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back to article Microsoft tripped up by Blighty's techie skills gap

One of the UK's top Microsofties told MPs on Tuesday that even the mighty Windows maker was feeling the impact of Blighty's skills gap. Although Microsoft was able to reel in top-flight graduates, said Head of Skills and Economic Affairs Stephen Uden, its partners and suppliers were affected by the lack of science talent going …

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Facepalm

Just as a quick note for the lack of relevance to modern standards. The Computer Science course at Hull Uni has people build a square map using the decade old Unreal Editor. It also comprises a large part of the second semester.

The Universities seem to be going out their way to be behind the times.

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This was in 2011 for the record.

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FAIL

If you think the software in use makes any difference, you're as disillusioned as Microsoft. Most of the famous engineers there were brought up on BASIC.

If they use the Unreal editor - so what? A lot of modern games still use that engine. Are they tinkering with the engine? Are they understanding it?

The best bits of maths / computer science I've seen are tucked away in under-documented lines of the Doom and Quake source code.

If you expect the uni to upgrade EVERYTHING on its courses every year, you're mad. The *knowledge* required to make use of any modern computer science relies on no software at all but applies to them ALL. Unreal uses no more different equations or principles to manipulate a 3D transform matrix than any other.

This is the problem with modern computer science students - they think the subject has ANYTHING to do with what software you have installed on your desktop and/or how old it is. It doesn't.

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Anonymous Coward

So?

Did you know that AutoCAD is 30 years old now? Age itself says very little about the usability of code, as a teaching tool or otherwise.

There's plenty of old software still being used, not all of it bad. In fact, though we've learned in the meantime and found faster algorithms and such, we've also made our computers that much faster, and the programs we produce are that more sluggish because of it. As a sidenote, more people should test their software on slow computers just so the inefficiencies become more obvious and get eradicated. Instead we tend so stack various abstraction layers (in itself not bad) and frameworks and other things sky high, forgetting that underneath we still have work to be done. Older software, if it can still deliver what it needs to, can shine here.

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Anonymous Coward

Ah yes, the leading universtities of Britain ... Cambridge, Oxford, Hull

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Next you'll be complaining that I was taught about Turning Machines and Lambda Calculus

Can't get much older than that and they've never been industry relevant.

The scandal! The humanity! How will I ever get employment by only knowing the fundamental essence of computing but not knowing the specifics of a fly-by-night API?!?!?

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When I was at Cambridge...

Most of the assignments were in BCPL (a language not noticeably in use outside the University), the examples in some lecture notes used a variant of LISP for which there was even then no longer a working interpreter. I don't think Hull (which I considered going to as it had at the time - and for all I know may still have - a good engineering department) is unique in having courses that fail to refelect the products of the moment.

That, of course, is a good thing. There are few fundamentals of computing that have changed since the 1960s, though they regularly get renamed or rediscovered, usually for marketing purposes. Much better to know that X is a universal principle than that X is merely a feature of some specific package du jour.

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Anonymous Coward

I assume meanwhile...

... that Hull retains its No. 1 spot as the top drinking and falling over university.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: When I was at Cambridge...

Compare and contrast Delft University of Technology, where (in 1997) they ditched pascal and C for java using textbooks with barely dry ink and full of silly goofs. As a freshman, I wasn't impressed by university lecturers resorting to reading the book aloud in class. Other classes included all the organisational methodology buzzwords taught using stories featuring gnomes with colour-coded-in-a-meaningful-way pointy hats. Really, was this a university? Never managed to slug through all that, so dropped out. But boy did I feel let down on that first programming class in university. Sure it was the latest and greatest fad and highly industry relevant. Fsck all did it do for my career.

I'll take clueful before "industry relevance" any day, thanks.

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That's right, Oxford's a complete dump!

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dissilusioned

They may well be, but delusional is probably a better description

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Anonymous Coward

...you failed to spot that only two of those are great Universities.

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Re: When I was at Cambridge...

Probably exactly what I was wondering when I saw the word "coded", in his message to Unis. I figured he was telling the Unis to stop teaching Unix/Linux/etc and convince inbound students and majors transfers that ONLY ms is relevant. If that is what he was doing, he is beyond daft.

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Holmes

Schools don't teach Computer Science - they teach "Using Microsoft Office". The Universities have to follow on from this void of basic skills.

