Chatting with Boeing about MIS
By Clint Tuttle
Here at the IM Program we are always excited about building new partnerships with great companies that can help the program and our students. Recently, I sat down with David Groff (Senior Manager of IT and Finance Systems) and Clay Johnson (Vice President of IT Business Systems and Supply Chain Systems) of Boeing to chat about their strategies from an IT perspective, as well as their increased interest in engaging with McCombs MIS students. Boeing recently reached out to the IM Program in the Spring of 2013 in search of opportunities to mentor project teams or participate in guest lecturing. After some discussions, we were fortunate enough to have Boeing participate in the MIS Lunch & Learn event that was held this past September. We've continued our conversation on how to increase our engagement. Below is a summarized excerpt of that conversation:
Clint Tuttle: The common perception of the MIS major, and IT in general, is that it’s a job that sticks you in the basement and pigeonholes you into a “trade” of just being a coder. How is IT viewed at Boeing or how is it important?
Boeing: Everything built at Boeing, whether it is a plane, helicopter, or missile requires technical people, but not just purely IT people. You’re expected to know the business and work hand and hand with your business counterparts as equals. In many cases we strive to know the business better than the business.
C: How to you encourage rich interaction within your company, especially between IT and Business, and what would the progression path be for a new hire?
B: When you are hired into the IT organization at Boeing you go through a 3 year rotational program which will give you three 1-year rotations in different cities, and different areas of the business. This allows you to see all parts of the business, and be able to see different locations as well. We pair you with projects based on need but try to put you somewhere you’ll excel and be happy. This rotational program has been a great retention tool for us.
C: What makes Boeing appealing to young students that you meet?
B: We continue to build competencies and focus on interesting work, like using analytics to look at tons of data that can reveal improvements in areas like parts quality and supply chain, or to just generally learn how we can improve our business. The other part that is exciting for students is that in IT you really do have an important impact on the business. When you get here you will work with IT that supports end products like an Apache Helicopter or even a missile project. The business at Boeing pulls on IT to help create solutions, so again the impact IT has is great!
What specific skills are you looking for in MIS graduates?
B: A major thing is communication and adaptability. You need to be able to communicate well with multiple types of stakeholders and also be able to adapt as needed. Years ago we weren’t even talking about things like analytics and mobility. Demand for these things didn’t really exist but now we’re adapting to take on these things. This also brings up the need for an aptitude to learn. You have to be able to continue your learning to be successful.
C: How do you encourage this aptitude to continuously learn?
B: We have done things like Innovation Days where we get together with our business counterparts and think about actual business problems we have and how we can use IT as en enabler to solve these programs. We also encourage tuition reimbursement of degrees or certifications that will help you grow in your career.
C: What has been a helpful skill or bullet you seek out in students majoring in MIS?
B: One thing we look for are students that have taken part in the 333K class that have experience in building a front end, but also connect that to a backend database. That’s an important first step, but then also someone who understands how security come into play in a system. How do you test this and manage it? When it comes to the particular language or technology it’s really across the board. Again, you are expected to be someone that is not just locked into a particular language or skill but someone who sees the big picture of how it all works together. Core programming isn’t as critical as being able to see how to integrate all of the solutions. Also, it’s about understanding the business and technology to know whether technology is applicable. We have to be able to understand the ROI of a solution, and not just if it will work, but will it add value. For example, we’ve looked at solutions like iPads that display analytic dashboards to people working on the planes or manufacturing floor.
C: What is the role IT in strategy at Boeing?
B: Engineer and Technology both sit on the board of the company. We have an advanced engineering arm and IT arm. As we’ve said, IT is an integral part of the company. Since we do a lot of government work we tend to not source as much work, which means it’s sourced internally and onshore which is why IT people are valuable to Boeing. IT people also sit on all the business leadership teams, which is something you don’t see always at other companies.
C: So what does a career at Boeing mean for students and moving, since you're Seattle-based?
B: We have a large, diverse workforce. We try to make sure people coming into the company find like people, and we work hard to get you integrated early to build a network. There’s a great relocation package that is offered for our new hires too. We offer top-notch jobs and ensure that we compensate you really well to relocate. We also pair you up with other interns or employees when you are hired to help you in building that initial network quickly. If you’re going to come to work for Boeing we make sure you're taken care of.