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Keynote preview: Bob Myers on what skills matter for jobs at innovative companies

Keeping up with modern technology is daunting. Keeping up with the latest teaching methods in technology education is equally challenging. But knowing what employers want in their future employees can give educators some direction.

That is one aim of the upcoming Connections to Education Conference. The conference, set for July 29-31 at the Hilton Columbus at Easton, is presented by the Ohio Association for Career and Technical Education and the Ohio STEM Learning Network. (Early discounted registration is available through July 8.)

The opening-session keynote speaker, Bob Myers, is managing director of Pillar Technology — with offices in Columbus; Chicago; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Des Moines, Iowa — and he will talk about what his cutting-edge software company looks for in new hires. Recently we contacted him for insight into that topic:

Q: Tell us about your business, Pillar Technology, and what it produces.

A: We are a business and technology consulting company. We create custom software for connect products to enable our clients to disrupt or respond to disruption in their industries.

Q: What are some of Pillar’s most successful creations and how are they used by clients?

A: Pillar assisted in the creation of OnStar (an in-vehicle safety and security system). We have broadened our horizons over the years and are working on autonomous tractor and vehicle technology, artificial intelligence in automotive software, Smart City Operating Systems along with many other leading-edge technology solutions.

Much of our work involves cutting-edge solutions that we can’t discuss for confidentiality reasons.

Q: Your projects include software for self-driving cars. Tell us about this endeavor and how far you’ve taken it. How have you worked with the Smart Columbus project?

A: We were granted the work to build the Smart Columbus Operating System. We work very closely with Smart Columbus and the Columbus Partnership to provide them with an operating system that will sustain all that they have planned to enhance Columbus.

We are also working with the Ohio Department of Transportation on connected vehicle solutions. Both of these systems will allow interoperability between vehicles and connected devices such as traffic lights. For example, in a winter storm, vehicle-slip data could be monitored, and salt trucks could be deployed to the highest-risk areas first.

Q: What kind of people do you like to hire?
A: We like to hire people that have an affinity for creativity and a willingness to learn. They are humble, hungry to learn and emotionally intelligent. Some of our staff members come to us via the traditional way – straight out of college or from other technology companies – but we are also open to hiring people who have an innovative nature and are open to all possibilities.

Q: How can STEM educators better prepare students for the jobs of the future?

A: Expose students to the vast number of careers that are part of our technology era. It used to be centered in software development, but with everything becoming digital, there are so many opportunities.

Encourage students to embrace technology and to have a perpetual curiosity about the world we live in and how to improve it.

For educators, I believe the arts and creative skills are essential. I would like to see the “A” added to “STEM,” making it “STEAM.” STEM aptitude must be paired with creativity to solve the world’s challenges.

Q: What role can adult mentors and parents play in the education of STEM students?

A: Adopt a “no constraints” philosophy in work and in life. So many people and companies are limited because they constrain their thinking. Train yourself to think “possibility first!” We all know there are constraints; let’s just not begin there.

Don’t be afraid to fail — fail fast and learn. Encourage extreme curiosity. Wear out the question “Why?” Activate and exercise the creative mind. (See my LinkedIn or Facebook posts for more.) Support educational initiatives that are centered on the growth and exposure of STEAM.

Q: What about girls and technology? How can STEM-based industries help more young females and disadvantaged youth to see themselves prepping for STEM careers?

A: Inspire them to believe in themselves and to change “can’t” into “can,” “won’t” into “will” and “never” into “now.” Act out your dreams. Dream bigger. Expose girls to new innovative groups taking an interest in these areas of study and work. Seek out conferences, workshops, etc., that are female centric to provide them with the bigger, non-traditional picture of possibilities.

Q: Is there anything else you can share with us about tech-based careers and educational preparation?

A: Technology skills are very important. Creativity and problem solving are more important. Take the time to wonder why. Wear it out!

We are entering into an amazing time in the technology world. If you can imagine it, you can build it. Dream big!

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