Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Getting Ourselves in Sync

A couple of days ago eWeek.com put up an interesting piece titled Programming Grads Meet a Skills Gap in the Real World. Here's a summary quote from the piece written by Darryl K. Taft:

"In short, many people on both sides of the equation—teachers as well as potential employers—say the educational system is not doing enough to keep pace with the ever-changing needs of IT, and that entering the work force often is as much of an educational experience as is college, particularly for programmers".

Ari Zilka, chief technology officer at Terracotta, in San Francisco, is also quoted in the piece, saying he understands the skills gap after having worked his way in the high-tech industry, while attending the University of California, Berkeley. According to Zilka:

"I found that UC Berkeley had an excellent curriculum but not only was my schooling lagging behind work, it became very hard to even go to school because work had me learning the concepts and their applicability and nuances that teachers didn't even seem to know."

The eWeek piece goes on:

"Zilka noted that many of the new hires he's seen during his career continue to echo the same sentiments as he did".

"Some of the things the school didn't teach Zilka and many who are now entering the work force include issues around communication, development skills, and business and product design.

On the communication front, Zilka said, "Presentation skills are critical, and selling and influencing peers is critical."

"Some of the development skills that schools might emphasize more include design patterns, coding style and practices, scalability and performance tuning, and a focus on the entire software development lifecycle, Zilka said. He noted that things like quality assurance, unit testing, and stage and release are not usually taught".

The piece continues with more comments on the skills gap from faculty at Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon and Monroe College. Most are in agreement and generally comment that programs are changing to close the gap.

Chris Stephenson, executive director of the Computer Science Teachers Association, in New York, has an excellent quote:

".....but what is really exciting is that I have seen more and more educators (both at the K-12 level and the university level) willing to make these skills part of their curriculum."

Stephenson goes on, believing that subjects like Computer Science should no longer be taught as an "isolated discipline":

"There is little effort made to address issues such as effective team work, project planning and time management, and conflict resolution let alone helping students gain the cultural competencies and effective communication skills that are the key to success in a global economy,"

"Also, not enough effort has been made to show students how computing connects to problem solving in the real world,"

"The good news, however, is that an increasing number of educators are building these skills into the classroom experience. Teachers now have students work in teams on real world projects where the failure to plan together, work together, and communicate effectively are a big part of the evaluation that the students receive."

I'll finish the quotes with one that I feel really hits the need/gap on the head from Rawn Shah, IBM developerWorks Community Programs Manager:

"....software development is becoming much more of a group activity, and there is a lot of sophistication to that in the industry that isn't being replicated in a smaller closed environment like a college," Shah said. "Very often, they simply can't because of the time limitations of the semester-based programs."

If you are an academic - are your students working in teams? Can they communicate effectively with their teams? Are they learning relevant information? Are they ready when they graduate for work? Are there things that you are teaching that are out of date? Are there other courses in your curriculum that could be replaced with more relevant ones? How often do you make revisions to your curriculum? How do you know what you should be teaching?

If you are a business person - how can you help? What can you do to make a difference - to assure graduates you are hiring are properly prepared?

We ask ourselves these kinds of questions daily at our National Science Foundation funded National Center for Telecommunications Technologies - if you would like to learn more feel free to drop me an email at gsnyder@stcc.edu

Read Show Notes and listen to Mike Q and my latest Podcast titled Enterprise 2.0 linked here.
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