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What Skills Should Undergrads Have? 587

Posted by timothy
from the seduction-is-a-good-one dept.
kramed8 writes "As a student myself, after reading the recent 'Slam' article on Java I really began to be concerned with the path of my education. I am currently attending a small Canadian University as a 3rd year Computer Science and Business student set to graduate next year. What seems to have troubled me from reading the article and user comments is that I do not feel as confident as I want to be in C, ASM and other related low-level programming topics. I was taught C++ in my introductory courses, with subsequent classes using C# or Java. My education has not been particularly difficult or time consuming to get good grades, so I have spent my free time dabbling in topics and languages that interest me (ie Multiple GUI Toolkits, Python, Linux). How can I spend my free time in the next year to prepare to enter the work place with a proper toolbox of skills? From what I have been told, there are more jobs for Java and Data Warehouse development teams compared to lower-level programmers. As an undergrad, what skills should I be trying to attain now to further my employability in the future?"
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What Skills Should Undergrads Have?

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  • by Njoyda Sauce (211180) <jnjpepper@AAAhot ... inus threevowels> on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:20PM (#21972410)
    Parties and Women right? Oh.. forgot this was /.
    • You should be good (Score:4, Informative)

      by tritonman (998572) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @04:15PM (#21973558)
      The important thing is that you have learned programming initially or at the very least, been taught the fundamentals of some language like C or C++ which will let you understand how things like memory allocation works and how pointers work. If you understand those concepts you will be good. You don't need to be proficient in ASM, but understanding the concepts is important, you should learn that type of thing in an Operating Systems structure class though. Once you have learned the fundamentals of C or C++, I would say to do everything else in an easier language like java or C#, because you shouldn't spend your time focusing on your memory allocation and such when you are just trying to understand the structure of a redblack tree.
      • by lgw (121541) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @04:37PM (#21973994) Journal
        If you want to do "infrastructure" programming, such as OS development, language development, clustering, virtualization, storage, etc, it's vital that you learn C and C++, and have a firm understaning of pointers and recursion, data strustures and algorithms. In my experience most jobs in this broad area are still done in-house. Your job will be particularly uninteresting to a non-geek, but pay well. If your problem domain is the computer itself, you had better understand every layer you work with down to assembly.

        If you want to do "business" programming: inventory, payroll, CRM, SCM, vertical apps in a variety of fields, than by all means learn Java. But it's your business skills that will make you stand out, and as these jobs are largely outsourced, you very much need the people skills to work as a consultant, or manage consultants. If your problem domain is business operations, you had better understand how a business operates.

        If you want to do "embedded" or "realtime" programming, again the low-level details are important, but I caution you that these jobs pay significantly less than infrastructure jobs (despite often being harder). Also, non-realtime embedded programming is shrinking as a field, as the cost of hardware needed to run a full Linux or BSD OS install goes down every year. The world will always need realtime programmers, however.

        If you want to do "games" programming, I have no idea what skills you'll need, but you'll be paid crap and worked until you burn out and quit the industry, so do you *really* want to write games?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by JavaRob (28971)

          If you want to do "infrastructure" programming, such as OS development, language development, clustering, virtualization, storage, etc, [...]. In my experience most jobs in this broad area are still done in-house.

          Wait... isn't this exactly the stuff that most companies do *not* do in-house ("Hey, boss -- I'm thinking we should design a new programming language and OS for this next project")? Only companies like Google do any of this kind of stuff in-house.

          But excellent points overall... there are very different niches available, and it's a waste of effort to try to prepare yourself for all of them. Get some exposure to the gamut, then narrow down and get some experience *at depth* if at all possible -- i.e., work

        • People Skills (Score:4, Insightful)

          by kramer2718 (598033) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @04:28AM (#21981166) Homepage
          1) Learn how to manage conflicts. They are guaranteed to come up. 2) Communicate technical ideas well to non-technical people. Will your manager understand the technical details of your job? What about his manager? 3) Lean to present well. What better way to impress many people at once? 4) General Problem Solving Skills. A competent technical interviewer is likely to test you on this and be more interested in your performance than he is in you remembering the exact syntax in some language or some details of some library (although you should know those things to some degree). 5) Be generally eloquent and friendly The social aspects of work are often ignored
      • by LithiumX (717017) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @05:01PM (#21974390)
        I'll wholeheartedly second everything Tritonman says here. You don't have to become a low-level master to be a good programmer, but a basic working knowledge of C and C++ is the key to understanding the majority of languages you'll face later (including ones that do not yet exist). Assembly teaches you why software is laid out the way it is, as that's what all compilers must eventually boil down to in one way or another. You don't need to be able to compose a serious tool in Assembly - you don't even have to know how to write anything useful in it. However, knowing the basics will give you a more solid framework for all later programming skills you tackle.

        However, here is another piece of advice. You'll hear many advising you to maintain a wide array of general skills, and they're absolutely right. On the other hand, I've been a programmer for about a decade, as well as an administrator (win and unix), graphic artist, management, and a wide array of other job descriptions - each of which I am well above average in, but none of which I specialize in (though my resume paints me as primarily a programmer). I'm well versed in more languages than anyone I know (including assembly language for four different chipsets), and I'm at least somewhat experienced in an even greater number. I'm able to easily install, configure, troubleshoot, and often hack many different operating systems. I'm also known at my job for being able to pick up almost any skill quickly, as-needed (such as studying for a CCNA, my most recent hobby) - I'm the resident fix-it-all here, especially when the task requires knowledge that none of us have at the time, or would normally require experts from a number of different areas. I have a range of experience that, in my line of work, is more comparable to the 50-something old-school techies that are inevitably found in this industry, than it is to my peers (who are in their late 20's and early 30's, have some range, but are usually unfamiliar with subjects outside their specific skill set).

