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Mixed Signs On the State of IT Education 257

Posted by samzenpus
from the you-get-what-you-pay-for dept.
snydeq writes "Advice Line's Bob Lewis comments on the mixed state of IT education in the US, which sees some students graduating with computer-related degrees despite never having written a line of code. And while some institutions are emphasizing the value of teamwork in their curricula, an approach that fosters specialization in lieu of uniform standards, others are simply advertising their 'success rates' in graduating students. 'Education is a marketplace, and if you have the money and want to buy, you can find someone willing to sell,' Lewis writes. In other words, 'If you want a degree that indicates you know something about computers without having to actually know very much about computers, you can get one.'"
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Mixed Signs On the State of IT Education

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  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @09:12PM (#32356278)

    An MSCE is much cheaper and it also indicates you know something about computers without having to actually know very much about computers.

    • by Mad Merlin (837387) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @09:21PM (#32356400) Homepage

      An MSCE is much cheaper and it also indicates you know nothing about computers without having to actually know very much about computers.

      There, fixed that for you.

    • by msauve (701917) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @09:32PM (#32356530)
      Every certification test I've ever taken measures, not knowledge, but rote memorization. Seems that the tests are created by people with no understanding of the subject matter. Questions are created by simply taking material literally from the study material, context and real-world applicability be damned.

      As long as you can remember the study materials (especially the company specific terminology) long enough to get through the test, you pass. Understanding/knowing anything useful gets you nowhere.
      • by Xacid (560407)

        Funny thing is that I work with a guy who has been with us for about 2 years supporting our systems and still can't pass his network+...

        While I mostly agree I do prefer to see someone with some sort of certs, even if it isn't a direct correlation of transferrable knowledge. What I do see out of it is someone not only willing to learn, but is capable of learning (as opposed to the guy I work with who can be a pain to show new things). It definitely shows you know a *basic* understanding of the information in

        • ...

          I met another guy who got his degree from one of these supposed technical schools and didn't know how to navigate any of the basic tools in win (traceroute, ping, nbtstat, etc) let alone *nix, but thinks he's the king of networking.

          ...

          We had one guy start with us to do some industry volunteer work - just troubleshooting simple problems.

          He was studying a computer networks course and was 6 months into that.

          I had to show him how to get to a DOS prompt in Windows XP... Then he asked me what ping did?

          He apparently later decided that computers weren't for him.

      • by Darinbob (1142669) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @01:22AM (#32358208)
        MS cert tests are worse, they measure rote memorization of marketing material.
  • by Frequency Domain (601421) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @09:20PM (#32356390)
    but it won't take long for prospective employers to discover that it has utility only if it is perforated and comes on a roll.
    • by Greyfox (87712)
      Yeah, but you know how much of a pain in the ass it is to actually fire someone? Most companies will only push the useless programmers around a lot and hope they quit. If they can bluff their way through an interview, they're pretty much set for life.
  • What? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dangitman (862676)

    And while some institutions are emphasizing the value of teamwork in their curricula, an approach that fosters specialization in lieu of uniform standards

    Wouldn't "teamwork" have the opposite effect - emphasizing uniform standards over specialization? A more individualistic approach would encourage specialization more, one would think. Also, the whole premise seems a bit off. "IT" encompasses many things, programming is not involved in all of them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by shimage (954282)
      I believe the idea is that an individualistic program requires that individuals know everything, whereas those in a team can specialize since your team mates will handle the things you can't.
    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      What IT job involves no programming?
      Here even the Helpdesk folks automate stuff via simple scripts and even some fairly basic C++ programs.

      • by dangitman (862676)

        What IT job involves no programming?

        Hardware assembly/repair, database entry, web content (via CMS), training, project management, CEO, CTO. The list is nearly infinite. I'd go out on a limb to say that the majority of IT jobs probably don't involve any programming.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          None of those I would call IT.

          Those are mostly management and data entry. The only exception is the hardware assembly/repair and that is just a factory job, not IT.

          • by dangitman (862676)

            None of those I would call IT.

            Then you have a very unusual idea of what IT is. It is work relating to technology used for information. Even a librarian in a library that doesn't have any computers counts.

            Those are mostly management and data entry.

            The management of an IT company has nothing to do with IT? Data entry has nothing to do with IT? How do you use IT if you don't get the data in?

            The only exception is the hardware assembly/repair and that is just a factory job, not IT.

            People who make house calls to repair someone's PC is somehow a "factory job"? You're not making a lot of sense.

            • by h4rr4r (612664)

              I might indeed have an unusual idea of what IT is.

              A librarian is not in IT, they are just librarians. They have lots of information not much technology.

