Students learn about new technologies, gain career advantages

Joseph Schulz, News Writer

UW Oshkosh hosted the inaugural TechTalk, an event designed to educate students about new technologies being used in northeastern Wisconsin.

The event featured three keynote speakers: product manager at QBE Insurance Matthew David, who talked about blockchains; information systems professor Ivor Addo, who talked about artificial intelligence; and principal technologies consultant at Skyline Technologies Greg Levenhagen, who discussed virtual and augmented reality.

Information systems professor and event coordinator John Muraski said the goal of the TechTalk was to inform the audience of new technologies and skills necessary to be competitive in the job market.

“The big takeaway is that this new technology is right here in Northeast Wisconsin; students can pick up some extra classes or focus their education to work at these companies and use this technology,” Muraski said. “Whether we want it or not, there are more and more companies in Northeast Wisconsin that are very quickly beginning to adopt these new technologies, beyond what we even might have thought.”

Muraski said the event was sponsored by northeastern Wisconsin Information Technologies Alliance, a nonprofit organization designed to ensure that students have the skills necessary to work in IT.

“There’s a huge gap in the United States, across the Midwest and specifically across northeastern Wisconsin, in folks that have technology skills,” Muraski said.

During his presentation David explained how blockchains invented the cryptocurrency Bitcoin and how blockchain is being used by businesses to make the supply chain more transparent for consumers.

Bitcoin is a form of electronic currency that made headlines in 2017 when people began heavily investing in it.

According to David, Wisconsin companies have begun heavily investing in blockchain programs.

During his presentation Addo said dystopian science-fiction stories portraying the horrors of artifical intelligence have gone wrong and have skewed public perceptions of artificial intelligence.

“AI is a way to enable people to accomplish more by collaborating with smart software,” Addo said.

During his presentation, Levenhagen explained the differences between virtual reality and augmented reality and how augmented reality could revolutionize the way that workers complete tasks.

“Businesses are investing heavily in augmented reality; the financial sector is the only sector that hasn’t,” Levenhagen said.

Muraski said most students think that new technologies are exclusively on the West Coast, but they are in Wisconsin as well.

“There are skills that you can learn at the colleges and universities right here in northeast Wisconsin,” Muraski said.

The director of NEW IT Alliance, Kim Iversen, said technology skills are more crucial now than ever before.

“IT is the foundation on which all of our companies reside today,” Iversen said.“Things that had traditionally been in the IT department but are now moving out more and more into the business departments.”

Iversen said the TechTalk allowed students to see new technologies that aren’t exclusive to Silicon Valley, the nation’s leader in high technology, innovation and social media.

“So many local companies are using blockchain, artificial intelligence and virtual reality today in manufacturing sites and sales floors,” Iversen said. “The Tech Talk helps expose students to see what’s here. It helps connect them to employers who could hire them out of school or as interns.”

UW Oshkosh information systems student Isaac Xiong said the Tech Talk gave students an important opportunity to see what technology employers use.

“I think stuff like this is really important because employers let us know what’s going on,” Xiong said. “We don’t really think things like AI or virtual reality are being used. We think it’s so futuristic, but it isn’t; it’s happening right now.”

Iversen said students understanding their relationships to technology is crucial.

“It’s important that students understand how the technology works so they can make decisions when we are approaching ethical boundaries, like should we or shouldn’t we step over them?” Iversen said. “If we step over them, they need to understand what the repercussions are.”

Muraski said it’s important that students understand the technology they use in the workforce is very different than the technology they use for leisure.

“We’re so used to having technology literally in our hands that it becomes synonymous with ‘I completely understand technology,’” Muraski said. “I think we are sometimes missing the fact that the technology we hold in our hand is part of a larger technology infrastructure that exists in a plethora of types of technology.”