Training IT Managers of Tomorrow

Foto: Privat
Photo: Private

Software Campus started at the beginning of 2012. An initiative of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and leading German companies and universities, the ultimate aim of Software Campus is to tackle the shortage of talent in the IT sector. It does this by preparing around 100 master’s and doctorate students each year for IT management positions in the economy. In its first year, 80 students enrolled in the program, with 14 Software Campus students participating under the stewardship of SAP as an industry partner.

One of those 14 students is 29-year-old Yong Ding. SAP is helping the Chinese student, who completed his degree in electrical engineering in 2008 at the University of Karlsruhe, and worked on his doctorate in 2010 at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), by providing him with a mentor for management tasks and an expert supervisor for his project. Yong Ding’s mentors are Stephan Fischer, head of applied research at SAP, and Joachim Marx, research project manager.

Mentors and students paired up in an ice-breaking session

For the industry partners invovled in Software Campus, a key objective is to help the students with their projects. “Ideally, the end product will be launched on the market, or the student will found his or her own start-up,” says Yong Ding. The role of the mentor is to help the student develop both in terms of management and leadership skills and in terms of personal skills. “During an ice-breaking session, students and mentors got to know each other and agreed who would be mentored by whom,” says Fischer, who agreed to mentor Yong Ding.

At the moment, Yong Ding and Fischer are meeting for regular discussions. Fischer discusses the current status of the project with Yong Ding, and advises him on how he can manage his weaknesses better, and how he can best utilize his skills. “I’ve also visited Yong Ding during one of his presentations, and given him feedback and suggestions for improvement,” says the SAP expert.

Software Campus aims to help students make the most of their strengths and to learn from high-ranking managers; ultimately, this will help them develop their own ambitious targets. Part of this process involves a shadowing day. During the shadowing day, Yong Ding shadows his mentor in the workplace, observing how Fischer handles employees in his department and works with other SAP departments and external partners.

Next page: Management training and seminars

Yong Ding also recently started a three-month practical phase at SAP. The practical phase has two important advantages: Students gain an insight into everyday working life, while companies get to know the pool of new talent and are able to quickly assess whether they will fit into the company.

Management training is another practical exercise. Participants can develop their leadership and methodology skills, as well as their social and personal skills over a range of six modules. An extensive catalog offers training that targets their individual strengths and weaknesses. The Management Skills section, for example, gives students the opportunity to practice their leadership skills in real situations. Yong Ding chose the seminar “Management as a Lifestyle,” which will soon begin in Berlin.

A need for more practical training, less theory

“The management seminars are a good idea, but the practical sessions are a little too short,” according to KIT student Yong Ding. For him, the training in general has too much of an emphasis on theory. He also wishes there were more opportunities to use the methods himself, and to manage a team and take on responsibility as a future manager.

The criticism is not entirely unjustified. Not everything has gone according to plan during Yong Ding’s and the other ten students’ training. They had to wait a long time before the program even started. It was clear to the first students in the Software Campus program that the cross-company and cross-university initiative was new. Not all structures had been fully established, and when the training program went into its pilot phase, there were still some areas that needed to be improved. However, thanks to the close collaboration between the companies and institutes involved, Software Campus now finds itself in good shape.

But why is there is a lack of IT talent in Germany despite programs such as Software Campus and “Blue Card”? Yong Ding believes that sponsorship and funding of IT in Germany still lags behind that of heavy industry and mechanical engineering. Most people tend to associate “Made in Germany” with the motor industry or machine construction. The Chinese student believes that “IT is still seen as a service in Germany, not as an industry in its own right.”

About Software Campus

The Software Campus program supports IT students, and trains them to become managers. The initiative is backed by several bodies including Technische Universität Berlin, the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT), SAP AG, Deutsche Telekom AG, and Siemens AG. The ultimate aim is to build top talent at home, and make Germany a more appealing destination for IT specialists from abroad. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is granting up to €100,000 to each project. Each year, up to 100 master’s and doctorate students will take a share of this funding.

Application process

Candidates must pass through a multi-stage process. The program is aimed at master’s students and doctorate students in an IT discipline with excellent academic achievements. Students can apply from any German university, and must be sponsored both by a scientific partner and industrial partner of Software Campus. Candidates must first submit their project idea, their resumé, and a covering letter. The ideas are assessed by a selection committee comprising representatives from industry and science. Students whose ideas are put forward to the second round are invited to a selection symposium.