The CIS Major: Pathway to a Great Career

December 11, 2012

The numbers are compelling enough: 6,000 IT job opportunities posted on the Microsoft website alone, and another 11,063 from a quick search for “systems analyst” positions on Dice.com, a career site for the technology industry. But on November 29, W. P. Carey freshmen also heard first hand from students and alumni how a Computer Information Systems (CIS) degree can open up interesting and lucrative careers.

Department Chairman Michael Goul quoted the job numbers in his welcome to some 1,000 beginning business students, who packed two ballrooms at the Memorial Union to hear about the program.

The department stages these information systems as a way to get freshman thinking about CIS as a major or a second major. Typically, freshmen business students arrive on campus unaware of the burgeoning opportunities in information management and the nature of the CIS program itself. At the information session, the speakers talked about what students learn in the program, and dispel misconceptions about careers in information management. The program teaches how to use technology to drive business – not to be full-time programmers. The freshmen also learn that a CIS major complements the other business majors, a reflection of the fact that virtually every part of business today utilizes IT.

Because of that IT ubiquity, corporate recruiters are looking for business students who have a technology background – a fact W. P. Carey students have noted. “More and more students are picking up CIS as a second major, especially accounting and supply chain management students,” said Emily Galindo-Elvira, a student services specialist in the department.

To drive these messages home, the department assembled a panel of current students and alumni to talk about their experiences.

How CIS propels careers

Robert McKay, the department’s Outstanding Graduating Senior in December 2011, is currently an LDP analyst at American Express. “This program is a doorway, a leaping off pad, a way to get there,” he said. Majoring in CIS major does not mean a cubicle in the IT department, he said. Instead it leads to opportunities to help improve the business through the strategic use of technology – a capability that secures better, higher paying jobs right out of school, and faster promotions. Women in particular should consider it, he said.

Department staff goes out of its way to open up opportunities for students, he said. He credited academic advisor Maria Chomina with getting him interested in ASU’s Edson Program, where he received funding to start a company called Force Finder. The venture did not pan out as planned, but it was an invaluable lesson in how to build a start up so that it has a better chance to endure. “American Express wanted me because of my time on that project,” he said.

Prameet Bhargava, a manager with Ernst & Young’s advisory practice, was an accounting major at W. P. Carey when he discovered the relevance of a CIS major, through his internal controls class. He realized that his accounting major would be more valuable if he added the technology management expertise.

“IT is everywhere,” Bhargava said. The CIS major is not about programming or code, he added – it is about processes, controls and risk. He referenced the cult-favorite movie “Office Space,” where the lead characters figure out how to move funds a fraction of a cent at a time from their company’s accounts to their own, adding “I make sure no one can do that!”

Alan Simon is one of the earlier graduates of the CIS program. Author of 28 books, including the original “Data Warehousing for Dummies,” Simon specializes in business intelligence, data warehousing, and performance management. He’ll be joining the CIS faculty in January as a lecturer to teach one of the CIS 394 Business Intelligence sections.

“The nice thing about this major is you can do what you want with it,” he said. Graduates have the expertise needed to work in a corporation, or they can go into consulting or entrepreneurship.

Alex Barr is the western region director for Sogeti USA, a division of the Capgemini consulting group. Technology is continuously changing, but the lessons learned in CIS never become obsolete, he said, because students learn to think analytically. Those with purely technical knowledge risk seeing their jobs out-sourced, but professionals with the process and problem solving skills acquired through CIS offer something that cannot be commoditized.

The student perspective

Victoria Polchinski is a CIS student leader and member of DISC (Department of Information Systems Club) and Women in Technology. A junior now, she started her ASU journey as an interior design major, then she switched to finance and dietetics, and eventually found her way to CIS. “If you decide to major or double major in CIS, so many opportunities will open up for you,” she told the students.

She recalled being at the information session last year, before she added CIS to her program. “I looked around, and every face was illuminated blue from looking at phones and notebooks,” she said. “I realized that technology is part of everything.”

Senior Julie Westerbeck is also a student leader – a CIS Ambassador, a W. P. Carey Consulting Scholar and a Tillman Scholar. Yet when she arrived at ASU from Canton, Ohio, she hadn’t figured out a major. “I was in your position,” she said. “I was asking what do I have to do to be successful here?”

Her advice: get involved. DISC and WIT are great for learning more about opportunities, she said -- drop in on meetings. After you find something you like, become a leader, she added. She also advised finding a mentor to help you think through your decisions.

“The professors in IS are really involved, really enthusiastic,” she added. “I connected with one of my professors and he selected me for a case competition where I got to work on a real business problem.”

After graduation in May, Westerbeck will join PricewaterhouseCoopers as an advisory associate in their Chicago office.

More information about the CIS major may be obtained from the website or by contacting Emily Galindo-Elvira.