The New American Job: Hybrid Careers

As a child, John Halamka was passionate about science and electronics. In 4th grade, he presented a home-built Van de Graff generator at his school science fair and took home first place honors. Fast forward 30 some years, and Halamka, now Dr. Halamka is the chief information officer at Harvard medicine school. Dr. Halamka is not only the acting CIO, but is also a practicing emergency-ward physician and electronic health records advisor for the Obama administration.

Dr. Halamka’s career is what labor experts are now calling a “hybrid career,” a career that fuses computing with other fields. And, as computing knowledge becomes more of an integral part of many professions, the “hybrid career” will be the job of the future.

These future jobs will require more multi-disciplinary, technologically knowledgeable, “cool nerds” like Dr. Halamka and because of this educators and technologists are calling for a reform of computer science education beginning in high schools. The focus in high school computer courses has traditionally been on teaching students how to use simple software like word processors and spreadsheets. For students to enter into the “hybrid careers” of the future, more emphasis needs to be placed on programming as opposed to writing word documents.

Says Alfred Spector, vice president for research and special initiatives at Google, “we need to gain an understanding in the population that education in computer science is both extraordinarily important and extraordinarily interesting. The fear is that if you pursue computer science, you will be stuck in a basement, writing code. That is absolutely not the reality.”

Kira Lehtomaki, like Dr. Halamka, pursued a hybrid career. A Disney animator, (she “sketches” her drawings on a computer by using specialized graphics and software) Lehtomaki credits her longtime love of both art and technology to her success in the digital animation field. Lehtomaki noted that “computer science taught me how to think about things, how to break down and solve complex problems.

This “computational thinking” is aiding advances in “field after field” and calls to attention the “broad reach of computing across the sciences, industries, culture and society.”

Teaching groups, organizations like the National Science Foundation and the Association for Computing Machinery and companies like Google, Microsoft, and Intel are recent additions to the movement and hope to help reform not only high-school computer courses but also higher education computer courses and programs. The groups are also advocating making technology and computer education more widely available through online courses and online instruction.