        I'm not bragging though, and here's why.

        For all my wide range of skills, I've found I have been valued less in the corporate world than those more limited specialists. True, I can complete projects that normally take a whole team to do - and often faster. True, I've shown time and time again that I can find solutions and create software that even our better-paid experts haven't been able to seriously attempt. That doesn't matter, though, because as an accomplished generalist at a (large and growing company) I've found myself sidelined over and over, forced into a job of very limited scope that is filled with specialists (in ASP.Net in this case) who I now have to compete with (in the one area I was always weakest at - web design). I've had the empty pleasure of seeing my old tasks pulled away, one by one, so they can be moved into specialist departments (with the end result apparently being the same quality of work, but requiring a much larger work force). This wasn't due to overload (I can automate almost anyone out of a job) or poor work on my part, but simply a matter of corporate architecture. All of these skills I have, all of these years of experience, are now going utterly to waste, not because I have an inflated ego and believe myself to good for my present task, but because all I can do now is advise others on how to do the jobs I used to do, while I perform a now-monotonous role where quantity of output is the only way you're judged. That sort of thing, though, doesn't attract much attention or pay. If only I'd spent more time on one of those many subjects, mastering it more completely, because total mastery over one subject is eventually more useful than significant proficiency in many subjects.

        The long and short of it is... expand your horizons. Learn new skills, and maintain the habit of studying, even long after you're out of school. Grow and adapt, and become at least marginally familiar with as many areas of technology as possible, because th
        • by kalidasa (577403) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @05:55PM (#21975326) Journal
          Very well said. For a bit more academic piece of advice: get all the math you can handle.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Kiaser Zohsay (20134)

          a basic working knowledge of C and C++ is the key to understanding the majority of languages you'll face later (including ones that do not yet exist).
          The best skill you can have in any tech industry is the ability to acquire new skills.
        • Try going from C++ to Ruby or JavaScript. Possible, but there's a lot of things that it will take a long time to wrap your head around. (Closures being a simple example...)

          But for a real challenge, try going to Erlang, Haskell, or Lisp. Of those, Haskell is probably going to be the weirdest, but I don't have a truly thorough understanding of Lisp yet.
    • by Mike Buddha (10734) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @05:13PM (#21974592)
      You meant LAN parties, right?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cayenne8 (626475)
      "Parties and Women right? Oh.. forgot this was /."

      Actually...this isn't a bad idea. One skill you need (if you're a guy) is HOW to get laid.

      If you're good at talking up women, and can get laid a decent're not gonna be tempted to get married by the first girl that lays you. You won't be tempted to get married too soon right out of school.

      If you don't do can concentrate on your career early. You can enjoy some of that money that is coming in (and hopefully saving and investing some of

  • by TechForensics (944258) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:21PM (#21972414) Homepage Journal
    People skills should not be overlooked. It is important you be able to get people to like you.
    • by keenada (1018094) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:31PM (#21972612) Homepage
      No, it is important to be able to get along with people. Being liked by people isn't necessarily a good thing to pursue, because people will detect that you're trying. It's a fact of human nature. Trying to be liked is seen (for better or worse) as manipulative. In my opinion, as a Canadian post-secondary grad working in IT for three years, your biggest asset will be your ability to reconcile your people skills and your technical skills. A lot of Information Technology work in Canada is basically massive companies saying "We want to understand this objective, or corner this market, and we want to do it using modern tools." That's a pretty big problem set, and is going to require both a lot of analytical problem-solving, and a lot of communication. Whether you focus more on the technical or on the people aspects, never lose your ability to work in either.
    • A developer that can sit down and talk to a prospective client about their business needs is going to provide a lot more value to their employer in most cases than one who needs someone else to build up the requirements set. I know some very gifted developers who have learned how to really talk to clients, and the pay difference is amazing. We're talking like they're getting paid salaries that'd make you think the dotcom bubble never burst. Why? They're one employee who can do the work of a developer and a
      • by inKubus (199753) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @05:25PM (#21974804) Homepage Journal
        You're talking about Software Engineering [], "the application of a systematic, disciplined, quantifiable approach to the development, operation, and maintenance of software".

        Knowing languages is good. Theory is good also. But to make a working product you need much much more. From the inital vision, to project planning, choosing the appropriate tools (language, platform, etc.), and matching features to business process requirements, you have a lot of work ahead of you. Of course, actually writing the code is a challenge in itself, but in a lot of small- to mid-sized businesses, the "developer" is also the project manager, the analyst, the senior developer and the IT manager all at once. Careerwise you CANNOT go wrong having at least rudmentary (such as Quick Kill) and probably at least a familiarity with development methodolgies. There is no one leader, agile was big for a while but it was too cult-like.. There's a million of them, you have to match the right one to the job. People who do this are software engineers.

        Wow, you know a language. Most working coders know 10. It's applying that knowledge to make or maintain software that gets you a job.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rucs_hack (784150)
      I spent every free evening I had as an undergraduate working till late at night teaching myself the subjects we were learning, and spent every reading week studying. To the extent that a lecturer who caught me in the otherwise empty lab at night told me to get out and get drunk like a normal student.

      Social life is important, yes, but after a year of this I was so far ahead of my fellow students that while the course was really hurting for them, I was having the time of my life, and I ended up actually teach
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Run4yourlives (716310)
        You are only in your 20's once. Keep in mind that if you're still in school you're not really in a position to evaluate the choices you've made.