              Management of IT companies has little to do with IT, most of the managers no nothing about IT. they manage like in every other firm by the numbers or by the idiotic book their kinds likes this year.

              Data entry is to IT like fry cook at mcdonalds is to the culinary industry.

              People who make house calls may indeed be in IT. I did not consider that what you had m

              • by dangitman (862676)

                A librarian is not in IT, they are just librarians. They have lots of information not much technology.

                They have heaps of technology. Their entire world is based around the printed word, which is one of the most revolutionary technologies ever invented. They know algorithms, like the Dewey decimal system. They know databases.

                Data entry is to IT like fry cook at mcdonalds is to the culinary industry.

                Right. A fry cook at McDonalds is definitely a part of the culinary industry.

                You seem to be conflating "chef" with "member of the culinary industry." The problem is that "IT" is such a useless term, particularly these days, when nearly every job involves some level of IT.

                • by sjames (1099)

                  And yet librarians study library science, not IT. Data entry (10 key) has always been lumped in with typists and secretarial, not IT.

                  • by dangitman (862676)
                    And yet they all fall under the umbrella of IT. Who would have thunk it? A profession can fall under more than one category! Amazing, I know.
        • by sjames (1099)

          Most of the hardware people I know at least know a bit of programming. It's a useful skill for a project manager so they can at least review and understand the work being done. Data entry is not traditionally considered IT (just because it's data and you use a computer doesn't make it IT, sales people do that too). True enough for web content and often for CxO

          • by dangitman (862676)

            just because it's data and you use a computer doesn't make it IT,

            Why not? It involves information and technology. Perhaps they should have called the field something different if they meant something more specific?

            • by sjames (1099)

              By your criteria, the cashier at McDonald's is an IT professional as is the meter reader, 411 operator, and the UPS delivery driver.

              If you flush a toilet are you a plumber? For that matter I suppose you'd also be either a urologist or a proctologist. Possibly a druggist if the cops were at the door.

              Does chewing your food make you a dentist? A nutritionist or a gastroenterologist perhaps?

              Perhaps they should have called those fields something different if they meant something more specific!

              Or perhaps you shou

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by dangitman (862676)

                By your criteria, the cashier at McDonald's is an IT professional

                I never said "IT Professional," but yes, they are involved in IT. Nearly everybody is, it permeates all of our lives. Which is why we should use more meaningful terms like "programmer" or "software developer" or "database administrator." The term "IT" is malformed and useless.

    • Without teamwork, the majority of the team would have to do its own work. Now you find the dude in class that truly loves coding and technology, leach and get a good team grade. But what do I know, I was a poly sci major. Of course I've found that prisoner's delima, nuclear deterrence and brinkmanship are far more useful in IT than silly computer stuff.
      • by dangitman (862676)

        Without teamwork, the majority of the team would have to do its own work.

        But with a team, you find a bunch of people with different abilities, so you are able to do a wide range of things. Pretty much the opposite of specialization.

        Think of a sports team. You don't want the whole team to be specialists in the same thing, you want a team of people with different skills who can work together.

  • by JThaddeus (531998) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @09:24PM (#32356434)
    There are diploma mills that crank out such types for exorbitant fees--Phoenix U, Strayer, etc.--but I don't think the big names are exempt. I once met a University of Maryland College Park grad (B.S. in computer science) who didn't understand pointers and who couldn't grok hexadecimal math. These shortcomings notwithstanding, she was enrolled in their graduate program.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by R3d M3rcury (871886)

      I once met a University of Maryland College Park grad (B.S. in computer science) who didn't understand pointers and who couldn't grok hexadecimal math.

      Obviously a real computer scientist. [l-w.ca]

      • The thing I find most entertaining about this is that half of the weird things that real computer scientists are mocked for doing in that post are now part of mainstream computing. Give it to someone in a few years, and they'll maybe not know what Ada is, but they'll look at most of of the other things and say 'is there a different way?' with a puzzled expression.
    • I think that 5F% of the people don't grok hexadecimal math, but I agree that C.S. grads should be better informed.