Microsoft win one way, but fail the other...

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Anonymous Coward

@Nick

Schools, in general, don't teach Computer Science at all, they teach people how to use ICT and generally offer ICT GCSEs. There is still a GCSE in CS and I believe an A level as well, but they aren't commonly offered because of lack of demand from students and the demand on equipment that is better used for general core ICT.

So: No they don't teach CS, yes they do teach how to use the most commonly used ICT, but crucially they don't dress this up as CS.

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Word and Excel

Is what the mighty Microsoft demands from the Unis, that is science talent.

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Anonymous Coward

redmond spinning round the universities

Wait, what, wasn't their biggest selling point that NO TRAINING was to be needed? Say they're not falling on their own sword now, eh.

Wonderful double speak, as usual: "failing to cooperate with Microsoft on making uni IT courses as industry relevant as possible" is an euphemism for "refused to turn the course into an MCSE". Sheesh you marketeering bastards, there's more to computing than just YOU.

What matters is good solid basic skills, that you can apply again and again regardless of what computing environment you're in. If the universities aren't delivering, it's because they fail at teaching that, or because the yoof just aren't interested which might equally well mean the schooling system is failing to enthuse enough to go on to university, or it could very well be because the universities are trying too hard at this "being relevant to the industry" or at being popular to students. The universities' job is not to be popular or relevant to big corporations.

Again, it's the fundamental skills and research you need universities for. I suggest they stick to delivering just that. What redmond wants is vocational schooled yoof in their likeness, which then also somehow has to be brilliant at fundamental science. Well, you just can't have that. So sorry.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: redmond spinning round the universities

I suspect it's not so much "refused to turn the course into an MCSE" as "refused to base the course on .net, C# etc".

Also, someone who can get into a top university should be able to learn programming languages other than the ones they're taught in their degree courses. I was horrified to hear that Cambridge had started to teach Java as the first programming language in their CS degree "because students wanted something that they could use in their vacation jobs". If Cambridge's intake standard has dropped so far that the students can neither get a summer job doing something better than Java, nor pretend to dumb down enough to pick it up a week, we are doomed indeed.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cambridge teaching Java for holiday jobs

When I went to Oxford two decades ago I could already program. I wanted to learn computer science.

I'm amazed that Cambridge can't find ninety undergraduates each year with enough interest in the subject to have started exploring it before going to university. And Cambridge still has interviews.

"So why do you want to study CS?"

"I'm passionately interested in the subject, yet despite having a computer in the house since the day I was born, I've never learned to program it."

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Or to quote

Linus Torwald, you can learn nothing from Windows.

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Re: Or to quote

Sorry Linus, Torvalds it should be.

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Market Economy

If they believe in a market economy, as Microsoft often say they do, then they pay the price or shut up. If there aren't enough graduates then their value should command huge salaries thus stimulating more students to look to that career option. Or maybe they only like the bits of a market economy that benefit Microsoft.

On the other hand the government could target tax payers money into higher subsidies for University courses that provide skills that the country needs and less for those that don't. i.e. it becomes cheaper for the student to do medical, core science and engineering degrees than to take politics, economics, media etc.

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JC_

Re-read the Article

He's not complaining about the problems MS has recruiting, but the problems small IT firms have.

"Microsoft is a household name so we don't struggle to recruit, but we are at the tip of 30,000 IT companies and we're dependent on them for our revenue. They employ 300,000 people compared to our 3,000."

Doesn't seem unreasonable given that 80% of the people we interviewed for a programming job at our small ISV were dreadful.

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Anonymous Coward

So what exactly is he complaining about, then?

Maybe that small IT firms are having trouble finding conveyor-belt-trained, mediocre, malleable, exploitable Microsoft drones, and/or that the people they do recruit end up learning transferable skills and moving elsewhere for more money and a better quality of life.

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Re: So what exactly is he complaining about, then?

Wow - down voted? Sounds like you hit the nail on the head to me.

Short sighted firms wanting a new, ready skilled batch of drones to replace the experienced and costly engineers? Say it isn't so!

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Re: Re: So what exactly is he complaining about, then?

Probably downvoted for the obvious MS troll.