        Make sure that when you are (say, in your 40's at least) you can still evaluate them in the same way you're doing now.

        I would talk to those in their 40-50's to get an idea of what you may think when you are that age.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by evilmousse (798341)

      indeed. so he should get a bunch of cats, and practice herding.
  • by Safety Cap (253500) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:21PM (#21972428) Homepage Journal
    Then read "The Pragmatic Programmer," especially "GOALS" on pages 14-15.

    Other than that, the only skills you need are

    1. The willingness to admit you don't know jack, and
    2. The desire and commitment to learn.

    The hard part: once you learn a thing or three, you need to go back and do #1 and 2 again. Forever.

    • The willingness to admit you don't know jack


    • by sm62704 (957197) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:45PM (#21972938) Journal
      The hard part: once you learn a thing or three, you need to go back and do #1 and 2 again. Forever

      A fellow named Dennis Ringering, one of my undergrad instructors, was heard more than once telling some knowitall punk "I've already forgotten more than you've ever learned".
    • by Stripe7 (571267) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:52PM (#21973112)
      Problem solving skills, generally knowledge is not the issue. What you do not know you can find out, on the job it is mostly fix problems that crop up. Whether it be with people or machines or software.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Volunteer, Get involved in 'hands on' classes. Volunteer with FIRST (If canada has it) or at other local high schools teaching kids something. Or take a course where the result isn't just a grade. I took a grad level course my senior year to help get me more knowledgeable with robots. I was asked more questions about how my robot worked on interviews than "Oh I see you know 50 programming languages."

      College doesn't teach you everything you need to know in the workplace. I'm a Mechanical engineer and I work
  • Repeat after me... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by east coast (590680) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:21PM (#21972430)
    Practice saying "Would you like fries with that"

    I wish you the best of luck but unfortunately you're going to see a lot of really good answers and they're all going to be right. Personally I would do whatever I like to do but become more robust with it. Knowing six languages on a beginners level isn't as good as knowing one ot two in-depth.
    • by ari_j (90255) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:29PM (#21972592)
      Better yet, learn at least three vastly different languages at at least a high intermediate level, or even master them. When you are confronted with a problem and immediately see its solution in, say, C++, Lisp, and Ruby, you will be able to quickly choose the right tool for the job (where "tool" could mean "closures" or "objects" just as easily as it could mean "Lisp" or "C++"). Even if you don't have that tool available to you (if your employer requires you to use Java, for instance), you will still be able to solve the problem faster and more elegantly.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by TheRaven64 (641858)
        These are the six programming languages I think everyone should know. [] If you have more time after that then learn FORTH (or PostScript if you want a real challenge and like pretty pictures) for a good example of a stack-based language. I'd also consider adding Self, Io or JavaScript (or NewtonScript if you can find a machine that runs it) to that list. You can do prototype-based OO in Smalltalk but it's not nearly as easy as doing it in a language designed for it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Deanalator (806515)
      Of course it totally depends on what you want to be doing. I got my undergrad last December, and have been working on as a security engineer since last may. At school we did data structures in c++, operating systems in c, and compilers in java. I am sure that gave me a pretty solid base, but it is not how I got my job (I never let my schooling interfere with my education). I have one of the few jobs where knowing a ridiculous amount of languages is actually useful. For me, knowing how to calculate data
  • by Dragonshed (206590) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:23PM (#21972450)
    You will likely get both good and bad opinions in response to this question here on slashdot, but my best advice would be to ask this question of employers that you might be interested in working for.
    • by StaticEngine (135635) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:33PM (#21972672) Homepage

      One of the best things I did was to shotgun a few letters to prospective employers telling them how highly I thought of their company, and asking what I should focus on if I wanted to be hired there. The vast majority of them sent me back a "we'll keep your resume on file" letters (when I had not in fact sent a resume, but it was still good to know how impersonal these companies were, and learn that I probably didn't want to work there), but one CG Effects company in particular wrote a three page letter back stressing certain coursework and areas of expertise that I should focus on. While I never wound up applying to that company due to other circumstance, it was very valuable to hear from industry professionals, and get an informed opinion.

      I suspect this type of answer to your question would be much more valuable than a random smattering from the /. peanut gallery, although you probably wouldn't get to be amused by someone writing back that they're allergic to peanuts, and that I'm an insensitive clod.

      Good luck!
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        I'm allergic to insensitive clods you peanut!

        No, wait...
      • by snowwrestler (896305) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @04:17PM (#21973590)

        One of the best things I did was to shotgun a few letters to prospective employers telling them how highly I thought of their company, and asking what I should focus on if I wanted to be hired there.
        The letter approach is not a bad one, but I think you can learn more in person. Try finding some folks who work in the field in which you'd like to work, and take them to lunch and pick their brain. This is often called an "information interview"--you stress up front that you're not looking to get hired, you're just hoping to gain a little insight. You might surprised how accomodating folks will be. The fact that you're young and still in school actually works FOR you in this context.

        How to find folks to interview? Networking. Work your contacts. Good sources include friends of your parents, your friends' parents or their friends, people your professors might know, etc. Or, find local events or societies or clubs that attract folks from your target industry. Or just call up companies you admire. This aspect of the information interview is great training for later in life, when you really want to get a job.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by apt142 (574425)
      Unfortunately, employers are often don't know what they want their employees to know. Take a look through some job descriptions and see how many show up with impossible requirements. (5 years experience in a language only out for say 3.)

