Problem of IT Universities

March 7, 2010 § Leave a comment


IT Companies all over the world face the same problem when it comes to recruiting new programmers, THEY ARE NOT EASY TO FIND! every year many programmers, computer engineers, and software developers graduate from universities, but where are they? where are the good ones? why some of them are amazing in programming, while others can’t reverse an array of characters?

The problem is that graduate programmers doesn’t work out of the box (they are not plug and work), they don’t have the needed expertise or knowledge to do what they are supposed to do (write nice working code), in the same time companies need people who can program, they don’t have time to teach them everything (they already studied 5 years, isn’t that enough?) These conditions make a programmer’s working path start with some kind of internship, software testing, more testing, new job, another new job, yet another job, and finally after 2 or 3 years they reach the point of doing what they are supposed to do, WRITE CODE. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are some graduates that could work in companies even before graduating, but these are a minority, and they don’t have anything to do with this post.

Yesterday I was arguing with a college about this problem, and we concluded that the problem is: The absence of a long term software project (and not a single course project), that starts from ground up to acceptance tests and maintenance.

A typical university course (e.g. graphics design) would last 4 months, with a project assignment (e.g. a painter) to deliver at the end of the semester, 95% of students will deliver broken projects that doesn’t work as they should, they get a bad mark, and thats it!, the project is closed and a new one is opened for the next course (object oriented programming). In this way students doesn’t learn how to build a good software architecture, refactor their code, track bugs and adjust them. They don’t feel the PAIN of bad software projects.

If I where a man of power I would force all IT universities to follow this plan, along with their already established plans, I don’t care if students doesn’t have time, they are students and they have only one job STUDY STUDY STUDY, the more you study now the faster you will find your chair in the market, here is the plan:

After learning the basic programming language ( ANSI C or Java ) which should be the first or second semester, students are presented a group of projects to choose from, these are long term projects that will span 3 semesters (1.5 years), students working in a team, shall deliver a piece of software. In this manner students will learn stuff about team working, software engineering, they will be assigned tasks to do, there will be schedules to respect, unit tests, usability tests, meetings … etc. and the nice thing, they will have to deliver something that WORKS.

After delivering the project, students role change, they will become project engineers (PE), with more responsibilities and more experience in their field (the project they worked for 1.5 years). They will be asked to re-start the same problem they solved as a team, but this time they will lead their own team of freshmen students, and they will be working on the project on all sides, requirements, architecture, design, creating schedules, assigning tasks to other students, specifying the architecture of the project, reviewing code etc.

This way students will work on a software project for almost 2.5 – 4 years depending on how much their studies last, which will allow them to see, and practice the same stuff they are going to do after graduation, which will make them mid-experienced programmers right after university, and for sure more demanded from companies, and somehow save at least two years of their life.

This was an idea we got while talking, its an abstract solution for a big problem, but it sounds great to me, if students could learn many real world problems during their university studies such as:

  1. Software versioning SVN or CVS.
  2. Working as a team.
  3. Working on timed tasks, (you have to code this module in one week).
  4. Tracking bugs and adjusting them.
  5. Refactoring code.
  6. Software testing.
  7. Deliver working programs.
  8. Leading a software development team.
  9. Writing requirements and technical specifications.
  10. Working on a long term project, and not a 4 months project.
  11. Deliver something that actually works, and being responsible of it.

Some companies already have their work arounds for this problem, for example Joel Spolsky founder of Fog Creek, offers internships for good university students, so he can prepare them to work for his company, they will work on his projects, learn his tools, and follow the path he is planning for them, so once they graduate THEY ARE READY to work in his company, and profit starts from day 0.

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