Monday, August 28, 2000

Developer Career Tip #0012---Is your College offering the right kinds of courses?

Developer Career Tips #0012

Is your College offering the right kinds of courses?

Recently I received an email from an IT recruiter that was pretty troubling. In it, he decried the lack of real programming experience that college graduates with degrees in Computer Science or related disciplines possess.

About the same time, I was speaking to a friend of mine whose daughter was about to graduate from a well regarded university with a degree in Computer Science, and who had just returned from a trip to visit the Dean of Computer Science at his daughter's university.

During the visit, my friend had expressed strong concern that the Computer Science curriculum at his daughter's university was not adequately preparing her, and other graduates, for the 'real world'. In fact, my friend, who happens to be the Vice President of IT for his company, told the dean that he would have a hard time hiring his own daughter for an entry level position at his company. Why?

First, while his daughter could probably build a microprocessor from scratch, and program in languages such as Fortran, C and C++, the university she attended was slow in developing courses covering the latest and greatest in programming languages and development tools. For instance, Visual Basic, ASP and Java were recent additions to the curriculum, and hard to believe, they were only electives. Incredibly, his daughter hadn't taken courses in any of these hot technologies.

Secondly, due to scheduling requirements at the university, she had completed the Computer Science requirements for her degree in the first two and half years of her college career---as a result, her last programming class had been 18 months prior to graduation, and she had spent the last year and a half of her college career fulfilling general education requirements and electives, not honing her skills with computer related courses. In other words, her IT skills were pretty stale.

What was the Dean's reaction? She apologized for the university's slow introduction of new technologies into the curriculum--and promised to do better in the future. And she promised to look into the scheduling logjam in the Department that would encourage students to complete their Computer Science requirements so early before graduation.

In summary, if you or someone you know is pursuing a computer related degree at a college or university---do some investigative work to ensure the college is quick to react to new technologies, and 'time' your pursuit of these courses as close as possible to graduation.

Tuesday, August 22, 2000

How to set up a Swiss Bank Account

How do I set up a Swiss Bank Account?

Hmmm, an interesting question. My research team reports that this web site

will help you set up a Swiss Bank Account.However, you'll find that residents of the USA, Nigeria, and Columbia will be denied a bank account by most Swiss Banks.

Monday, August 21, 2000

Developer Career Tip #0011---Skills Assessment on your Resume

Developer Career Tips #0011

Skills Assessment on your Resume

During the last few years, I've had the opportunity to counsel students concerning their resumes. One mistake that I find they make on their resumes (especially those students who don't have a strong paid work background) is that invariably they fail to include every skill they possess on their resume.

For instance, a few weeks ago a student who had just completed my Introductory Java class asked me to look over her resume. I read it over twice, and she obviously sensed something was wrong.

"There's no mention of your Java skills," I pointed out.

She explained to me that she didn't feel it appropriate to include a mention of a skill that consisted only of classroom learning (this in spite of the fact that she was head and shoulders the best student in the class).

I disagreed, pointing out that the mention of any skill on a resume, even a skill that hadn't been fully 'tested' in the workplace, is something that a prospective employer should know about. Let the prospective employer make the decision as to how much weight to place in a 40 hour Java class---who knows, perhaps they have a critical Java need to fill, and your 40 hours is 40 more than anyone else they have right now.

Of course, it's also important not to overstate your skills---classroom skills are not the same as skills learned on the job, and that's why I advise my students to prepare a Skills Assessment Grid as the last page of their resume. With a series of rows and 5 columns, list every computer related skill you possess, and rate it with a grade of between 1 and 5 like this:

1--Classroom/Self Learning
2--Less than 1 year of work-related experience
3--1 to 2 years of work-related experience
4--2 or more years of work-related experience
5--Expert. Possess Certification or have taught the subject matter

You'd be amazed at how quickly a recruiter can 'eyeball' this Skills Assessment Grid, and see exactly what skills you possess. More importantly, it gives you a chance to mention every skill you have---even if they were not necessarily picked up in the workplace.