      I'd suggest to the original poster to just mess around with anything that catches their eye. The more, the better. That way, he/she learns what he/she likes to mess around with and gets exposure all over. After that, I'd suggest finding some technologies that reall
  • by GenKreton (884088) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:23PM (#21972458) Journal
    First s learning personal finances will give you an edge on nearly every other student graduating. Know how to balance your finances, plan, budget, etc.

    Second is confidence. Confidence in the skills you do have an ability to gain new ones. Have confidence in interviews especially. Confidence enough to demand more sometimes, too. Confidence directly addresses your questions of how to make yourself more employable.

    The skills you need and success in life should follow those two. Actual skills programming have less to do with you getting employed than you may think.
  • by MSTCrow5429 (642744) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:23PM (#21972462)
    Spelling, grammar, basic math, an understanding of economics, and a knowledge of the outside world.
    • Bizzaro Slashdot?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Learn how the hardware works. The concept of code portability is limited. Compilers on diferent architectures do not always convert intergers, floats and strings the same way. Also memory structure can bite you real hard.
    The more you know about what is under the hood, the more likely you are to craft code that is actually portable and that will be useful for more than just one generation of processors.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TheRaven64 (641858)
      I'd generalise this. When you are writing code there are three important layers of abstraction:
      1. The user interface.
      2. The algorithm.
      3. The language.
      4. The instruction stream.

      The best programmers are the ones who are able to think at all four levels (and some sub-levels) at the same time. In many ways the language is the least important of these, it only exists to allow you to write the kind of thing humans think about (the algorithm) in something that is easy to turn in to something the machine understands (

  • This should give you a proper outlook on what is important in life. If you still have some time left over, I suggest you learn a foreign language of your choice. Better even - learn two. Or maybe read some philosophy. There is more to being a good carpenter then knowing how to hold a plane.

  • Business classes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by EveryNickIsTaken (1054794) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:25PM (#21972490)
    To increase your marketability, take as many business/mgmt classes as possible. Also, get a part time job or internship so you can network. Knowing things besides how to code (and building a good network) will likely be the most important factors in you getting a job.
  • Yes there are alot of those jobs, but many of them will take a skilled programmer of any kind even if they do not have the specific experience in the toolset. With that being said, i believe it is more important to focus on some aspect that you really enjoy more than what you think will make money, especially out of college the better programmers are the ones who did it because they enjoyed it not because they are tailoring their skill set to a particular part of the nerd market.
  • You got free time? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by techpawn (969834) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:25PM (#21972498) Journal

    As an undergrad, what skills should I be trying to attain now to further my employability in the future?
    If you have too much free time and think your classes are too easy, see if you can get an internship or co-op at a local company. First of all NOTHING beats real world experience, Secondly you can see what they're looking for and what the competition is asking for as well. Sometimes those internships doing crap help desk is a good way to get your foot in the door at a company.
  • my $0.02 US (Score:4, Insightful)

    by psbrogna (611644) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:26PM (#21972510)
    For what it's worth my relevant advice to somebody planning to migrate from student to employee status would be: With great compensation comes great responsibility. (to paraphrase Spiderman, Pres. Kennedy & Pres. Lincoln) In my experience the biggest disconnect between an employer and a fresh out of school developer is that they expect high compensation but often aren't open to taking what an employer bundles with that (ownership, initiative, responsibility, etc). As far as specific topical areas? I think that depends on what kind of developer you want to be. Opportunities seem to exist no matter which environments you choose to familiarize your self with; as long as you have the theory down and aren't looking for a joy ride, you'll can make your way along a variety of paths.
  • by epiphani (254981) <> on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:26PM (#21972512)
    C is definitely a starting point - you need not concentrate on ASM (since C is effectively macro assembler), but get used to memory management and handling basic structures. The functional flow and practices that you learn through requirement in C becomes hugely relevant in higher level languages.

    Also, linux or some type of posix-based system. C and Linux go together nicely, and most things for linux are written in C. Get out of the IDE environments as well - they're good tools, but they're tools that should be used after you're comfortable elsewhere. I suggest learning and using vim.

    Few people these days in an engineering organization have a good understanding of filesystems and underlying technologies. Someone capable of identifying and handling performance issues in applications are highly valued. Linux and C will force you to learn these things. Do GPL work, join some linux kernel lists - even watching these lists for purely curiosity reasons gives you an excellent method of peer review and gives you a good understanding of how development SHOULD work in an organization, even though it doesn't often happen that way.
    • Agree completely. Learn pointers, pointers to structs, SQL and regular expressions. Write practice programs to read & parse CSV or other flat ASCII data files - XML isn't everywhere yet. Become competent at a Linux command line.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by kudokatz (1110689)
        Low level systems programming along with database work has been what I have grown the most with as a fellow student. I have a few internship offers, and many stem from well-roundedness in terms of programming paradigms and concepts. If you can get a good handle on functional programming, make a small web-database application, learn a scripting language like Perl (or dabble in its OO features), and tinker with the linux kernel then I think doors will open up.

        From a strictly job-search prospective, I must a
    • by hibiki_r (649814)
      Those things are really important for becoming a great programmer. Are they the best use of someone's time that just wants to be easily employable? No.

      In my region, good knowledge of SQL and a passing familiarity with persistence libraries will get someone with no experience much closer to a job than more C experience and knowledge of the Linux Kernel.
  • by Yold (473518) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:26PM (#21972518)
    is experience. Look for a job doing something in the field, do your job well, and get a letter of recommendation.

    The article yesterday I think was more aimed at people who don't understand that basics of whats going on behind the scenes. For example, its expensive to convert between formats of numbers (int->double etc), or how to use bitmasks/shift bits.
  • by Capt James McCarthy (860294) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:27PM (#21972534) Journal
    If you can afford the 'free time' see if you can apply for any internships at different large companies. Or see if a smaller one would take the chance with you interning with them. The price is right for them, and you get to tail someone who's more experienced in the field.

