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A new way of entering the Industry

By conraduno in Op-Ed
Thu May 17, 2001 at 09:08:23 AM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

I am finding myself among a growing number of high school graduates who have entered the computer industry before college. I have been working full time since I graduated last year as a programmer, and next year I will be back in school again as a freshman. Why did I do this? Many companies I have spoken to have all wished for people right out of college, but the holy grail in this exploding industry is experience. When I graduate I will already have 2 years experience.

It seems, at least the way many computer companies are looking at the situation, that what with the rapid evolution of the software market, that it is highly desirable to get graduates "fresh out of college". They have the learned the latest techniques, the newest languages, and generally are more prepared on a programmatic level to approach the current problems. This can be illustrated by the sudden growth in Perl and Python courses I am seeing at universities; three years ago these where non-existant. In the last five years I have seen colleges completely switch they core computer science language from C++ to Java. All computer science majors have the same basic skill set, but in many modern companies they want those who have studied the latest languages, the newest OS features, and things of that nature. A number of directors I have talked to have confirmed this - fresh graduates are important to keeping a company ahead.

However, as stated in the opening paragraph, in this exploding and incredibly aggressive field experience is the holy grail. The industry is being saturated with fresh graduates who are great programmers, but they lack experience, knowledge on what goes into making a product. They have never actually produced a commericial product. They have never missed ship dates. They have never worked in large scale teams for 8 months at a time. These skills are every bit as vital as knowing how to code, and with experience the happy-go-luck-lets-ship-now! part of of a programmer will slowly be replaced with a more methodical, slow, and careful approach.

So what am I saying? Companies want to have their cake and eat it too. And the solution seems to be high school kids.

I was picked up as a summer intern straight after HS graduation, and when I was preparing to go to school suddenly I had this offer of a salaried position dropped at my feet. Not wanting to delay my education, I at first rejected this offer, but after many talks with friends and family decided this could be a good choice. For the exact reasons I have laid out above: When I graduate, I will have both sets of skills. Sure right now I'm nothing more than a peon programmer hacking out Perl, but I'm gaining valuable industry experience.

So why am I writing this? Because this seems like a trend, at my company we have three of us 18 year olds, all doing the exact same thing I did. And here is not the only case. Around the US I have heard stories from friends and articles about people doing this exact same thing. Will this become a part of the norm? It's quite atypical in regards to the rest of the science industries, but where else is experience so coveted? The software market is one of the most aggressive markets the world has ever seen, and the high schools seem the like perfect place to being picking and preparing the future hot-shot coders by software companies.

How many of you have done this? Or know someone who has? What are your thoughts?


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A new way of entering the Industry | 51 comments (50 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
hiring HS kids (3.42 / 7) (#1)
by starbreeze on Wed May 16, 2001 at 04:30:49 PM EST

While I see what you're saying, I also think that it's not always in a company's best interest to hire a bunch of HS kids. The mayor of the city of Pittsburgh thought it would be a wise idea if he got rid of his entire IT dept and hired a couple of HS kids to save money in the budget. I know this because we wrote a software package for them and had to deal with all that shit. People like him should have no authority to do that... can you imagine an IT dept made of all HS kids. While I agree you need experience, I think a college education helps you learn a lot more than technical job skills. I am only now, after graduation, realizing the benefits of my well-rounded liberal arts education.

Maybe times are changing more than I realize though, because until I had a diploma, I couldn't find anyone in the tech industry interested in hiring me while I went to school. Anyone looking for phone techs seemed to think I was overqualified, and all I wanted was a damn job that would pay me $7/hr or so.

"There's something strangely musical about noise." ~Trent Reznor

Let me put it to you this way (4.25 / 12) (#2)
by trhurler on Wed May 16, 2001 at 04:41:36 PM EST

I'd gladly hire competent programmers no matter what their formal education. (Note the word "competent." This can be read as "show me what you've got," and believe me, I'll make you show me.) However, I would not hire system administrators or other IT type people without degrees or significant prior experience(5+ years) unless I knew them personally, and those programmers without much formal training had best show results. The problem is, there are way too many kids who think the world owes them a living for nothing. Typically, I can outperform programmers with ten and fifteen years more experience than I have without really trying(and I do,) and so I respect newcomers, but they better show some solid reason why they're there.

The reason I say no in the case of admins/IT people is that the jobs of that sort rely less on ability and more on a certain set of knowledge combined with exceptional dependability. Quite frankly, 18 year olds are not on average nearly as reliable as 23 year olds; most people become more predictable and dependable as they get older. Now, yes, there are lots of 20 year old admins out there who want to kick my ass right now, but there are tons more who got fired or who should be on account of just not being up to the task at hand. The situation isn't much better with 30 year olds, but it isn't AS bad, and that's worth something.

And when you consider that Siggy is second only to trhurler as far as posters whose name at the top of a comment fill me with forboding, that's sayin
Additionally... (4.25 / 4) (#6)
by MisterX on Wed May 16, 2001 at 05:37:14 PM EST

Very well put, sir!

To me, on the same level as competence come enthusiasm and caring about quality.

Enthusiasm is important. I prefer to work with people who are keen and seem to genuinely enjoy what they're doing. The graduates I have worked with in the past have mostly been highly keen and a joy to work with despite their lack of experience. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed watching them grow and learn as time passed.

Of course, what one enjoys changes over time and I think a responsible employer should consider this both for the sake of productivity and retention of good staff. For example, any company wanting me to write system test plans these days will find I don't stay around for too long ;-)

Programmers who care about quality are tougher to find because this is a character trait, not a skill. Most flaws with inexperienced people can be solved over time through training. I don't believe anyone can be trained to care.

Caring about one's work or, more succinctly, craftsmanship is what makes a programmer good. I can always find a use for a skilled hacker who gets things working. However, I'd think twice about giving such a person responsibility for a project or team if hacking was all they could do.

As an aside, any thoughts on what makes a programmer great? There are many programmers I think of in this way; Don Knuth, Linus Torvalds, John Gibson and Eugene Jarvis to name but a few. They all have something which earns my respect but I'll be damned if I can put my finger on it!