    • by Deadron (1820386) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @12:28AM (#32357924)
      A lot of these issues seem to tend from the language of choice in today's colleges. That language being java which is memory managed for you. To alot of the older programming crowd who have used C for years this can seem like a huge flaw and it can be depending on the field. However, alot of programming these days is Web programming and in Java/C# where these skills are uneeded so it is not necessarily such a huge issue. Also, all a Computer Science degree really teaches you is how to learn. There are so many different languages and specializations it is IMPOSSIBLE to learn all the details about everything so you just have to grasp the ability to expand your horizons when needed.
  • by lyinhart (1352173) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @09:27PM (#32356478)
    I'm not sure how Computer Science courses are at other educational institutions, but my school's Comp Sci program didn't focus much on programming at all. Everything was largely theoretical and we never did much programming at all. If you wanted to fine tune your coding skills, you'd have to do it on your own, or even better on co-op or internship.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by RichMan (8097)

      The problem with missing coding skills is you also miss the dependent skills

      a) debugging
      b) refactoring
      and the one they never get to
      c) reuse/rework/repurpose
      which leads to a greater appreciation of
      d) documentation

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's the problem with the computer science field. It's really two fields. Computer science which is more abstract and what your school focuses on. The other is software engineering. Those are the two broadest fields I can think of and even they have a decent amount of overlap.

      • by catmistake (814204) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @11:03PM (#32357366) Journal
        Really, the problem isn't with the Computer Science field at all. Computer Science is a subset of the study of Mathematics. The problem is with the field of Information Technology, i.e. the field of Computer Practice. The number of IT programs at universities has probably expanded, but many are masquerading as a C.S. program, but in reality Computer Science is ill equiped in either case to fill the field of IT, whether it's theory or software design (it's never really been engineering), I would compare it to expecting medical schools to somehow fill all the roles of the entire medical field, including orderlies, nurses to physicians assistants and pharmacists.
        • Or, to put it more simply, wondering why a computer science graduate can't program is like wondering why a physics graduate can't build a jet engine.
    • by MachDelta (704883)

      Anecdotal, but in my intro CS course we did quite a lot of programming. Simple programming, but programming nonetheless. Almost all of the labs involved creating or debugging some kind of simple C++ program. Everything else we covered in the course (particularly the first half) was supplementary: circuits, logic, pseudocode, bin/hex/dec, etc.

      It seemed to be a fairly popular course, but before long almost half of the class had dropped out upon discovering it wasn't a cakewalk (at least for non-geeks). The re

    • by mgblst (80109)

      Went to a University in Australia, almost every course had a programming component. Computer Hardware, Mathematical Programming, Compiler constructions, operating systems. For one subject, Advanced algorithms, we had to write the same program in 4 different languages. That was a half a year subject.

  • Time to drop the need BS to get a low level job as the school part most of the time is far from that work on the job is like.

  • I would expect that employers would quickly discover which institutions are crap and which ones aren't which makes the diploma worth more-or-less what you put into it ... But then I am in a relatively small field with a degree from a relatively well-known institution.
  • HR looks down on tech schools that have more work done that is like what is done on the job while the big schools that have way less and lots more non tech / non core filler are placed higher.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      No, the big schools just make you do both. They also often require co-ops. ITT on the other hand will show you the windows way to do it and teach you no theory or basics. This means you can solve that problem but not figure out how to solve problems.

      • by nomadic (141991)
        Yeah, but ITT grads tend to gravitate towards jobs where hands-on work is far more important than theory. I think the for-profit technical schools serve a valuable niche, or could if they weren't almost universally overpriced to the point where they're not worth it for anyone.
        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          Honestly, I think most of those jobs are gone. Even our helpdesk folks have a good grasp on lots of basic theory. They may not be able to build a shift register, but they could tell you how a netmask works or why spanning tree is important.

          • by h4rr4r (612664)

            I should mention one is a college student and disappointed graduate of ITT the other has an EE degree.

  • by AdmiralXyz (1378985) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @09:52PM (#32356778)
    I just wanted to provide a counterargument to the gloom-and-doom scenarios that are probably going to permeate this page: I'm studying for my CS degree at an Ivy League school right now, and the University actually just completed a major overhaul of the requirements for CS, which I think are a major improvement. I know Slashdotters love to complain about how useless college graduates are when they first enter the workplace, but I'm optimistic that I can be at least somewhat handy when I end up getting a job.

    The biggest change is that you're now required to declare a concentration, ranging from pretty specific (Database Programming), to very general (Security), there are about fifteen of them and you can create your own with approval from your advisor. This means that everyone is still required to take the theoretical courses (which are useful, no matter what the curmudegons say: I'm a way better programmer than I was before I took algorithms and lambda calculus), but now has time to do tons of practical programming in their field of choice: many of the lecture classes now have 1- or 2-credit electives alongside them which are nothing but semester-long practical projects (for one course in particular, we actually have to find someone not affiliated with the CS department, who needs software written for them, and write it, with our grade dependent on the client's satisfaction- definitely not an academic cookie-cutter project), and in many cases these are now required rather than optional. In addition, while the low-level CS classes (which are taken by all kinds of people across the University, not just CS majors, and so sort of have to be dumbed-down) are junk like PHP and writing Swing GUIs with Java, we have to fight it out with C and Ocaml in many of the more advanced classes.