    You can also look up some open source projects that need assistance (there are many of them that do) and see where you can help on them. Open source projects are a great way to get experience and critiquing your own skills.

    You can also learn these three words:

    "Hello. Geek Squad."
  • If you want to be a software developer, and don't particularly care in which language, it would be a good idea to do a project in your spare time, in one of the main languages (C++/java/C#) used. Java seems to have the most jobs available, of couurse, that may vary in your area. The thing you need to be getting out of your education is understanding the basics, that transcend all languages. Rhe difference between C++, java, and C# are made to be a bigger deal than they really are. You should be able to
  • Self Taught... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BigDogDoug (1216184)
    You're really going to have to teach yourself. Remember the college only prepares you with the basics. If you want to really impress your potential future employers you really need to know the stuff cold. You can't expect some over-paid college prof regurgitating text from a book to properly teach you anything. Join a group, network and get ideas from other people.
  • Personal View (Score:2, Informative)

    by RockedMan40 (1130729)
    While I think you have a brighter future than "Want fries with that" option, the above poster did get one thing right.
    What do you *like* to do?

    I could not stand to write program code all day long, as it would drive me insane, BUT - for whatever reason, I don't mind writing in php and working with web-based programs. I know there are others that feel just the opposite. So, while you will see plenty of good answers on 'you have to know ' and they will be right, cull it down to what leads you into a career y
  • by SpuriousLogic (1183411) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:29PM (#21972588)
    One of the biggest things I see when hiring college grads is that while they understand how a computer works, why languages behave the way they do, and what a certain language syntax is, they have very little knowledge of how to actually build applications from initial concept to full delivery. This type of knowledge generally falls into the "Software Engineering" category. Learn how to write and read requirements. Learn how to do formal estimates from requirements. Learn about different software development life cycles. Learn about requirements traceability and testing. Learn about software patterns. A lot of these topics are covered in Masters degrees in Software Engineering, so those are good places to look at for books on it. Here is an example, you can look at the classes to find the books used []
  • nunchuck skills, bowhunting skills, computer hacking skills...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by winkydink (650484) *
      They dig knowing how to carry a conversation and how to make eye contact (i.e., not staring at their breasts) a whole lot more.
  • I know why you are asking these questions, but I think you are missing an important point. You are looking at college like a vocational school - not a chance for a rounded education. You will do FAR better in the long run if you learn fundamental knowledge in many areas, and not spend a significant amount of time on specific training.

  • by neapolitan (1100101) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:30PM (#21972608)
    It depends on what type of job you want, and how good you want to be. Really, it does, and the answer is not simple.

    I really feel it is best to concentrate in core subjects during college. It is trite, but nobody cares if you know high level language X, be it Java, Python, Ruby, etc. This will change. Knowing how to program, that is a skill that will never go out of date.

    I do most of my programming in a very scientific environment, which requires MATLAB for "quick and dirty" computations, but I have also written elaborate C programs when needed for speed (up to 15 times as fast as interpreted MATLAB code despite the claims of optimizations.)

    If I were you, I would learn C in and out, through and through. It will guarantee you skills that you will use for the rest of your life, and you will never be an idiot. The way to best do this is to write moderate sized programs in C. I would take as many high level courses in the college environment as possible, preferably one on Operating Systems, which are some of the most complex programming environments and concepts that you will be exposed to. If you are truly into CS theory, then high level mathematics courses are favorable.

    What to program, you ask? Why, the standard lot. Here are some of the coding projects we were given in college.

    Hello, World (just kidding.)

    The game of life.

    The game of animals (teaching navigation of link lists, etc.)

    Make a program that plays Connect 4 against you. (basic algorithmic concepts, basic "AI")

    Make the above program graphical, for fun (GUI / display concepts).

    Write a program that implements the Zip algorithm (Huffman encoding -- not as hard as you'd think.)

    If these are too basic for you in C, then I'd try to understand a bit of the linux kernel, or get involved in an open source project. Good luck!
  • Make sure you have a firm understanding and be able to deliver the following words:

    "Do you want fries with that?"
  • by mveloso (325617) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:32PM (#21972638)
    If you really want to be a good developer, you have to be able to learn how real people work and how to run a project. That's tough - I'm not sure if anyplace has classes on this. But - everything you write fits into a workflow of some sort, and if you can understand the context in which your stuff runs your software will be better for it.

    Project Management is almost a must, esp. since you're in the business program too. Projects that come in on time are better than ones where you have to do a "death march" to the end. They make everyone happier, and makes everyone look good. A good PM is usually the difference between 4 80 hour weeks at the end of a project that fails and a nice, 9-6 project that cruises to delivery.
  • If you are thinking of technical skills only, then a deep and thorough understanding of relational databases in both theory and practice will serve you well. If you haven't already taken a class in Engineering Probability, that too. And take some 300 level classes outside the CS world (say, Mechanical Engineering) so you get some experience in solving problems that aren't within your comfort zone.