[ Parent ]
Programmer greatness... (3.40 / 5) (#7)
by beergut on Wed May 16, 2001 at 06:03:40 PM EST

I think it falls to two things.
  • Ability to see the big picture.
  • Give enough of a shit to demand quality, of yourself and others.

i don't see any nanorobots or jet engines or laser holography or orbiting death satellites.
i just see some orangutan throwing code-feces at a computer screen.

-- indubitable
[ Parent ]

More programmer greatness (3.40 / 5) (#12)
by MisterX on Wed May 16, 2001 at 06:37:45 PM EST

Agree. I'd also add

  • No fear of exploring outside accepted practice (e.g. Jeff Minter)
  • Creates awe-inspiring works (hmm... this may be the key element)

I'll never forget seeing the arcade games Defender and Robotron for the first time. These were my inspirations during my early programming years. I wanted to write games as good as them. Eugene Jarvis would have been my god had I known who he was at the time ;-)

[ Parent ]
innovative and independent of technology (3.44 / 9) (#20)
by turtleshadow on Thu May 17, 2001 at 01:42:05 AM EST

Great programmers work best without computers.
I believe Knuth worked in languages, that he invented, that had syntax and characters that can not be discribed on convention keyboards, nor interpreted compiled with existant software, and if they did exist didn't have devices that were capable of executing the instructions -- Yet it all worked!
The best programmers like the best of other disciplines: engineers, mathematicians and artists work it all out prior... in their heads....
Green with envy

[ Parent ]
I should hope so! (3.00 / 3) (#29)
by dgwatson on Thu May 17, 2001 at 10:17:07 AM EST

Anyone who just sits down and starts coding without any plan is just headed for trouble - I don't see how you could write any sort of maintainable (or even functional) code if you just write it off the top of your head without any sort of planning.

[ Parent ]
Politics and programming (4.16 / 12) (#3)
by jasonab on Wed May 16, 2001 at 05:17:01 PM EST

Politics and programming are the only two fields I know of where inexperience is worshipped. I can't imagine picking a doctor based on who had the least education, or a plumber based on who had the least experience.

I'll admit I'm biased: I have a CS degree from an excellent school, and I think an influx of young, inexperienced programmers is harmful to the industry, and keeps it from being taken seriously. If we as software writers ever wish to aspire to the concept of "software engineering," then proper education is a necessary first step. It does, of course, require the correct education (which does not include VC++ on day one).

In the end, the main problem is that quality is not respected in our industry. A manager would rather have a cheap 18-year-old who can write poor "working" code than an experienced engineer who can write solid, robust, maintainable code. Our value system needs a fundamental shift.

Yes... (3.50 / 2) (#4)
by conraduno on Wed May 16, 2001 at 05:32:36 PM EST

You're absolutely correct. However, you also present the reason for your bias, that you come from an excellent school. I'm not referring to your type (not an insult), I'm referring more the the "syntax junkies" that come out of college with wonderful programming knowledge, but no clue how to produce a product. Quality is absolutely not respected in this industry, but a team who can code well, but can't manage themselves well (because they never have), will not put out any better product than the inverse.
[ Parent ]
Evil Syntax Junkies ;-) (none / 0) (#31)
by jasonab on Thu May 17, 2001 at 10:58:42 AM EST

I'm not referring to your type (not an insult), I'm referring more the the "syntax junkies" that come out of college with wonderful programming knowledge, but no clue how to produce a product.
And I certainly won't defend them! However, I would still take a syntax junkie over a HS grad, if only because of the latter's added maturity, and penchant for learning. He endured and survived college (presumably a good one, if I'm hiring him). That earns more respect in my book than someone who started working straight on.

[ Parent ]
Substitute grammer Nazi (none / 0) (#47)
by hab136 on Fri May 25, 2001 at 09:20:42 AM EST

However, I would still take a syntax junkie over a HS grad, if only because of the latter's added maturity, and penchant for learning.

"the latter" would refer to the HS grad, so I believe you mean "the former".. unless you actually meant HS grads are more mature and have a penchant for learning? :)

[ Parent ]

Inexperience also prized in art (5.00 / 2) (#42)
by pavlos on Sun May 20, 2001 at 08:03:58 PM EST

Young people with relatively little experience are also prized over old masters in many fields of art, such as music, acting, and dance. This is partly because youth is an advantage, but mainly because originality is very important.

In the world of programming, I think the desire to hire HS grads is mainly a cynical attempt to gain cheap and overdedicated (silly hours) labor. However, I think there is an element of genuine desire to bring in new people and with them new ideas.

Programming is also analogous to art in that there is a low barrier to entry, due to the fact that quite a lot is still left to aesthetics rather than method. In programming, as in creative professions such as graphic design or advertising, it is acceptable to try new structures or argue over which method of doing things is best. This situation favors innovation, and thus young practitioners.

This is what makes it possible for high school grads to start programming, whereas they cannot start, say, practicing civil engineering. I like this state of affairs (even though I'm getting older) because it allows people to grow and become independent quickly. However, I don't think it is going to last very long as the industry matures.

I think that fairly soon, say withing the next 5-10 years, the basic design parameters of programming are going to crystalize so that a student can learn them in a straightforward way. Controversies such as whether or not to use multiple inheritance, or garbage collection, or coroutines, will die out. Either one alternative will win or the choice will remain, along with a well documented decision process.

In that environment, a solid understanding of these design parameters will become essential. For a while, this will favor people with experience, since experience would be the only way of gaining that knowledge. However, as the knowledge becomes better understood and systematically taught, the system will favor young graduates from universities.


[ Parent ]

Why are there no certifications for programmers th (none / 0) (#51)
by NDPTAL85 on Thu Jul 26, 2001 at 04:56:01 PM EST

If software writers truly wish to be respected then why don't you form your own certifications on the scale that CISCO has done?

Everyone knows that Microsoft has given certifications a bad name with their MCSE's but Cisco has managed to do it right. Its not that hard to become a CCNA, less people become CCNP's, and to become a CCIE you have to be a networking god. There are of course networking courses in college one can take but most companies would hire a CCIE over a Telecommunications Major anyday. Its not as if CCIE's don't do research either, they do.

The main problem with college CS courses is they spend too much time in theory and not in actually showing folks how to 'do'. Folks who already know how to 'do' see no reason to get the degree and companies don't see the need to put extra requirements on those who already know how to do the job. The overall image and expertise of the industry could be uplifted if there were simply non-college "Java Engineering Certifications" or "Advanced C++ Developer Certification".

