January 4, 2008

Preparing students for jobs

With all the book list posting in December, the drafts of "real posts" have been piling up quite a bit. So, it's time to do a bit of catch up!

Preparing Students for Jobs by Michael Mitzenmacher at My Biased Coin starts a really interesting discuss about how a CS education works as a job strategy. He asks CS students to comment based on the following question:

Please tell me, in your experience, did your education prepare you for your life after in the real world. (For current students, you can comment on how you feel your education is preparing you.)

Twenty-five responses so far, mostly pretty revealing, coming down on both sides of the practical vs. theoretical. One example:
While in university I was constantly made to believe by professors and colleagues that to get the really good jobs you only need to be smart, and specific skills don't matter because you can learn them on the job. The atmosphere was that you don't want the job if they have the nerve to ask you about programming in the interview (because you are supposedly too good to be asked about programming skills).

This is BS. For the best jobs you are competing with people who are just as smart and know how to program. And, if you are not a very good computer scientist (in the practical sense), they might as well hire a physicist or a mathematician (who actually *know* math).

Your employer will give you time to learn what is specific to the company or the job, not to fill the gaps in your basic education.

Of course, that's an eternal struggle in any academic program, balancing teaching students to "think like a computer scientist" (or librarian or whatever) versus teaching them some of the practical skills that will help them get their first job. Thinking back to my own final semester at McGill, I recall taking two courses, one on Business Reference Sources, one on Personnel Management and combining those with a full course Practicum placement at the McGill Physical Sciences & Engineering Library and a reading course with Dr. Andrew Large on Digital Libraries. I still have the DL paper I wrote kicking around somewhere. I should brush it off and see if it still makes any sense. (Note: the McGill PSEL is now the Schulich Library of Science and Engineering)

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