I'd like some ready-skilled developers for my small company please. If you think they're easy to find (at any money), you're living in dreamland. Even the candidates with 'experience' are rubbish these days.

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Re: Re: Re: So what exactly is he complaining about, then?

Probably...

I can't possibly estimate the ease with which you can source devs as I have no idea of the language you require, the level of ability required and if there are specialisms based on whatever it is you are developing for or on.

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Anonymous Coward

With a company as large as Microsoft, what would prevent them from offering the equivalent of an apprenticeship and doing their own in-house training?

That way they can tailor their training exactly to their specific needs.

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Anonymous Coward

They do, sort of.

It's the MCSE and other (E)TLA soup that from them has become a byword for "meeting the low, low base line, and more than likely, no more". Still, there's shops that demand you conform. I suspect more and more people would think twice before committing their lives to micros~1, as redmond is losing relevance hand over fist. So instead they're whining to the universities to do it for them, without the stigma (ha ha). As a university, I too would think twice, and prefer to avoid such a quagmire. On a vocational level it might make sense. On a university level, that sort of lock-in just doesn't. Goes against the grain of a "universal" institution, see?

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Anonymous Coward

Yes indeed.

Microsoft University.

Like McDonald's University.

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Teach how to think

Universities should be teaching people how to think, how to approach problems to create a solution. This can be done very well on older code and applications where the clutter of modern frameworks does not get in the way.

They don't need to teach people MS frameworks, anyone capable of doing the job can learn the environment.

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Re: Teach how to think

The problem with teaching people how to think is that it only teaches the same approach to solve problems so the solutions (if any can be found) tend to look the same - for better or for worse.

What we really need is to cultivate innovation and lateral thinking, so we find new ways to solve problems.

+1 on your sentiment though.

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Re: Re: Teach how to think

What we really need is to cultivate innovation and lateral thinking, so we find new ways to solve problems.

---------------------------------

And for that you need people with at least a modicum of creativity (software development is as much a creative process as a sciency-mathsy once)... and creative types are not going to head for courses in CS - it's just not "sexy".

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Re: Re: Teach how to think

"The problem with teaching people how to think is that it only teaches the same approach to solve problems so the solutions (if any can be found) tend to look the same - for better or for worse."

An interesting definition of "to think".

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Holmes

Those damn universities...

Teaching their CompSci's about UNIX, BSD (I wonder how many won't get the joke?) and the use of GCC...

Looks like some of the comments were written without reading the article, MS doesn't have a problem recruiting good people (they pay well and they're a big name), their industry partners do. To be perfectly honest, I would want Universities to teach the fundamentals of programming - it seems every time I need to write something new I'm hitting the relevant O'Reilly, even in a language I'm familiar with but the fundamentals of solving a given problem with a relevant algorithm stay in memory. If I'd been taught solely how to program in Java or Python, I'd be royally fsked if asked to code for an embedded device in C or some obscure assembler where memory management is a spreadsheet listing all the shorts, ints and longs in the program.

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I know I say this every time... but...

The alleged shortage is of what it has always been - 21 year olds with 5 years experience of 2 year old technologies who'll work 70 hours weeks for peanuts without making waves.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I know I say this every time... but... - Brilliant!

You deserve each and every up-vote you got.

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Meh

Skills Gap

...is often just another way of saying "we don't want to pay as much for our staff", as invariably the gap narrows as you advertise a higher starting salary.

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Re: Skills Gap

...or even have to pay them more than the manager overseeing the project: Managers are easy to find, good techie skills aren't.

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Vic
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Re: Re: Skills Gap

> Managers are easy to find

*Good* managers aren't; they're a very rare breed...

Vic.

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WTF?

So What?

1. Proper Computer Engineers use Linux and laugh in the face of Microsoft's purile offerings

2. THERE IS **NO** SKILLS GAP IN THE UK. Just useless agency sales reps with little or no appreciation of computing skills and moronic CIOs who won't read CVs futher than what ineffectual vendor certifications the candidate has.

Sounding bitter? Not really. I'm successfully self-employed after a successful career as a CIO

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Re: So What?

"I'm successfully self-employed after a successful career as a CIO."

Great. I do hope the requisite "moronic" bit you mentioned is wearing off quickly......

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Megaphone

I think...