And PLEASE don't complain to me on how focusing on one or two languages limits your future. There is nothing preventing folks from learning and getting certified in new languages much as networking professionals have to get training/certified to work with new protocols/technologies. You don't hire a employee because he may 'potentially' be able to do the job cause he has a degree chock full of theory, you hire the person who can do the job now. Thats how its always going to be.

[ Parent ]

I did something similar... (3.83 / 6) (#5)
by jazzido on Wed May 16, 2001 at 05:35:16 PM EST

About a year before i started to study CS, got the chance to work part-time (while in school) in a now deceased local small dotcom (dotcoms died in argentina too, in case you didn't notice).

I took the job, money was good considering the typical salary here, but doing both things at the same time (school + work) wasn't a good idea, and i dropped the job. Not only that my grades were falling very quickly, but when i started to take a couple courses on Systems Analysis and Design and Developement I realized (maybe i'm wrong), that people (and me) there were doing no good.

It seems that people here didn't realize what happened to a great percentage of the typical dotcoms, they still call for young-and-not-necesarily-graduated 'programmers' for an 'exciting new project'.


"Patriotism is the last resource of scoundrels"

Pascal (3.00 / 2) (#8)
by p0ppe on Wed May 16, 2001 at 06:19:14 PM EST

They're actually teaching pascal (only) at my high school...

"Democracy is three wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner."
So what? (2.00 / 2) (#18)
by tjb on Wed May 16, 2001 at 10:19:10 PM EST

Yeah, Pascal may be out of fashion, but as far as structured imperative languages (think C-like) go, programming is programming is programming. The syntax is just sugar. If you can program in Pascal, there is no reason you can't pick up C or Ada or Intercal or Algol or most assembly languages very quickly.

Ok, maybe not Intercal :)

Its the thought method that counts. If you know how to think through problems in Pascal, C should be easy. If you know Scheme, LISP should be a piece of cake. If you know Prolog, ...umm..., you, uh, know Prolog :)

Anyway, I'm only a year out of college and I program in an AT&T-style DSP assembly language. Not exactly college-coursework material. Pretty daunting at first too. The piplining is handled by the wetware and there are about 50 rules as to when instructions can follow or preceed each other. But underneath it all, its really just a (very) messy, out-of-order C (or Pascal). It took me about a week to get to the point where I could do something non-trivial with it, and about a month to become truly comfortable (I almost never have to use a no-op anymore :) All with just the (often incorrect) documentation and some patient coworkers.

Don't be to concerned with knowing language X or buzzword Y. Anyone can learn to make code that compiles in a given language. The thought-process behind the coding, knowing how, in an abstract sense, to accomplish a task and then translate those thoughts to a generic programming language, 90% of the job is done.


[ Parent ]
Great! (none / 0) (#24)
by Tezcatlipoca on Thu May 17, 2001 at 07:10:20 AM EST

Pascal is a very nice language to learn stuff, but so is any one as long as your teacher knows what it is doing. What matter is the concepts learned, not the tool used.

I learned C but then profesionaly I had to use Cobol, ALGOL, BASIC, WFL , C, C++, Java, ksh, bsh, csh, Perl and one or two more I can't remember.

Nevertheless I always refer to the knowledge acquired while programming with Pascal.

Who is to tell that by the time you are out of school Java, C++ or who knows what else has gone?

Might is right
Freedom? Which freedom?
[ Parent ]
Good. (5.00 / 1) (#39)
by Requiem on Sat May 19, 2001 at 09:25:44 PM EST

I know that in this age of perl-munching, Unix-loving programmers, Pascal has fallen out of style. But Pascal serves a purpose: it's a very strongly typed language (casting? wuzzat?) which forces you to think about what you're doing. None of this declare-my-variables-where-I-want-cos-I'm-s00p3r-133t crap, languages like Pascal and C demand order. And they get it, because the compilers will kick your ass. Ever fought with gcc? It's quite possibly the pickiest compiler you'll ever come across.

Look, at work, I program in Visual Basic. The industry seems to like it, and it's good at what it's used for (Windows programming), but not a day goes by when I don't scream for a little structure, a little order. Every time I use a variable without really declaring it, I know that my heart grows a little blacker; it's like murdering a little puppy. And while I learn Python, every so often a part of me yearns for Eiffel, that strongly-typed OO language that leaves nothing to chance.

I guess I'm just submissive.

[ Parent ]
Schoolin' is important (3.42 / 7) (#9)
by rebelcool on Wed May 16, 2001 at 06:25:59 PM EST

You need both theory and work experience. Work teaches you how to write practical code (and the social skills you'll need). Academic theory teaches how to write beautiful code. Combined, you get beautiful, practical code.

I thought I knew everything too when I went in for a CS degree. I was wrong. And it's helped me in work, too.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site

Theory/Practice (none / 0) (#37)
by dgwatson on Sat May 19, 2001 at 01:47:19 PM EST

I just finished my first year of college at Kent State, and I'm a CS major (currently taking junior and senior CS courses, since I got a bunch of 'em out of the way during HS). I've had quite a lot of experience coding in the past, but never really much thoery until now.

Your post made me realize something very interesting. Most of my peers haven't had much experience coding, and can barely code their way out of a paper bag - and often have a lot of trouble getting the assignments done of time. In one recent OpenGL assignment for Computer Graphics, there were three or four people (including me) out of a class of thirty who had the assignment done on the day it was due (try saying that one fast!). Because they had not had much practice, the theory is fairly useless - if you don't understand the problems that you encounter when programming, it's difficult to understand why you should do things a certain way.

Of course, perhaps you should take this idea with a few grains of salt, because I happen to be really smart and have a 4.0 GPA, so maybe everything is just easier for me. :) (Not trying to brag, just stating a fact)

[ Parent ]
No, that's true. (none / 0) (#38)
by Requiem on Sat May 19, 2001 at 09:11:42 PM EST

I was basically in your situation. I got into coding in high school; I started with BASIC, and then moved on to Pascal, and some C. Since I enjoyed it so much, I thought I'd give CS a try.

I'm going into my third year of computer science at the University of Saskatchewan. Even after the weeding out (hard math classes, and various requirements to make second year), I still saw a lot of people who either couldn't code very well, or who could code fairly well but wrote really ugly code.