    Outside of technical skills, political theory through the 300 level, some literature, and economics through th
  • I live in a place where the computer industry is doing well, and programmers seem to be in high demand, admittedly. But I'm also a Jr. in CS right now, and here's what I've observed so far between my own job experience and those of my other friends in school: Find something you enjoy and do it well. One of my friends got into ASP and C# real heavy, and is now the lead dev of a team working on his university's intranet. I'm very detail oriented, and got a job documenting an undocumented system, for which
  • If you have no real-life experience, you will join the legions of other just-out-of-college programmers that have no practical skills or real knowledge. The answer is to write programs RIGHT NOW that you think are important, fun, useful, marketable, etc. Join another project if you want, but whatever you do, it needs to be something you can be passionate about. The more experience you have with real products that people use, the better. /self-taught programmer with college education. The self-taught was
  • Unfortunately, "being a programmer" is about like "being a medical professional." There are all sorts of functions in the realm of being a programmer that require wide varieties of skills and no one person will have them ALL. So just as in the "medical profession" where you can be anything from a nurse to a brain surgeon, a pharmacist to a psychiatrist, you simply need to choose the skills that match your goals.

    If you feel that your foundation isn't as strong as it should be and you feel like you're missi
  • "As an undergrad, what skills should I be trying to attain now to further my employability in the future?"

    I'll give you two answers. Both are smart-ass and both a TRUE.

    1. Interviewing. Read "Sweaty Palms" by Anthony Melody.

    2. Learn how a computer works. Dimes to donuts nobody's made any attempt to teach you this. Read history books on computers. Read about old machines, where systems were simpler. Read older microprocessors spec sheets. Then ask questions about everything you saw. When you understand
  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:37PM (#21972750) Homepage Journal
    You will, throughout your CS courses and professional/hobby work find out what you really like and you should gravitate towards that. If you are really skilled, then you should be able to pick up what you need to succeed.

    That being said, here are the skills I think you should pick up. My only qualifications is that 2.5 years outside of undergrad I am earning $70k+ a year AFTER taxes and have had professional experience on 3 continents(Europe, NA and Asia). Here is the list in no particular order:

    1. Pick up a 2nd major. Now of course there are "useful" majors such as science or business, and if that stuff interests you, great, but pick something outside of CS/IT that you REALLY enjoy and go for that. Even if it is film studies. For one, how many chances will you have after college to sit around a bar/coffee shop and discuss whether or not the feds in E.T. represent America's increasing xenophobia after being rattled by Japan in the first real post-war challenge to the US economy?
    Secondly, having a 2nd major will catch the attention of recruiters who have to sift through piles of resumes that look the same and can really give you something to talk about at the start of your interview and allow you a pretty good segue into your tech qualifications.
    Finally, a second major will allow you to look at problems from a different perspective and help your critical thinking skills, which are in much shorter supply in the IT industry than Java or Python coding experience IMO.

    2. Learn another language. Again, there are "useful" languages such as Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Portugese etc., but if you are only learning a language for the money and not because you are interested in the people and culture, you are almost guaranteed to never become fluent. Even languages such as German can help you on the job. If you are working for a company and you and a rival company submit similar proposals for a German contract, and your documentation is in German and theirs English, who do you think is going to win? Plus, from my experience abroad, there is no better way to break the ice with someone in another country than to speak their language. I got a Software Engineering job offer in Connecticut with a small company totally based in Connecticut partially because of my Japanese language skills. The company has to go through a 3rd party to sell their software products in Japan, and they could have really used someone with both a knowledge of the technical side as well as the linguistic side to aid the translators and to double check their work.

    3. Study/work abroad. (Shameless plug alert):I found an internship working at an R&D Lab in Japan by working with a group called IAESTE [] that finds and exchanges internships all around the world. I had to do a lot of work too, for instance I hosted our first intern from Argentina. But after work, there is a lot of drinking! Nothing more fun than a room full of drunk college students from the world over! The internship itself was an amazing experience in terms of both the technical and cultural aspects inside and outside the office. Not to mention I instantly stood out among my peers when it came time for job interviews. It also helped me land the job I have today, working as a software engineer in Germany. Oh yeah, and tons of fun and drinking, cannot stress that enough!

    4. Related to the above: work an internship, at home and/or abroad. I also worked in a steel mill writing software, which was a unique experience in itself.

    Above all, don't worry about individual technologies. Stay abreast of the news and don't be afraid to dive into something new every few years at the minimum. Oh, and its college, have fun! You have the rest of your life to work your ass off, and you should still work your ass off in college, but the nice thing about college is that for most students, they are young enough to work their asses off AND still have enough energy to go out and party.
  • Database (Score:3, Informative)

    by flymolo (28723) <> on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:38PM (#21972770)
    Many real world applications need databases. Almost all web applications do.
    Learn some SQL. I've never seen a programmer job where Databases skills were a negative.
  • by MosesJones (55544) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:38PM (#21972778) Homepage
    The number 1 most important skill if you want to have a decent career in IT that won't disappear to South America or India is to be able to speak to business people about IT concepts in their own language. The standard of communication in IT is woeful with the US (IMO) being towards the bottom of the league in terms of the number of IT people who can speak to business people in a way that makes sense to their audience.

    The number 2 thing is the theory. Most new technology trends boil down to new applications of well understood theories. If you understand about distributed computing then you know the problem domain and just have to learn the detail of Web Services/REST/CORBA/.NET etc, if you don't know the theory you are stuffed.

    Communication and Theory matter. The programming languages don't. After graduating from a good university that gave me that base I went to one interview and said "yes I know C", one week later I had to do a programming test... I had to learn C in that week and still came top out of the interviewees. That was the theory helping. Today however I find more and more that its the communication part that is important both in communicating with the business and explaining the theory to those who don't understanding it within IT.

  • Nobody hires graduate/inexperienced programmers expecting them to be good; some things only come with experience.

    Which is why lots of places don't hire graduates. The ones that do are more likely to be looking for people skills and problem solving than specific experience.

