Despite the opportunities, some programmers may need some coaxing to consider a field as gregarious as the news industry. "The developers that I know are the kind of people who are scared to death of picking up the phone," says Ryan Mark, news applications manager at the Tribune.
Journalism students may also find it challenging to collaborate with engineers. At Missouri, the school that runs the developer competition, communications students are often surprised to learn how complicated it is to build a mobile app, says Dale Musser, director of the information technology program.
"As we've often said to them, 'It's easy to think of something—hard to implement it,'" he says.
But it's an important skill to build, says Jonathan Stray, interactive technology editor at Associated Press. When he hires programmers, Stray looks for actual ability to build systems, rather than technical fluency.
"It's not like reading a manual on a video camera," says Stray, who holds graduate degrees in both computer science and journalism. "It's more like learning to play an instrument, and you're just going to suck at it for the first few years you practice."
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With practice, engineering students—including those who aren't studying computer science—can also benefit from improving their communications skills, says Elisa Kropat, a civil engineering graduate student at the College of Engineering at University of Delaware.
At Delaware, communications fellows—or students in journalism or communications—work with engineering students to help them improve their public speaking skills. That's been helpful for Kropat, who notes that many engineering job applications require writing samples.
"Traditionally," she says, "the stereotype is that engineers don't have good writing skills."
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