It could be that this just comes with experience. I'm sure there's more than a handful of people who had never written a line of code before deciding to major in CS.

[ Parent ]
I see where you're coming from... (none / 0) (#40)
by tjb on Sun May 20, 2001 at 12:47:13 AM EST

but the attitude really bothers me.

I was one of those people you'd probably accuse of not being able to code my way out of a paper bag. My grades were shitty, I failed my math classes, I barely got by in my CS stuff... but it wasn't because I didn't know how to do the stuff: I did know how to do it and just didn't care enough to prove it.

I dropped out of college with a 1.7 GPA, failed calculus numerous times, never got better than a C+ in CS.

Now, about a year later, I'm a DSP programmer (how's that for failing calculus) with 3 pending patents (two are protocols, the other is a whiz-bang-cool digital hardware design I came up with). I'm not a code monkey, or an idiot. I'll repeat that first part: I am not a code monkey. A large portion of my time is devoted to research. In fact, assuming no crises with currently shipping code, all I do is research.

Education is bullshit. Smart people are smart people and they'll pick up anything they need to to do a job, given enough incentive. I didn't get hired as a DSP firmware engineer (I was hired as an applications guy, yuck), I didn't even need to get trained: one day I needed some fixes to our DSP code, I was told it would be months before it would get done, I got pissed, I picked up a few books and chip documentation, and I did it myself because I wanted to project I was working on at the time to ship NOW.

Education is bullshit because there is no end product - you are working to work, not for any kind of tangible goal. In the real world, I don't learn something just to learn it, I learn it to apply it and make cool stuff with it. And having the money flow go the other way (ie, to me) doesn't hurt either :)


[ Parent ]
Best way to learn how to swim is to jump right in (3.50 / 8) (#10)
by wonko on Wed May 16, 2001 at 06:33:38 PM EST

Just after I turned 15, I got a job as a web developer at Intel after school. When I was 16, I left Intel (got sick of having ten bosses who didn't know who I was) and went over to McAfee.com. Within a year, I realized I hated the dot-com world and quit. Now I'm 18 and work as a software developer for a division of Tangent Computer, an OEM. I graduated from high school a year ago and have been working ever since, with no plans to go to college.

I currently share a house with two friends of mine. One of them worked with me at Intel and is just now quitting to go to a better job. She is finishing high school this year. The other worked with me at McAfee.com and now works with me at Tangent, and graduated from high school the same year I did. We're all taking the "work instead of college" route because we're being paid every bit as well as college graduates, so why waste time and money getting a degree?

The advantage of this is that we get massive amounts of experience and don't have to spend four or more years and thousands upon thousands of dollars in order to be taught stuff that we already know. The major disadvantage, of course, is that college is not just a place where you learn work skills, it's a place where you learn social skills and develop lifelong friendships and make lasting memories. This part, we're missing out on.

I occasionally find myself longing for that experience. Every now and then, I consider quitting my job, selling my new car, taking out a student loan and going to school. But the feeling passes. I don't enjoy being taught, but I do enjoy learning, and the best way for me to learn is to jump right in. On the whole, I'm happy with the decision I made, and I think I've got a good life ahead of me.

Social aspect of school (4.33 / 3) (#14)
by conraduno on Wed May 16, 2001 at 07:04:20 PM EST

Thats actually the primary reason why I want to go. I've got so many friends in college right now, I talk to them and hear these great stories about their wild and crazy adventures, and I really wish I was there right now too. But I only need to wait another year before I can be part of the fun. ;)

But past that, you did miss a very important aspect of a formal education, and that is generally the theory you learn there. Finite state machines, linear algebra, these are all things that are very good to know when writing software. This is generally what differentiates someone who can code and someone who is a computer scientist. You would be surprised the odd places this can be useful; hacking a version of wget the other day I used a finite state machine (and it saved me lots of work and time), which I only knew about thanks to my CS graduate boss. :)
[ Parent ]
I am very happy! (4.00 / 2) (#23)
by Tezcatlipoca on Thu May 17, 2001 at 07:03:20 AM EST

You are just preparing youself to be the equivalent of the coal-miners of the 19th century or the car-workers of the 20th century: just skill without education. I don't know really what makes you think that your skills will be valuable forever.

It sounds fantastic, it sounds like the right people to be managed by somebody with real education.

Not to mention all the social skills you will not get (great: you can be overworked 70-80 or more hours per week, you will thank your company for the privilege, and you will never know about your rights) as well all the thinks you will miss (not all is computers, believe me).

Any way, good luck, and see you in 10 years, most probably most of the people that decided to "jump into the water and swim" will still be swimming while people with proper education are yachting.

Might is right
Freedom? Which freedom?
[ Parent ]
Coal miners didn't have the internet to use to lea (none / 0) (#50)
by NDPTAL85 on Thu Jul 26, 2001 at 04:28:23 PM EST

What makes you think that someone who doesn't go to college is unable to update their skills? What is going to keep your own skills current after you graduate? Hmmm....sounds to me like you need some more education.......

[ Parent ]
On the passivity of formal education (none / 0) (#43)
by pavlos on Sun May 20, 2001 at 08:48:01 PM EST

I agree with Wonko that learning is much more enjoyable than being taught.

I found CS at university a very passive learning experience and this was, for me, its single greatest failing. I wanted to try ideas out and had to do boring lectures and assignments instead. I wanted to ask the expert how something was done, rather than have to wait for the appropriate year and term when it would come up. By the time I graduated, I had lost the best part of my enthusiasm.

I now think that the best way of learning something is to have a very definite goal (a project of some sort), read or listen to the standard knowledge, form your own ideas, and then debate them with a master.


[ Parent ]

It's only passive if you let it be... (none / 0) (#46)
by fragnabbit on Thu May 24, 2001 at 09:44:53 AM EST

The thing about universities is they don't give a shit if you learn or not. You have to want it. I never had to wait for some topic to come up in a future semester to learn anything about it. The professors were usually accessible, and if they weren't there were usually some more senior level students around that were quite happy to discuss things. Bottom line, if you wanted to work on more advanced stuff than what was being thrown at you in classes, it didn't take much looking to get help.

