Information Systems Students Tackle Technology's Future at UT Dallas Conference


The only constant is change — a theme multiple presenters emphasized when the Association for Information Systems (AIS) discussed "Technologies of Tomorrow" at its national Student Chapter Leadership Conference at UT Dallas last month.

Matthew Cocco

Recent Naveen Jindal School of Management graduate Matthew Cocco, immediate past UT Dallas chapter president of AIS, kicked off the conference by introducing Russ Finney, an advisory partner for Austin-based itmWEB Group, an information technology consulting and research company.

Russ Finney, an advisory partner of itmWEB Group, served as the opening keynoter at the conference.

Finney jested about his relaxed wardrobe, but his technology message, while congenial, seemed to carry a subtle tone of caution. “You’re going to have a whole different world than what I experienced,” he said.

Sharing a world map that showed how much or how little different continents were engaged in internet activity, his visual made it clear that not only was opportunity afoot but that a rude awakening awaited those who refused to consider engaging with technological change.

Many present, though, clearly had excitement for future IT challenges, as evidenced by the conference participants queued up for bus rides to take tours of companies with DFW bases.

“The site tour opportunity was an amazing chance to get a sense of what the area has to offer,” said Shashank Rajani, president of the AIS chapter at Arizona State University. “I went on the Toyota tour, and it was really valuable to get to visualize how a team you’d be on would function.”

Beyond seeing where they might compete for future jobs, some students competed head-to-head during the conference.

Dawn Owens

“A big focus of the event is the case competition and a data analytics competition,” said Dr. Dawn Owens, director of the Naveen Jindal School of Management’s BS in Information Technology and Systems program and advisor to the UT Dallas AIS chapter. “They ultimately review a case and have a solution, and teams selected for the finals present during this conference. But beyond presenting, it’s a way to network and enhance their leadership skills.”

Owens estimated there were about 25 teams in the competition overall.

Conference breakout sessions also offered opportunities to improve skills. Gaurav Shekhar, who is the program manager for JSOM’s MS in Information Technology and Management program, focused his talk about success on NEMO — Never Ever Miss An Opportunity. He explained that expanding your network has a snowballing effect — gathering size and overcoming obstacles. Shekhar also touched upon regret, change and inspiration, among other themes. Making the point that determination can fuel opportunity if only we keep moving forward, Shekhar showed video of Derek Redmond, the famed sprinter in the 1992 Olympics who tore a hamstring during the semifinals but finished a lap of the track helped by his father.

Cocco, who earned his BS in Information Technology and Systems in December and is now a programmer at Walmart Labs, spoke at a “Landing the Job” session. He emphasized that job seekers should know how to share their stories, and he encouraged students to rely not only on their credentials but also on a honed preparedness That readiness should include being able to answer the classic interview question that asks you to name a weakness, he said. With a willingness to share his failures as well as his successes, Cocco gave the audience a sense of reassurance that rejection is often temporary, not prophetic.

Charles Haseman

Charles Haseman, who was hours from giving a conference evening dinner address, was keen to expound on the theme that change is to be embraced. But he reminded that we should not be fooled by the hyperbole that often accompanies it.

“For example, you have to recognize the increased presence of digital, but it’s also overblown by many,” said Haseman, who is managing director of consulting company Haseman Associates and once ran a retail consulting practice globally for EDS as a vice president. “Brick and mortars were 90 percent of the business in retail, and it’s predicted to go down to 80/20 around the year 2030. That’s not exactly the same as the end of retail stores, is it? You see, I want my talk to reflect that truly everything is information systems. Embrace it because it all fits together as an ecology, but understand what that ecology is.”

During lunch, Shivam Patel, an information systems management major from the University of Michigan-Dearborn, happily shared his enthusiasm for the breadth of conference offerings. “Even starting with the keynote speaker and the emphasis on machine learning, the AIS Conference has found a great balance,” he said. “And with students here from all over the world, you’re exposed to the kind of different ideas that you just need to hear.”

Eric Butterman

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