    The best CV for a programmer is one with >5 years of directly relevant programming experience on it, in a position of responsibility. You can't compete with that, so don't worry about it. Just do what interests you ... and be prepar

  • As one of our instructors back in the Uni used to say - "we don't teach you THE language, we teach you how to LEARN the language". That's pretty much the most important SKILL anyone should master in the college. CompSci or not.

    As far as the actual knowledge goes, I have always been of an opinion that a graduate that knows 5 types of balanced trees is worth a bunch of dodos that "know" 5 languages. In the end the CompSci is all about an abstract thinking ability. Therefore the foundation - data structures, a
  • ...on big iron. Then I graduated and got a job in web design. (A real job, not "making websites for people I know.") So, I guess... uh... keep your options open?
  • If you just want "a job in programming", concentrating on Java will get you that. If you plan to build your career on programming, and do more than simply hold down a job, dig deeper into C, asm and other lower level languages so you can learn how the different logic bits actually affect the system as a whole. Java is so popular because it abstracts alot of the fundamentals and routine stuff such that you can get away with not worrying about it. The problem with it tends to be coders relying too heavily on
  • Ok maybe not, but seriously programming in high-level functional languages like lisp, haskell, ML, etc., lets you really explore the abstract nature of computer science. That way you can become a computer scientist rather than just a computer programmer. Concepts like recursion, functional mapping, and—in the weirder languages—lazy evaluation and functional currying are really useful to at least be aware of, and they can help you write more efficient programs in other languages as well. Most hel

  • Should be Research. Knowing how to get the right answers (and not just trusting to an "I feel lucky" google run), or find the right information.
    Once you know where to find the latest information, coupled with the theoretical knowledge you've gained through your Uni years, you'll find that you're able to keep current (or at the bleeding edge) of your chosen path, once you've tinkered about with various roles in "The Real World", and found one that fits you.
    • ability to slam a six pack in less than five minutes
    • ability to wear a toga
    • ability to use a bong correctly
    • ability to (if white) excrete a rebel yell or (if black) yell "muthafucka!"
    • ability to ingest lethal amounts of various illicit substances without untoward effects
    • Ability to do without food for prolonged peroiods of time
    • ability to do without sleep for prolonged periods of time
    • ability to bullshit instructors into thinking you've actually absorbed the material you're clueless about
    • ability to reed and right
  • Look at the want ads. Around here it seems to be almost exclusively .Net. Primarily VB.Net or C#. You can work on whatever you'd like to, but I'm assuming you're interested in learning some skills that have the best chance of landing you a job. Your area may differ in what they're looking for.

    Bring on the boos and hisses. It brings me home a very comfortable paycheck and I enjoy my job.
  • First is understand how to program. By that I mean actually understand how one uses a programming language to command a computer to do what you want. Nothing worse than a "programmer" that can only program in one language because all they learned is that language, and not how to program. If you actually learn how to program, how a computer works, then you should be able to program in any language. You'll have to learn that language's syntax and such, of course, but you'll be able to do that if you need to.
  • I'd try to learn one of the container environments and web development frameworks, just to show that you can. Tomcat and Struts would be good. Try to do a project for a charity using one of these environments, which demonstrates a lot of good things to a prospective employer

    I'd get familiar with .Net. Like it or not, that drives a lot of work these days, and even knowing why or why not you'd like to use it will be good.

    I'd read about XP and other agile methods, and mybe some of the older texts, such the My
  • Having worked with a large number of undergrad and recent graduates in computers, here's what I'd want to see more of in a candidate:
    1. Take the time to learn about relational databases. Not just SQL. Learn why there's a relational model and why it was developed (yes, pedantic shitheads, there is no widely available pure relational database; eat a dick). Learn what normalization is. Also, shoving everything into the database isn't always the best idea, and some stuff doesn't need a db behind it.
    2. Learn
  • The best class would be a hybrid class where they get people wanting to major in business together with students in CS and they do a god damned project together.

    I was very good at college programming courses, only to get tossed into the "real" world where everyone does projects doing things that no one even approached having to do in an honest to God working environment.

    My ability to write a house emulator using X10 using Python on Linux was a FUN project but had no real world applicability.

    What should be d
  • by MikeRT (947531) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:46PM (#21972962) Homepage
    Take as many development internships as possible. It doesn't matter how little the pay you. Take them. It's job experience that you can start out with that a hiring manager will look at your resume and go "ah, this guy isn't just a worthless, theory-ladden undergrad."

    You'll learn a lot of skills that way, and you might get paid to do it. Chances are, you'll learn a lot of basic skills that are applicable to your job market.

    This is the advice that I always give to people who are going to be graduating. Look at the skills that employers want where you plan to live. It doesn't matter whether you can code the best embedded systems in C and ASM on Earth, if there are no jobs for that where you want to live. If you want to get skills that aren't purely work-related, then study just what interests you.