One of the possible reasons is a change in motivation. I never got into IT because "it pays well" but because I honestly think its a fascinating world. And that fascination goes /way/ beyond something as trivial as a choice of operating systems. Because all of them have interesting aspects (or plain out key strengths!) which can make working with them quite an interesting experience.

Do keep in mind that I reflect on this from a technical perspective; /not/ that of the end user who will happily start to panic as soon as their mouse suddenly stops responding... (I don't care if this is X or Windows).

That background has gotten me knowledge on stuff such as setting up a VPN connection between peers and then using GRE packets to tunnel all your data across it. Or knowledge as to why ksh doesn't fully supersede sh (Solaris/Linux). Simple stuff such as using ssh as a tunnel: "cat $file | ssh user@host "dd of=/location/file"". Or what about Windows? Nothing to learn eh; checking up if SpamAssasin is still running on my server, all I need is a mere prompt (on my box): "sc \\magi query spamd". But it also fuels interest in new technologies, such as PowerShell... Getting the latest 5 entries in the system eventlog on a remote server?

All I need is a mere PS prompt: "invoke-command -computername magi -credential sysop -scriptblock { get-eventlog -logname system -newest 5 }"

...btw; renaming the administrator (or guest) account on Windows is yet another insight which I got out of sheer curiosity and which can be quite useful.

Generalizing here: Take a new (modern) graduate with "extensive Linux knowledge". Most often he hardly has the amount of experience as your average Linux hacker with no "IT education" but 4 years worth of hacking experience.

What's that? Breaking into banks and defacing official websites doesn't count for IT experience? Well, if that's your thought then you've just proven my point for me. Look it up ;-)

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Traditional Universities FTW

I went to a traditional uni, and a decade in IT since has proven the value of a proper education, instead of a glorified Microsoft bootcamp.

I may not have known the tools everyone was using, and the company may not have realised the value in training me in them (instead of moaning that I didn't know how to use them), but for everything I picked up, I was better than my colleagues. Why? They were limited by the tools. "This is how it works." "You can't do that with X." Or better yet "you can't do that with computers."

Basically, I learned about computers, and most of my colleagues learnt Visual Studio and SQL Server. Now I've left corporate IT to start work on my own development project, doing lots of very simple things that my colleagues would have thought impossible, because there isn't a .NET function that does it for them.

Give me a traditional education any day.

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As I suspected

"Uden later dropped in that it tended to be the leading universities who were the most difficult to work with."

These would be the places that believe it is their job to educate their students; not train up code bashers for MS.

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Re: As I suspected

Really, it warms my heart to think that not all the institutions will take the MS thinly veiled marketing input. Ideally I'd like to see teaching cover a range of skills but not focusing on one particular vendor's tools. Particularly not those that, being commercial, are subject to frequent changes and updates...

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Who wants real programmers?

Computer Science at university should not be M$ compliant IT skills, these are taught in schools.

CS programming should be taught on the most primative systems availible, the turing machine was standard knowledge at 'A' level and a degree needs to go even more primative not forcing programmers into the M$ point and click mold.

If you do not understand the fundalmental principals of computers and electronics right down to the silicon then you are just as user and this is what M$ want, a world without pesky the competition of CSists who put the code before the marketting.

Computer Science Degrees needs to be producing graduates who can make a computer do anything possible without need of someone elses generic system.

Time should be the only constraint on a computer Scientist's abilities simply because if you truely understand how computers work then using someone elses system it just a case of finding where they have hidden the function that you know must be there. (excepting M$ who seem to delight in not including full functionality )

So I would say that wasting time training to use any M$ system at UNI is actively retarding the learning of Computer Scientists

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Something else MS will really hate

MS must be really unhappy about the prospect of the Raspberry Pi producing a generation of programmers who've learnt from the start on an open system. I wonder whether they'll either come up with a board of their own to run some Windows variant, or port Windows to the rPi?

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Re: Something else MS will really hate

Funny, I started off on the BBC Micro and haven't had any trouble moving between MS, Proprietary UNIX and Linux throughout my career. The code being open or not makes little difference.

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Re: Re: Something else MS will really hate

Perhaps I should have put "non-MS" rather than "open", my main point being that people who start on the Raspberry Pi won't be locked in to MS from the start; it's a nice extra (or, for MS, salt into the wound) that they'll grow up expecting source code to be available.

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