Monday, August 14, 2000

Developer Career Tip #0010---Work for free?

Developer Career Tips #0010

Work for free?

Lacking in programming experience, and can’t get your foot in the door? Why not take the tact that one of my students recently used---work for free.

Yes, you are reading this correctly. Work for free!

I had been mentoring a Visual Basic student of mine for some time, and when she told me she was going to a job interview that morning, I wished her luck and crossed my fingers. Although a top notch “student” programmer, she had NO real world work experience, and I knew from the sounds of the potential employer (a small VB consulting firm) that she would be expected to hit the ground running on day 1.
In short, I judged her chances of landing a job with them very remote.

You can imagine my surprise when I received a call from her that afternoon and she told me she was starting work Monday morning.

“Well sort of,” she said. “I’ll be working for free for 90 days.”

She explained that to me that it was obvious the interviewer was looking for someone with some experience, and that out of blue, she had offered to work a probationary period of 90 days---to show up for work each and every day as if she was a regular employee---work on some Visual Basic projects, and at the end of 90 days her work would be evaluated, and she would either be hired as a regular employee or told that her ‘volunteer’ services were no longer required. After some consultation with her prospective team members, the interviewer had accepted her offer.

At first I didn’t know what to think, but in giving it some thought, I realized that her situation wasn’t much different than that of the Co-op students from my university who work for my consulting firm for a semester. They receive no pay from me---but in exchange, they received valuable experience plus 3 college credits, and I’m delighted to get highly energetic, anxious to learn ‘employees’ for a few months.

Am I proposing that you offer to work for nothing for a potential employer? Well, it’s a novel approach, and it wouldn’t hurt to ask. I’m very curious what some employers would think of the offer.

And what of my student? What happened at the end of her 90 day period?

It just so happens that her 90 days was up today—about an hour ago I received an excited email from her. She starts work on Monday—this time as a paid employee!

Monday, August 7, 2000

Developer Career Tip #0009---Sorry, no experience, we can't hire you (well, maybe not…)

Developer Career Tips #0009

Sorry, no experience, we can't hire you (well, maybe not…)

I get a lot of emails from students and readers of my books lamenting the fact that so many employers are reluctant to hire a prospective programmer without any real world experience. All they're really asking for is a chance to prove their worth.

One them of my articles to date has been how to get your foot in the door---we've talked about the importance of taking and passing the Visual Basic Desktop Examination to get the attention of job recruiters. In a past article, I discussed volunteering your programming services to gain some experience that you can quite rightfully place on your resume.

During the last year, several people have brought to my attention a company which seems to bridge the experience gap, and I think the company merits mention here.

SetFocus, with headquarters in Parsippany, New Jersey, about 45 miles outside of Manhattan, advertises that they will provide you with a 13 week intensive Visual Basic training program---in exchange, you agree to work for them for the next 9 months as a paid consultant. That's right--a PAID consultant. Sounds like a great deal, doesn't it?

If you check out their website

you'll see that although SetFocus prefers candidates with prior programming experience, this experience can be in the form of self-study--in other words, if the totality of your Visual Basic experience is from books, SetFocus will seriously consider you for acceptance into their program.

SetFocus claims that only one out of every fifty applicants is accepted into the program--and if accepted, you will need to relocate to Parsippany (or thereabouts) for your training period and consulting assignment. But if you are looking to break into the highly lucrative field of Visual Basic programming, this could the opportunity for you.

And now a word of caution.

I don't know anyone who has gone through the SetFocus training program, and I have not spoken personally with anyone from the company.

Not surprisingly, the SetFocus web site is full of glowing recommendations and press reviews. However, as with any other major life decision, do your research, ask for references---both current and past students of SetFocus, and employers who have used their consulting services--before packing your bags.