    Where I live, Northern Virginia, the job market is primarily for Java developers. I don't waste my time learning languages like C++ on the grounds that someday I might need to learn them, when I can quickly pick up the basics when I need to use them at work. I keep up to date on Java for work, and learn Perl and stuff like that for my own enjoyment.
  • The most important thing you need to know is how to think about complicated programmed systems. They're deterministic and logical, but can be quite subtle sometimes, and appreciating how apparently non-logical behavior can arise from logical rules is extremely useful. Knowing the command-line switches of a specific compiler is nice, but it's not as important as being able to think critically about what's going on in a complicated system, and being able to convey your thinking succinctly in code that other p
  • - If you have an opportunity to get a decent internship, do it. If nothing else it'll look good on a resume.
    - Learn C/C++.
    - Get comfortable using Linux/Unix, at least to the point of being able to write some simple utility/test programs/scripts.
    - Take a software engineering class if your college has one available.
    - Expose yourself to some SQL and writing web-based frontends in one or more server-side scripting languages (PHP or whatever).
    - Get a good grounding in general programming concepts (how computers
  • It's ironic... When I was in college ( early 90s ) I must have read the same article, expect then C and C++ were the sexy languages to slam, Java was not yet quite on the scene, and Assembler was still the choice for low-level programming (but fading fast at the time). C and C++ were not formally taught at my school - it was considered a "tech school" language. But the advanced classes used C and C++, so those who were interested learned it on their own. Many classes were taught in Modula-2. Now THERE's u
  • Writing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MonkeyBoyo (630427) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:56PM (#21973208)
    Often the biggest skill lacking in technical people is they cannot write very well.

    I've seen some really bad reports written by fairly good technical people.

    Spending several semesters taking writing courses is a much better investment than learning a new language (which you should be able to do on your own and which will happen during your career).

    Being able to explain things clearly on paper will put you in an important position in any development group and will lead to the most career growth.
  • by crossmr (957846) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @04:20PM (#21973672) Journal
    Its amazing what sort of monstrosities can develop when a programmer at my company attempts to set something up and then calls me for help when it "just won't work". I'm not saying you need to know how to completely configure a cisco router with advanced features, but understanding general concepts like ip addresses, host and network portions of an address and how that relates to the subnet mask as well as the basic principal behind how a packet gets from point A to point B would do wonders.
  • by Soskywalkr (617860) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @04:39PM (#21974038)
    ISBN-10: 1590593898

    Could recommend this book more highly to an up and coming programmer.
    This is the first book that we ask our interns to read.

    The second book (for those pursuing management positions) is
    "Leadership and Self-Deception"
    ISBN-10: 1576751740
  • by jimicus (737525) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @04:49PM (#21974182)
    Let's see:

    1. You recognise that there are serious gaps in your experience and understanding.
    2. You are clearly motivated to do something about it.
    3. But you also recognise that your inexperience means that you're not entirely sure which gaps you should be plugging first.

    This puts you way ahead of a lot of computer "scientists" who are still in university.

    Please, please, please do the entire industry a favour and work to maintain that passion. People who've lost their passion,who don't really care as long as the next paycheque comes in seldom make top class IT professionals, and frankly are ten a penny.
  • College Experience (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Launch (66938) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @04:55PM (#21974280)
    As someone who graduated college only a few years ago (2004) and as someone who has a career in the software industry and as someone who is responsible for hiring delevopers, let me offer you the following:

    1) I don't believe in CS programs. I feel that they fail to prepare students for the real world. Engineering is one of the few educations which should provide students with pratical experience that prepares the student for 'the real world'. You have learned a lot of therory. In my experience good grades has no corrilation to good developers.

    2) College, in general, is important for 'nerds, geeks, engineers, etc'. Sterotypically this group has poor social skills. This can hinder your professional development, as these skills are required in almost any business. Focusing on developing social skills, time management, and group collaboration will pay off.

    3) Therory isn't a complete lost cause. Focus on learning how to think, regardless of course of study, college should train you on how use your brain.

    4) Be passionet. College can be a great demotivator. I wouldn't be suprised if you loved computers a lot less today than the first day you stepped onto campus. Find time to utilize computers in a way that inspires you. Google Mircosoft's "Coding For Fun". Not only should you find something there that intrests you, it will help guide you into some self study of programming that is applicable to today's business world, which brings me to my next point.

    5) Focus on increasing your marketable skills. The utopian academia [and dare I say slashdot?] breeds a lot of technical fringe support. While being a hotshot ruby developer might be cool in this circle, it's not as marketable as being a profficient web developer. Polish your skills in using technology that is common place, you'll need it being entry level in the job market.

    6) Experience is golden. Work for minimum wage, work for food rations if you have to! Finding internships in related industries will give you pressious contacts, and valible work experience to put on your resume.
  • It's easy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Pointy_Hair (133077) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @05:31PM (#21974918)
    1. Learn the art of bullshit. Become an expert at appearing you know what's going on even when your completely clueless. Keep in mind that this isn't just about bluffing or attempting to do something you aren't qualified for. It's all about appearance. If you look and act like you know what you're doing, 99% of the time most people will believe you. Instant credibility. Speaking of appearance, bathing at least daily and dressing like a real business person will make the bosses swoon and your peers hate your guts. You get real good at it, you will be able to spot another, less adept bullshitter a mile away.

    1a. Communicate well. If you're sounding like an illiterate teenager (in person, e-mail, it doesn't matter) that's what people will think you are. Maybe it won't be kewl and l337 to your peers, but the old people that write the paychecks seem to like it. If you're working internationally at least be functional in the language. Being in a meeting while natives are jabbering away right in front of your clueless face is not fun. The look on their faces once they discover you understood all the foolish American remarks and offer to buy them a beer is priceless.

    2. Always be able to articulate the value you add to whatever you're working on. Currency value is best since even the dumbest managers are keen on money. Understanding the business need behind the technology will help.

    3. Choose a technology that's interesting to you and that you like to work with. It doesn't matter if it isn't in the top 5 in last week's Network World. Even if it pays less than the skill-o-the-day. Nothing sucks the joy out of life more than a job that you hate. You'll also find that your natural enthusiasm for whatever it is you decide to be good at adds to the credibility you get from 1 and 1a.

Never appeal to a man's "better nature." He may not have one. Invoking his self-interest gives you more leverage. -- Lazarus Long