You learn a lot in college, other than "book" stuff. One of the things that I learned was that classes were not where most of the learning occurred. That's where ideas were introduced, but to really understand stuff, I spent time with my teachers, with other students, and with more senior students. People like to discuss things that they are interested in. CS Professors and other CS students are interested in CS, there's a lot of knowledge there that doesn't get disseminated in class.

It's a two part system, you're part of it, you're the part that makes it passive or not. Everything is passive until a force is applied to to make it otherwise.

But hey, that's just me...

[ Parent ]

The Guilds all over again (3.71 / 7) (#13)
by John Milton on Wed May 16, 2001 at 07:03:34 PM EST

Actually, this is just the guild system. A trainee is given progressively higher tasks. It makes sense. A degree is theory. Until you practice that's all it is. Better to learn practice before you're actually looking for a job.

"When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton

I used to dislike those that skipped college (1.75 / 4) (#15)
by /dev/trash on Wed May 16, 2001 at 08:02:38 PM EST

and I still do. I mean what did I go to college for if it gets you the same place as getting out of high school does?

What you propose though, I like. work but still going back to school because when the economy really tanks ( and it is not tanking now) and all the computer jobs are gone where will you be left with just a diploma?

Updated 02/20/2004
New Site

A programmer's apology (2.25 / 4) (#16)
by slaytanic killer on Wed May 16, 2001 at 09:30:04 PM EST

Formal education in CS is an odd subject, since computers are precisely something which promises new avenues for communication. While the social advantages of colleges are great, the internet's advantages are deeper than many might think. But still, education lags way behind technology.

I once had a project sitting on my lap from Linuxcare, to create an educational game for IT people. Heartwrenching as it sounds, I had to leave the US that week, so I never was able to take on the project. So some specific thoughts, as restitution:

1) Taking SICP and modifying it for a more web-friendly form. Some say that one can't truly be a programmer without having read it (though of course that's an exaggeration). One could rip code off GNU's Kawa project and build a very cross-platform Scheme line interpreter, with simple to plug-in commentaries for the exercises. Perhaps insightful ones, with hyperlinks.

2) Make it into a game, since the difference between a game and programming is more arbitrary than anything else. When one has graduated past a certain level (this was once called "certification" in a colder world), she may choose to interface with projects that come from the real world.

3) A webbed book that allows one to start wherever she wishes, and she can click on a link to learn more about some details or fundamentals which take her to a different area. Knowledge is intertwined, and one can start in any facet she pleases. People should forget hierarchies, which are based on the assumption that things fall into categories such as "physics." Perhaps the only reason for that is because our methods of communication were too linear to allow a more realistic system. Oddly enough, perhaps the old Judaic law texts fit this model very well, despite the great social effort required to keep the commentaries cohesive.

Never underestimate the power of education (3.80 / 5) (#17)
by RangerBob on Wed May 16, 2001 at 10:18:23 PM EST

I think it's a bad idea to do something like this. I've seen a bunch of kids who blew college for the dotcoms and are now wearing McDonalds uniforms because no one else would pick them up. Some people might be successful at this, but the majority aren't. What we offer is to let college students intern with us while they're going to school. The local university likes it because they don't have to find them a job during school, and the students get some really good experience. I'd suggest looking at something like this before skipping out because the advantages of having a degree are far from being over.

A problematic approach to a real problem (4.00 / 10) (#19)
by turtleshadow on Thu May 17, 2001 at 01:25:50 AM EST

Having been out of high school for more than a decade I have serious internal conflict with the ideas of hiring High Schoolers for professional positions.
The source of my conflict is that I & my older brother are much alike with the difference one of us has a degree.

He's extreamly talented in IT and only got a year of University before failing out within the regimented University System. He gave it the finger instantly got picked up into a bunch of Companies as the wiz kid.
I grunged through and got my B.S. and then entered into professional life.
OK where's the conflict. -- I still have my job.
It not my Diploma, its not my IT talent, its my well honed ofactory sense for crap and how to deal with loads of it.
In University not only do you learn about the Arts and the Sciences. It's purchasing the time to figure out which lines _truely_ need to be waited in.
My brother took on professional life like a rookie H.S. Senior in the NBA and we all know how many of those careers go. Few make it, fewer are superstars.
He floated between companies, aka jumped teams with senior execs and the other wiz-kids, till his skills were obsolete or too expensive to "afford". The co-workers he fled with, soon fled him.

I believe that going from H.S. to professional work can be done, its going to be very hard and takes the effort of self education. If your already living on your own thats a major step in the right direction. The occupation you have to pay the bills is just a bonus as its aligned with your interests.

The people I want when I hire have the following characteristics regardless of credientals.
  • They have self respect
  • They've internalized respect for others
  • They take responsibility for their actions
  • They are constantly aware and can deal (in a positive way) with the consequences to others of what they did or didn't do

In gambling on Higher Education I believe I came out learning the ropes of the adult world with the luxury of a saftey net. Yes, its a cop out; the gamble was to weigh statements like "If I start my life now and I lose my job what next?" versus "I can lead a limited life and If I flunk out I have x months to find another tier school that will accept loan money, and which if I get through that... "
To win the gamble either way you have to become your own trainer, coach and agent.

My opinion, it's better to get University first which gives you extra time to hone your self coaching skills with paid for "expert" advisement. Don't ever fall for the corporate bull that companies "develop" people. Only people can develop people properly. Most IT managers are not paid to develop people; expect HR to only deny your medical forms -- Teachers, Parental types, Clergy/Shamen have the life calling to help us with the remaining 99.9 precent of life. Even if the company offers a Mentor your denying yourself a larger pool to pick from. There's no tenure in Business so your Mentor could be leaving just as you get in.
University gives the time to build up your metal needed to stick it out with just a few core companies and understand why you have to dedicate time with the people in your teams.
The experience you seek, the development of common experiences, which comes in handy when you have to fall back on old friends is hard to achieve anywhere. It only comes from the bonds forged over time.
That's certainly not what the salary your get from the company is for, salary is for services rendered, work thats been completed + the bare minimum incentive over your competive factors for them to stay. I've had a few young people think I'm paying them to develop their skills -- thats not sound business. Sound business is that I can whore, ahem, contract my companies skills to another entity for a fee that covers operating expense +training+ my profit + expendable materials + % replacement costs of my workers if they choose to leave.