    Again, before a million people complain about how naive I'm being, I'm not saying I'm going to walk out with my degree as a world-class programmer or that I won't have plenty to learn in the real world, I'm just saying that this trend towards easier programming languages and more hand-holding isn't occurring everywhere. And yes, most schools aren't the Ivy League, but if the market demands curricula like this from higher education, it will trickle down. There's hope yet.
  • If degrees aren't covering what needs to be taught, what ARE the main objectives that would produce the best functioning graduates?

    • If degrees aren't covering what needs to be taught, what ARE the main objectives that would produce the best functioning graduates?

      You'll see it all over. People with "20 years" of "experience" who really have 1 year of experience 20 times over.

      Next up would be the ability (and desire) to dig to FIND problems. Not just "it compiles" or "it doesn't crash".

      After that would be the ability to think in pluralities. Anyone can handle a single system with a single purpose used by a single user. Can you scale to mu

  • Now we are complaining that people with

    computer-related degrees despite never having written a line of code.

    Previously we complained about

    computer-related degrees despite not knowing how to troubleshoot a hardware problem or even turn a computer on

    So in other words, educators responded to complaints by changing curriculum. We now have some computer-related degrees that have programming as an optional trait rather than a required trait.

    And on top of that, what is a "computer-related degree" anyways? CSci would seem to fit that; how about Computer Engineering? Or an IS Management degree?

  • I'm noticing a lot of supposed comp sci bsc degree holders who are very superficial in their knowledge of, for example, basic object-oriented concepts. They seem to be parroting back certain terms like polymorphism, encapsulation etc without really understanding what they are or why the might be important.
    Also, everyone says "java" skills, j2ee etc but has no idea what, for example, the term "object-relational impedance mismatch" might mean.

    All this bespeaks cookie-cutter exam-passing types of knowledge and

    • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @10:49PM (#32357272)

      "has no idea what, for example, the term 'object-relational impedance mismatch' might mean."

      I have to say, having gone through a real CS program (quite a while ago now) that covered everything from assembler to algorithm analysis and theoretical proofs, "object-relational impedance mismatch" set off the buzzword warnings.

      A Google search confirmed my impression. The problem it describes is (sort of) real, but the term is idiotic. The kind of thing they'd put on one of these newfangled multiple guess CS exams.

      • You did a theoretical Computer Science degree, and it didn't cover the relative expressiveness of object databases and relational databases, nor the problems involved in attempting to define an isomorphism between the two models?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      that's because comp sci isn't about creating software systems. that would be the "software engineering" major.

      • Yeah, well back in my comp sci degree days, we hewed software systems out of stacks of punch cards with our bare hands.

        Just kidding. I missed that by maybe five years.

    • no idea what, for example, the term "object-relational impedance mismatch" might mean

      The proper answer to the question "What is object-relational impedance mismatch?" is "It's an old bug in versions of Buzzword prior to 3.6. But they fixed it with a new release of the PHBspeak library back in ... oh, 2006 or so."

    • by keeboo (724305)

      Also, everyone says "java" skills, j2ee etc but has no idea what, for example, the term "object-relational impedance mismatch" might mean.

      For a moment I though you were joking mixing expressions from different fields.
      I remember asking the trainees (studying electronic engineering, mind you) for a flux capacitor and things like that in the past.

  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @11:49PM (#32357678) Homepage

    The original article is almost devoid of facts. What training is required to speak for "Advice Line"?

    It's not at all clear what training is required for IT today? The Cisco "Rack Test"? How to fix broken Windows systems? J2EE programming? Linux server administration?

    CS is even tougher. Robotics? AI? Machine learning? Graphics? Digital logic? "Cloud" programming? There are too many narrow niches. Pick the wrong one and you're toast.

  • A lot of you are complaining about the lack of coding skills, as well as lack of theoretical knowledge.
    The sad part is that more often than not excellent coders are not the best theorists -- some top coders get so involved with a particular language or technology, that they are effectively locked into it and vice-versa.

    As mentioned earlier in one of the replies to this post -- IT and CS seem to be two siblings with diverging goals.

    There are very few people who are both excellent coders as well as well-
  • Is not the state of undergrads, sure I'm shocked when I come across one who can't write a simple join in SQL or write the proverbial 'fizzbuzz' program but from the Co-Op students I interviewed most recently the majority seemed competent. I do notice a lack of understanding of theory and hardware. I'm always amazed how these grads know squat about how computers actually work - it reminds me more of mainframe programmers who because of the degree of separation from the actual machine didn't have the slight

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