When Jairo Pava graduated from FIU with a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 2011, he was well prepared for a job in the field.
Having already completed an internship with IBM, one of many prestigious companies that the FIU School of Computing and Information Sciences (SCIS) has partnered with, he moved to New York when the technology giant hired Pava as a software engineer right out of college.
After three years, Pava returned to South Florida earlier this year to take a position as a software test engineer at Ultimate Software, a company involved with the research, development, and delivery of human capital management (human resources, payroll, benefits) technology for businesses.
“My job is to make sure that the products we deliver to our clients are fully functional,” Pava said. “It’s great to be back in South Florida. There are many new companies in the industry coming down here and it’s an exciting place to be.”
SCIS played an integral role in preparing Pava and thousands of other students for jobs in the computer science and IT field and helping transform Miami into an attractive location for technology companies to set up shop.
“One of the great things about SCIS was the opportunity to be involved with research in interesting areas that have an impact on the community,” said Pava, who won recognition for his storm-surge simulation research as a student. “It was exciting to be involved in those kinds of projects.”
ON THE RISE
Despite a recession that hurt the computer science field nationwide and budget cuts to computer science programs in the state, SCIS has managed to continue to grow over the past six years. Today, the school has over 2,000 students enrolled in six computer science/IT degrees ranging from the B.S. to Ph.D. level – more than double the number of students enrolled in 2008.
Companies both local and nationwide have come to FIU in search of finding graduates who can develop and maintain software, operate information systems and manage different communication networks. According to Director of Technology/Business Relations Steven Luis, approximately 200 companies actively recruit the school’s students and alumni to fill full-time and internship positions.
Demand for computer science professionals continues to rise. According to a recent study conducted by Georgetown University, software developers and IT professionals are the two top professions with the highest demand, respectively. Combined, there were 201,000 online job ads for the two professions posted in the second quarter of 2013.
“The phone has not stopped ringing,” said Luis said. “They are constantly saying we need more talent, and we are that engine that is producing almost 250 computing professionals a year into the profession.”
FIU’s graduates are finding great job opportunities in South Florida and around the country. Recently, Luis spoke with a vice president for Citrix Systems – a software company based in Fort Lauderdale – who told him that a properly trained recent graduate with good experience could easily start working at their company with a starting salary of $85,000.
“We want to see our students getting great jobs and great opportunities,” Luis said. “The challenge here is how do we continue to scale our program so that we can meet the demand, diversify our offering in terms of the classes that we teach and the different technologies that students are exposed to.”
Of the school’s approximately 3,500 alumni, roughly one-third of them are still living and working in South Florida, contributing to the growth of the region’s technology industry.
“That’s a huge number making an impact and creating this technology community right here in South Florida,” Luis said.
CONTINUING TO GROW
Ryder Professor of Computer Science and director of FIU’s SCIS Ram Iyengar hopes that the school becomes a top 50 program in the nation by 2016. To achieve that goal the school has been aggressive in expanding, utilizing state performance funding won by FIU for being the No. 1 university in Florida for IT and a state TEAm Grant featuring UCF and USF to create Florida’s Metropolitan University consortium focused on producing more IT talent for the state.
“Our school has raised the bar for the university in terms of its innovation focus and tech community engagement,” Iyengar said. “We have established ourselves as a leader in the tech ecosystem that is growing in South Florida and will continue to expand our activities in the coming year via faculty startups, student innovations, technology innovation events, and intellectual property disclosures.”
The school has added new faculty from prestigious programs around the country, including Brown, Cornell and UCLA, in addition to bringing in new advisors to help guide students.
Luis said the goal of more advisors, combined with free tutoring provided to students by the school, will help the school improve its student retention efforts.
“Computer science is not an easy discipline,” Luis said. “We want to identify students who are having problems early on, connect them with tutors, and help them over the bump and get past that quitting point.”
New courses have also been added to help give students an even broader set of knowledge and skills to keep up with the ever-changing evolution of technology, such as mobile developing – creating software geared toward mobile devices.
In 2015, SCIS will open its new “Tech Station,” an 8,000-square-foot facility located on the southeast corner of PG-6, which will open up a number of exciting opportunities for the school and its students.
The facility will include a number of team rooms – each designed with a unique layout and capabilities – where students can work together on their assignments and projects, advising offices, and a computer training lab.
It will also have 2,000 square feet of open creative space that is broken down into different themes – such as a living room area, dining room and even a tatami bar section – where students can work on state-of-the-art equipment comfortably and collaboratively. The space will be surrounded by glass where students can draw out problems and solutions, which will be observable from the main road in front of the garage.
The vision is to create a space similar to the work environments that have become famous in the United States in companies such as Google and Facebook.
“People need creative environments and spaces to be creative. We want our students to be exposed to these kind of work environments that have become famous in America to that as part of their training,” Luis said.
The school’s leaders envision this project as the beginning of a new era for the program, giving them the infrastructure to become one of the top programs in the nation.
“It’s going to put us on the map,” Luis said. “When people think about where is that center of technology in Miami, they are going to think about this facility and FIU.”
by Joel Delgado