To be a realist in many companies If you leave for your next job, you might get a form letter that won't take the time to bonafie your technical certs gained during your stay there and very little anything else. It seems that the next company is going to have to spend some cash to have their staff research or gamble on a few interviews; thats when the life experience you seek is invaluable.

Life happens, its not about the car you drive; nor the contents of your wallet.
So I guess the moral is most companies have no agents, no coaches, no trainers looking out for raw recruits of H.S. aged workers. I believe this reflects my experience with people who have just intern or H.S. experience; they were expected to show up on time, learn their tasks quickly, do their job correctly with little guidance then go home only to return the next day to do it again. The other company did little else to develop them and for the most part in Capitalistic markets that's expected if not demanded to happen for 80% of your workforce.
Universities take the exact opposite stance; development can be had for the cost your willing to pay.
Guilds, Associations, Unions and Government fills in the remainder and never think their altruistic for one minute.


Advice from a soon to be college graduate.. (1.60 / 10) (#21)
by Sheepdot on Thu May 17, 2001 at 02:19:31 AM EST

You will never have the social skills to make it into an upper management position if you do not attend college. Management follows this scale:


Technical workers, such as all high-school graduates that start working as programmers or techies, will only go so far in the business world that they hit their potential in the Social skill area.

Bluntly put, you will never know how to deal with people, or interact appropriately in particular situations. Occasionally you will know enough, and might possibly be one that gets to go furthur.

Social skill workers often are great at what they do and move up the ladder with their ability to interact and eventually get low-rung upper management conceptual jobs. They oftentimes fail in this area and have no ability to progress furthur. College grads often start at this point in job attainability.

I truly believe I am a person that will excel in all three areas:

Technical: A programmer since age 9. Currently work in a multi-OS (Over 5: Win9x, Win2k/NT, MacOS, Linux, Novell, Two users that will stick with BeOS and OS/2 Warp till the day they die) IT job for a university.

Social: Outstanding debater for high school team. (Master Debater, "say it out loud") Worked telemarketing and hit top-seller list in first week, held for entire 3 months of work. Exceptional lab monitor, received praise in student work on campus for quality help.

Conceptual: Designed a website for a University department, created various Perl scripts that have been used at current job for easing technical support. Implemented a Database and co-implemented a Novell Netware server (architecture for context is a b*ch)

As you can see, my credits for conceptual are less impressive, so therefore I have to work in that area.

I don't want to make this post seem discouraging, but it'd be best that you sit down with all three areas and figure out each so you can work your way up the social ladder quickly and effectively.

You have to believe you are the best. It might seem cocky and selfish, but believe that way. When you get where you want, you can make amends with the folks that no longer think highly of you.

Thanks for the resume (none / 0) (#26)
by farmgeek on Thu May 17, 2001 at 08:23:28 AM EST

don't call us, we'll call you.

You're making the assumption that getting into management is the author's end goal, and given the personalities of most geeks I know (myself included), management is the last place we want to be.

Hell, that was the reason I left my last job. They kept pushing me towards more and more managerial crap. I don't want to herd cats dammit.

Also, putting telemarketing experience on a resume may get you shot during the first interview.

[ Parent ]
Heh. (none / 0) (#30)
by Sheepdot on Thu May 17, 2001 at 10:22:16 AM EST

You're making the assumption...

Also, putting telemarketing experience on a resume may get you shot during the first interview.

And *I'm* the one making assumptions? You make a one sentence statement like it is fact, not opinion. Care to ellaborate?

[ Parent ]

Are you familiar (5.00 / 1) (#32)
by farmgeek on Thu May 17, 2001 at 11:05:21 AM EST

with the definition of the word "may"?

How about the the word "sarcasm"?

Your resume didn't mention that you have no sense of humor. :P

[ Parent ]
hmmm (none / 0) (#41)
by TigerBaer on Sun May 20, 2001 at 11:34:58 AM EST

Sheepdot, it seems to me, and the other 7 people who voted you down to a 1.8... that you are so eager to spit out your credentials.

As for farmgeek's comment, he is making a deserved comment and a deserved crack at your self esteem. I think bragging about perl scripts only further makes you more of a child, and not a real programmer. Talk to me about semaphores boy.

[ Parent ]
I wouldn't put too much stock into what this guy s (none / 0) (#49)
by NDPTAL85 on Thu Jul 26, 2001 at 04:05:24 PM EST

You are making several assumptions. One is that social development doesn't take place until one enters college. Two is that social development cannot happen outside of college. You also assume that corporate environments are all places of vaunted pomp and circumstance.

Social skills are pretty much learned in high school. The cliques, the politics, the popularity contests take place in all stages of life. College or not some people are born with great social/people skills and some never manage to develop them.

If you think you'll get a promotion over someone because you are the best person for the position and the other candidate is only a friend of the boss your wrong. The sad state of applications today is probably due to the social game certain technical people play which places them in positions they have no business being in. They don't actually know how to do their jobs but they do know how to move up the ladder.

I do have to ask, you do seem to have your heart set on a management role so why didn't you just get your MBA instead? They have no problem getting managerial positions in technical fields.

[ Parent ]

Technical skills are not relevant (4.00 / 7) (#22)
by thunderbee on Thu May 17, 2001 at 04:41:30 AM EST

If you know C or Pascal or whatever, you can just learn perl or python. I'm not sure it works the other way around though. However, education is not about learning skills. It's about learning to learn, and learning to think.

I think this point if often missed, mostly by young people. While its is nice to have a tool (knowing a language is a tool), if you don't know how to use it properly, you'll never be more than a push-button slave.

Education is supposed to teach you how to think, how to plan, and how to use your or others skills in order to reach a goal. The means are of little consequence there. I (formally) learned Pascal, then learned C, C++, perl and php on-demand. It's not why people pay me. They pay me because I know how to build a project and bring it to completion on time, using either my or other's skills.

Education vs. Experience (3.50 / 2) (#25)
by Mental Blank on Thu May 17, 2001 at 08:19:44 AM EST

Firstly, let me say that I agree completely with the approach you've taken to combining your career with school (it's very similar to what I did - working for a year before university, then in the summers thereafter). If I were in charge of hiring for a programming role, I would never hire anyone directly out of education, unless they were truly exceptional, as there really is no substitute for professional experience.

