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That's IT!

IT'S A CHALLENGE

IT advances have solved many problems. But IT's also created a few.
   How can we preserve freedom of speech and still shield children from online pornography? How can we protect our privacy and our intellectual property? Will this wonderful technology create greater gulfs between the IT haves and IT have-nots?
Jason Grow
Carl Redfield '68
Cisco Systems' Carl Redfield '68

   Some say "The Millennium Bug" is our most immediate danger.
   This rascal was unthinkingly hatched in the early days of the information age and proliferated as hardware and software designers saved precious memory space by compressing calendar years to two-digit numbers. 1961, 1977, 1992 became 61, 77, 92.
   Because uncorrected systems will assume that 00 means 1900 instead of 2000, New Year's Day chaos could descend on unprepared banks, public utilities, air traffic control systems, or emergency communications. The functioning of medical devices and life support systems may be affected-even the operation of the family car.
   "Folks I worked with said they knew back in the '60s that this would be a problem. But most people weren't interested. They figured it would be fixed eventually," says Ken Titow '70, who retired from Microsoft in 1994 and then went on to become president and COO of MatriDigm, a company that specializes in Year 2000 solutions.
   "The technical fix is very, very easy," says Titow. "The difficult part is finding all the dates and date-related items. You have to go in and review every single line of code, fix a very few, and make sure you don't create new errors in the process."
   Titow says the challenge is like trying to rid Nebraska of every scrap of litter by having 40,000 National Guardsmen walk side by side across the landscape picking up trash.
   "It is simple. But it is extremely labor-intensive and time-consuming. You had better have some good automated tools if you want it do ne cost-effectively."

IT'S PEOPLE

IT is more than routers and silicon and fiber. It's people. And the world just can't get enough IT experts, says Bob Forman '61, founder of IMI Systems, an international IT consulting firm.
   Forman is a board member of the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), which alerted the nation to the fact that there are 376,000 unfilled IT jobs in American companies that employ more than 100 people.
   That number does not include many thousands of IT job vacancies among small companies, government agencies, and non-profits, says Forman.
   IT is the largest industry segment in the country, accounting for $886 billion in annual U.S. revenues. But the Department of Commerce expects a shortage of 1.3 million IT workers by the year 2006 if the situation remains unchanged.
   "It is an extremely serious problem," says Forman. "And it can only be solved if government, industry, and academe work together."
   Mel Cohen '65, vice president for research effectiveness at Lucent's Bell Laboratories, agrees. "The needs are tremendous and they are going to grow," says Cohen. "Most businesses are struggling to find an adequate number of competent people, not only in specific IT jobs such as software engineers or system administrators, but in all areas that require an understanding of computing, networking, and the use of electronic information."
   Rensselaer is one of the first universities to respond to the challenge. Last year, the university appointed Gregory Hughes '67 as vice provost for information technology.
   A former vice president of Lucent Technologies, Hughes has led Rensselaer faculty and staff in creating innovative IT degree programs that have won praise from industry leaders worldwide (see "IT at RPI").
   In addition, Rensselaer has a huge program of research in virtually every aspect of IT, from high-speed interconnections to the human-computer interface, from rapid networking and computer vision to artificial intelligence and electronic arts.
   "Rensselaer is ahead of the game here. It is being very, very
  visionary in understanding industry needs and developing truly multidisciplinary programs of IT education and research," says Rensselaer Trustee Linda Sanford '75, IBM's general manager for global industries.

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