Careers in Technology, the first of what organizers hope will be an annual symposium to foster tech industry growth and provide a job resource for those seeking tech careers.
Jointly sponsored by Innovation Coast and the local chapter of IEEE Computer Society, the symposium was an excellent example of the cross-pollination taking place in Pensacola’s business, political, academic and information technology sectors.
That synergy among public and private sectors is an important aspect of economic development and job growth that improves the quality of life in the Pensacola metro area.
How are these two sides of the economic development coin connected? Just look to speaker list.
— Escambia County Commissioner Doug Underhill, who gave the keynote address, in his day job is a cybersecurity analyst for the Department of Homeland Security.
— Moderating the event was Michelle Horton, board member of Innovation Coast, a nonprofit IT advocate, and director of the South Santa Rosa Center at Pensacola State College.
— Co-sponsor was Michael Viron, manager of IT Solutions for Pensacola-based KAMedData.
— Panelists included Paul Carney, manager of talent acquisition for Navy Federal Credit Union; Harry Huelsbeck, a cybersecurity analyst with Northrop Grumman Corp.; Lanessa Hunter, a software tester with IBM; and Vernon Niven, a veteran tech entrepreneur.
For the audience that numbered about 85, the takeaways were numerous.
Underhill, who won election to the District 2 commission seat last November, issued perhaps the most compelling and daunting observations about the current state of the tech industry.
Underhill tossed out the term “sedimentation,” which he described as the tech skills that once were popular but now have “settled into obsolescence.”
“The tech industry in Escambia County is so changing quickly that by the time you train for a job, that job may not exist anymore,” he said. “So, the question is: How do we focus on training for IT jobs for today and tomorrow?”
Despite today’s rapid turnover of tech programs, applications and skill-sets, Underhill said, “the tech industry is where the American Dream still lives.
“Tech can take you from poverty to prosperity in one generation.”
But Underhill also said of all the IT opportunities today, cybersecurity is the field that will provide the most job opportunities for young college graduates with tech career aspirations.
By 2019 there will be an unfulfilled demand for more 1.3 million jobs in cybersecurity.
Moreover, cybersecurity will offer the best job prospects to the most diverse, gender and ethnic-neutral demographic groupings of U.S. society.
“All the real innovations exist in America because of our diversity,” Underhill said. “Escambia County is well poised, because of our diversity, to train and attract talent to the cybersecurity fields.”
When the talk turned to advice for prospective IT career-seekers, the panel was frank.
— Asked what a typical career path looks like that leads to a tech job, Hunter said, “there is no typical career path, other than start at a company that uses software, and then make your own path.”
— Niven suggested to the numerous college-age students in the audience that they “start doing IT work while in school. You will be surprised how that matters when you start looking for your first job.”
— Navy Federal’s Carney was asked about the skills that financial institution looks for when hiring for tech jobs.
“There’s so much big data out there these days, we look for people who can take large sets of data, boil it down and make sense of it,” Carney said.
— Look at the availability of online certification for certain IT programs, get involved in mentoring programs, and join tech groups to expand your interpersonal contacts within the industry.
Though not a member of the panel, Randy Ramos, founder and CEO of Pensacola-based Global Business Solutions Inc., also offered some practical advice for ex-military personnel seeking IT jobs.
“Make sure you translate your military skills to civilian skills before you go looking for a job in the private sector,” Ramos said.