I do think that it's very important to finish off your education before going to work full-time, however, but not for the reasons that many of the other posters here have given. The argument that "at university you get taught useful theory that you can't get elsewhere" is a red herring - once you're working, it's a lot easier to pick up abstract concepts by relating them to reality. And how many CS graduates really use their knowledge of the lambda calculus and differential equations on a day-to-day basis?

The real reason why university is great is the social aspect. You may be spending the rest of your life typing code into a computer, so why start straight away? A few years of doing next to no work (at least in the UK system...) and interacting with a wide range of non-techy people improves life no end, and may even change the direction you want to go in. Finally, going to university (at least personally speaking :) is a great boost to your social skills. The company that hires you as a "hot-shot coder" now won't be too happy in three years' time if you've pissed off all your colleagues and can't be trusted to meet with their clients.

Simple: Do both. (4.00 / 2) (#27)
by Surial on Thu May 17, 2001 at 08:48:12 AM EST

I'm currently studying technical informatics (CS, basically) at the Technical University Delft (Dutch university).

At the same time, I'm employed on a 30-hour contract (though I've got an agreement with my boss that as long as I perform the kind of work that would take 30 hours for the average programmer, I'm okay), and I generally drive to the office once a week. (It's about 75km from Delft).

So, I'm currently doing everything:
  • I'm earning a ton of dough.
  • I'm getting some real valuable work experience.
  • I'm studying
  • I still have lots of time left for the social part of life. The cash I'm earning allows me to take shortcuts (ie: taking the car instead of the train. As you might know, fuel is outrageously expensive here, and the train is free for students), which saves me quite a lot of time.
I'm very happy with this situation. You do need to be capable of studying quickly and you have to be a fairly good, because getting a job part-time while still studying is much harder than obtaining full-time jobs.
"is a signature" is a signature.

What college gives you (4.77 / 9) (#28)
by wiredog on Thu May 17, 2001 at 09:11:37 AM EST

First, bravo for going to college. College is not high school. College teaches you how to teach yourself. How to, when reading technical information, separate the real from the BS. How to be a more well-rounded individual. If all you want to be is a coder then don't go to college, go to a tech school. College will load you up with courses in English Lit, Art, History, Personal Finance and Business,and other subjects which have nothing to do with programming, and everything to do with being a well rounded person. The classic Liberal Arts education is primarily based around teaching you how to think. Admittedly, a school such as Georgetown will give you a better education in that area than, say, Southern Utah University (my alma mater).

Yes, if you go to college you may be exposed to useless things (to a coder) like the writings of John Locke, The Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, calculus, physics, Chaucer, and Da Vinci. About a third of my time in college was spent studying fields outside my major and minor (CS and Math). All the programming I learned(C, Pascal, Vax and X86 Assembler,some lisp),I could have picked up in one year at a tech school. As a programmer I spend maybe 1/4 of my work time actually writing code. The rest is spent in research into requirements, finding solutions, testing, gathering data, designing systems, and letting management know what I'm doing. The last requires that you be able to talk to managers in their language.

When you get to college study all the things I've mentioned above. And in Math, study Calculus, Statistics, Set Theory, Linear Algebra, and Boolean Algebra. You'll be surprised at how useful they are to people who write web apps, device drivers, and everything in between.

The idea of a global village is wrong, it's more like a gazillion pub bars.

works for me (3.00 / 2) (#33)
by jjonas on Thu May 17, 2001 at 03:25:46 PM EST

As someone who just turned 20 and has worked in high tech since I was 15, I have to say it's working for me. I went to college straight out of high school like a good brainwashed kid should but left a little after one term. I was wasting money like crazy on classes with like 500 kids in them and felt I could do better. Here I am just a year later making more money then the prof said we'd all get when we graduated with a 5 year engineering degree.

Granted something like this doesn't work for everyone and it is very possible that you'll fall on your face. It's caled risk. I don't mean the .com kind of "risk" I mean personal risk. I don't want to get into an argument I just wanted to say that I'm doing it, having a great time, and no teen should ever blindly go along with going to college just because you think you should.

Such wisdom from a 20-year old!!! (none / 0) (#48)
by golek on Mon Jun 04, 2001 at 02:14:53 PM EST

Here I am just a year later making more money then the prof said we'd all get when we graduated with a 5 year engineering degree.

After you finish patting yourself on the back, think about this: who will be making more money in 5 years? The college drop out with 10 years experience working as a low level drone or the degreed engineer with 5 years experience after graduation? Which do you think is more likely to be entrusted with promotion and greater responsibility by upper management, the vast majority of whom have college degrees?

But hey, I could be wrong. I, unlike most 16-20 year olds, don't know everything.

[ Parent ]

I've Been There and Back (4.50 / 6) (#34)
by copo on Thu May 17, 2001 at 04:19:03 PM EST

First, I think the fact that companies are not only willing but eager to hire high schoolers says a lot about the state of software. Can you imagine if people came straight out of high school and became aerospace engineers? That would be absurd because it would lead to one catastrophe after another; most high schoolers simply do not have the problem solving skills necessary for such an important job. There's no uproar when software companies ask high school students to do essentially the same thing though, yet people wonder why their computers crash so often.

Second, I did essentially the same thing you are doing, and I wanted to offer a few comments about my experiences. When I got the job out of high school, I acquired tunnel-vision. All that was important to me was the job and the money, and so taking a break to go to college made it seem like I'd be missing out on an awful lot. I imagined that by the time my friends graduated, they'd all be referring to me as "Sir". Yeah, I did have money, but that was all I had. I didn't have many friends and even worse, I didn't really know anything.

Without an education, I was stuck where I was; I was a tool. Maybe with hard work I could be head tool, but I knew I wouldn't be able to progress any further than that because I didn't have the qualifications. I decided to go to college because I wanted choices. I wanted to be able to decide for myself what I want to do and how I want to do it.

Since I've been at school, I've learned a lot about the world and a lot about myself. I have learned that the job I was so proud of when I was 18 was a big waste of time. I have learned that in the great scheme of things, coding is of relatively little importance. I have missed out on some money, but I am scared to think what I would have missed out on had I stayed at my job. You made the right choice in deciding to go to school.

