24 July 2010

Over-Educated, Yet Under-Qualified?

     I know this blog is attempting to treat subjects related to data and databases, though the database developers, same as other type of developers and other professionals, and the various aspects of their professional life are part of the landscape too. Alfred Thompson, in his post “Over-Educated, Yet Under-Qualified?”, approaches quite an important topic for many graduates, but especially the ones working in IT – even if they graduated an university, they are considered as unqualified for a profession. There are various aspects about the road an IT professional has to cover from the banks of school to the professional life, here are my thoughts on the topic as posted as comment to A. Thompson’s post:

   In schools the accent is on theory and algorithms, the small projects target the learning of a technology, their complexity and difficulties involved being quite small when compared with real life applications. Taking an application from design to production and later during support phase requires time and the mix of knowledge from different fields, thing quite difficult to do in a school project, while the structural context in an organization, the requirements and work in a team, is again quite different. Going above the basic features of a programming language takes time, it depends on the learning curve of the programming language and the capacity of the learner, on the complexity of the tasks approached and on the knowledge (made) available. I can’t say that schools can do much in this direction because it’s quite difficult to cover all the aspects in just 8-20 classes, in which the students are introduced into the concepts and some basic applications. What the schools could do in order to support their students is to provide the required infrastructure (mainly computers), bring the technologies and learning material up to date, direct gradually the focus from theory to applicability, and eventually support users getting some additional experience in organizations. It’s in students’ attribution to make most of the learning experience in schools, though often even if the want, need and infrastructure is there, fighting with the lack of time is quite hard.

    One of the tough realities in IT is that it takes time to link the dots, and as you already highlighted, it takes about a year before a college/university graduate to become really productive. Now I have to say that this depends also on the organization’s culture/environment, on how it supports the learning process, how it helps the new comer to become part of the team and become productive. I’m saying that because I’ve seen companies doing minimum in this direction, just expecting the new comer to catch everything on the fly and be productive in a matter of weeks. Those working in IT for a longer time know that is not entirely possible, though there are also some exceptions. There are also organizations that train the new comers, introduce them into tasks evolving in complexity based on each person’s skills, provide resources (software tools, books, courses and other type of learning material) and an environment that facilitates learning. Having time allocated for learning new things, participating in activities that allow the distribution of knowledge within a team, having professionals whom you could ask questions or who could mentor you through the learning process, I consider all these as being essential for a modern IT organization.

   The theory learned in schools need to be supported by hand-on experience in order to make most of the learning process, IT organizations are maybe the best places to do that, though I’m not sure how much that is possible. There are schools, organizations and governments that support this type of learning, though, unfortunately is not everywhere possible to do that or at least not for everybody. I think it’s in everybody’s interest to make most of the learning process, for schools to have highly skilled graduates, for organizations to have productive employees, a pool of college graduates resources from where they could select potential employees, for students to be skilled, and thus have higher chances of finding a job, while for governments this could lead in theory to a smaller unemployment rate. I find important the constructive involvement of all parties; now, I wonder how many schools, organizations or governments are trying to do something, change something into this direction.

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