Alumni Snapshot: Paul Belser
Master of Science in Information, 2016. Human-Computer Interaction
Director of Information Technology at Cayman Chemical
Before attending the School of Information, I obtained degrees in Applied Art, Business and Information Systems and applied them as a software developer. My job is to manage ten software developers across a multitude of technologies from ERP software to customized Java websites to data warehousing, and much more. I lead all of those teams and I take into account how the different pieces work together to give a holistic understanding of how information moves through the company. A lot of my days are doing stand ups to make sure everyone is on track and solving the bigger problems, doing contextual inquiries, understanding how the cloud works, which technologies work best for our decision making and looking ahead to see if the direction we are heading aligns with the mission of our company.
UMSI Skills in Work
The UMSI coursework was focused on discussion as much as it was on skill building. It allowed me to reevaluate some of the experiences I had of trying to solve information problems to see how those attempts could have been different. Another subject from the courses I took is information behavior. When I was at the school, Professor Soo ran the course and it focused on how people make sense of their knowledge. Understanding the context of the request in order to connect people with the necessary information was another skill I still use to this day. And lastly, the most valuable thing that UMSI provides is world views. Each class I went to, I got to add another way of looking at how people interact with information. Whenever I am in a meeting and talking with different people, I am mentally flipping through those different ways of thinking until I find one that lets me see a new reality that works with the current problem or situation. Out of all the skill sets I gained, it was being able to peel away the assumptions that occurred that really changed the way I approached my work.
Motivation for Pursuing Information
I was looking to find better ways to solve technical problems in software development. I wanted to think about information in a more holistic manner. My undergraduate degree was at Northern Michigan University and I studied business information systems. I was creating a lot of customized software solutions to solve problems. What I found in implementing those solutions was that I had to go back and fix things a lot. I was struggling with figuring out how to solve the issues. Also from a software development perspective and having an art background, I started to see computer science as a creative medium. For example, with art, it’s hard to commission a piece of artwork because in your head you have an idea for what this is supposed to be but trying to express it to someone else and have them match what’s inside your head is not an easy task. I think that computer science does not get enough credit for having an artistic feel to it because there are an infinite amount of ways to solve a problem, and you are imagining the solution just like you are imagining how to draw on a canvas as an artist. I felt like that was being completely missed so I decided to go into HCI. I wanted to think about technology and people. I was really interested in that concept and applied to graduate school at the University of Michigan. My cousin had actually gotten her full MSI library degree at U-M and she was telling me about a course she thought I would like to take. I asked the university to see if I could sit in on the class and it just clicked. I knew it was exactly what I was looking for and I was in the right place.
Favorite Memory at UMSI
I really enjoyed the SI 501 class. I remember sitting in an auditorium and going through an exercise with people I had never met before. We would also go as a team and interview someone who needed help solving a problem related to the information field. Another course I took was called Information Control,taught by John King. That class was so interesting because he had us do a scavenger hunt around campus to learn things about the university and how information was being used all around us. I spent a lot of time in the downstairs area of North Quad and it was wonderful to have those kinds of resources to make collaboration a lot easier.
After graduating, I was called back to do some guest lectures about information and data storage, how different technologies work, coding and things like that. Being part of the UMSI community has been wonderful and I’ve been trying to find my way back to doing this kind of engagement. It’s more than just a place where I got my degree一 it’s a nexus of a lot of different things.
Advice for Students
One piece of advice is to know that the technology and skills you are learning are going to be outdated about nine months after you leave the program. What will not be outdated is your ability to interact with a diversity of ideas and thoughts. Understand that each skill you learn is something to put in your toolbox which will then help you approach problems in the best way possible. Walking into your first job after college, do not be afraid to bring up the importance of stepping back and seeing the issue in a new light. I believe that UMSI sets you up to experience that and that experience is extremely marketable. However, most times interviewers will not ask about that in job application interviews. That means it is up to the UMSI students to say “yes, I have this degree, but let me tell you what it really means in terms of employing me. I am going to be able to think about the work in a way that someone without this experience has not thought of yet.” I want students to realize that they are also getting this added benefit along with the piece of paper and classes in the UMSI program.
Also, if any students would like to ask me personally about my experiences at SI/career or just want to chat, I am always open and can be reached at [email protected].