Does it make a difference? (3.75 / 4) (#35)
by cafeman on Fri May 18, 2001 at 01:29:08 AM EST

Insert the usual disclaimer, this only applies to me, it's based on my experience, etc.

Maybe it's just me, but it seems that everyone who went to Uni thinks you should go to Uni, and everyone that started working immediately after High School recommends that you should do that. Bias anyone?

Here's my bias. I went to High School, then attended University. I also worked while I was at University. I'm not a guru, I'm not a superman, and I don't claim to be. In my experience though (in general), if you want to do the really sick, high-level hardcore stuff in the business world, you need to go to Uni. You want to be an entrepreneur, you don't have to go to Uni. You want to be a techie, coding all day, you don't need to go to Uni. You want to move beyond coding, you probably need to go to Uni but may be able to get out through sheer effort.

It all comes down to your personal motivation and desire to learn. You don't need to go to Uni to learn. But, Uni will give you social and analytical skills which can be difficult to develop elsewhere. It's also an easy way to be exposed to lots of theory, quite a bit of which you can apply to what you do if you're creative. There's nothing technical I learned at Uni that I couldn't have learned elsewhere. But, I still get value out of some of the non-technical things I've learned.

I think the real impact is when you turn 30 plus. If you're a HS graduate without Uni qualifications and you're not working for yourself at that point, I think you might be in trouble. Of course, it all depends on what you count as success. If you love coding, then you'll probably be happy with where you're going. If you want to do interesting non-coding work but don't want to shoulder the long hours and risk of an entrepreneur, you might struggle to find a firm with enough capital or leverage to let you do what you want that is willing to hire someone without a Uni education. I don't know for sure - it all depends on being in the right place at the right time anyway.

But, it all depends on the individual. Someone who is motivated and a thinker is going to make their own luck and success, regardless of whether they went to Uni or not. Anyone who claims otherwise doesn't know what they're talking about.

The long and the short of it? There's not one answer. You need to do what you feel is right for what you enjoy and for where you go in life. There are no absolutes - going to Uni will not guarantee you a job and it won't guarantee you an education. It may give you more options, but not necessarily more than a motivated High School graduate could get. Short-run advantages don't always lead to long-run gains.

Anyway, that's my opinion.

"No Silicon heaven? But where would all the calculators go?"

fun and money (4.00 / 2) (#36)
by Pink Daisy on Sat May 19, 2001 at 08:52:46 AM EST

Two good reasons to get a degree.

If you get decent experience in school (ie. good summer jobs), by the time you graduate, your experience from before won't be worth anything.
Although I think that what you said about schools offering courses in Perl and Python is very discouraging. New technologies are just so not the point of a degree. If that was all you learned in school, you really could expect that you'd do better without going to school at all.
You're supposed to learn new ways of thinking, and new knowledge that goes beyond what you'll come across in common experience (although hopefully not beyond what you'll use in common experience, if you have it).
I have the advantage of a good school and a lot of focus, so I'm going back for more. Far too many of the jobs I want won't give consideration without more than a bachelor's degree. I think that the willingness to hire ignorant people is due to the newness of the field. I've met people who have no education in computers in high places; they usually started before there was formal education in computers. That's fine for them, but the people rising now need to have an education, and in twenty years there will be lock out of people without any.

Trends towards method in programming (5.00 / 3) (#44)
by pavlos on Sun May 20, 2001 at 10:24:59 PM EST

I believe that, in the next 5-10 years, the abstract patterns that programmers use on a day to day basis will crystallize to the point where people could learn them at university. Currently these concepts are understood in a fragmented way, and badly taught, so that the main way of attaining knowledge is through experience.

The concepts I'm thinking of are not specific syntactic or sematic units of particular languages such as switch() statements or virtual destructors. Rather, they are the set of abstractions the language provides, and which has changed remarkably little in the past 20 years. The main abstractions provided by (imperative) programming languages are:

  • Typing.
  • Blocks and control flow.
  • Arrays, structures, and references.
  • Functions, argument passing and return.
  • Heap memory. Manual, reference counted, garbage collected.
  • Interfaces. OO programming, dynamic binding.
  • Concurrency. Threads, coroutines.
  • Event models.
  • Exceptions and assertions.
  • Code organization. Modules, classes, packages.

    Once you manage to get an overview of the possibilities in each of these areas, you can grasp a new language extremely quickly. For example, the paper defining the Sather programming language starts:

    Sather has parameterized classes, object-oriented dispatch, statically-checked strong (contravariant) typing, separate implementation and type inheritance, multiple inheritance, garbage collection, iteration abstraction, higher-order routines and iters, exception handling, assertions, preconditions, postconditions, and class invariants.
    If you learn what these are, and how they fit into the categories described above, you will be able to program usefully in that language in days. If you don't, certain concepts will look new and strange, and it will be hard to see the big picture. A similar situation exists with component technologies, such as COM, CORBA, and JavaBeans. They all address the same space of problems:

  • An Application Binary Interface (ABI).
  • Locating and activating services.
  • Remote procedure call.
  • Version control.
  • Security.

    Here too, it pays to learn what the total set of problems and known solutions is before you set down to work with a particular one of these systems. If I want to evaluate the likely difficulty converting a C++ architecture to COM, for example, I want to know the approach COM takes to each of these questions, not the syntax of Microsoft IDL.

    I don't know which type of education is best to teach you the big picture. I found university helped, but could have done a better job. I picked up the rest about 1-2 years later. But whatever route you take, learn it. Otherwise, in 10 years time you may end up with an outdated and narrow set of skills.

    When it comes to hiring software developers, I hardly notice what the CV says about university education. I pick out CVs that are clear and show depth (not detail) of knowledge. At the interview, I look for problem solving skills and an understanding of the big picture described above. It is extremely hard to fake either of those, so it doesn't matter where you learn. It matters what you know.


  • What are you on? (4.75 / 4) (#45)
    by tchaika on Mon May 21, 2001 at 09:50:26 AM EST

    College is full of 18 year old coeds. Would you rather be in a cube farm staring at a programmer's editor all day? You have the rest of your life for that. If you need any more help with that decision, it's already too late for you. Anyway, if you don't go to college, you miss out on a great opportunity to expand your cognitive abilities and generally develop yourself, which is likely to hold you back from becoming elite in whatever you end up doing.

    A new way of entering the Industry | 51 comments (50 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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