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back to article If you want an IT job you'll need more than a degree, say top techies

A degree is not enough to help hopeful youngsters drag themselves off the dole queue and into a plum tech job, according to a survey of IT bigwigs. The employment site CWJobs asked 500 top tech titans about what they were looking for in a new recruit. Some 60 per cent agreed with the statement that "degrees alone are not enough …

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A time machine helps, too.

> A degree is not enough

Indeed not. According to some recruitment agencies, 5 years experience in 3 year-old technologies is a must-have.

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zb

Re: A time machine helps, too.

Don't forget the many years experience but age limit of 32

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Re: A time machine helps, too.

I dunno, some of us old timers still have a few tricks up out sleeves.

I remember a few years back we had a new graduate start at the office. He was a good programmer, but was always using the latest and greatest technology. For example he'd define classes when a record set would have been fine.

One day I heard him cursing, and asked what was wrong. He'd been generating some automatically for something or other, and had typo'ed the file extension, and was manually plodding his way through them on windows, renaming them.

I popped open a command prompt, type a quick rename command and then closed the command prompt.

He looked at me like I'd just performed some kind of witchcraft!

I honestly don't know what they teach them these days, but it doesn't seem to include basic command line stuff.

Needless to say, I was seen as some kind of geek god after that! lol!

Which was nice.

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Re: A time machine helps, too.

Wildcard rename as in *.xxx to *.yyy is unique to DOS, so anyone who cut their teeth in another environment would not know about it. UNIX geeks would expect to write a short shell script. The lazier and more general approach I'd take would be to paste the file list into a text editor and search+replace with regexps to create a list of rename commands.

General stuff like this is considered "how to use a computer" so wont feature in any degree course.

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Re: A time machine helps, too.

recruiters KNOW jack shit about the IT industry and yet if you look at their LinkedIN Profiles they have every IT skills and cert under their belt!

Bloody useless car salesmen thats all they are.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A time machine helps, too.

Posting anonymously as I am a coward.

As a final year student in Computer Science, we learn very little command line stuff and zilch MS.

Touched a bit of Java. As a final year student we've recently been taught how to create our "first" website for the third time. Yes, with Dreamweaver.

Upon arrival to Uni this morning I check my texts to find that my lectures had all been cancelled bar one at 2PM. Don't trust degrees, I won't trust mine when I graduate.

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Re: A time machine helps, too.

"Wildcard rename as in *.xxx to *.yyy is unique to DOS, so anyone who cut their teeth in another environment would not know about it."

Works on my SJ Research MDFS File Server.

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Re: A time machine helps, too.

Unix equiivalent:

ls *.x | sed 's/\(.*\).x/mv & \1.y/' | sh -s

(Assuming El Reg doesn't mash my backslashes and ampersands).

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Anonymous Coward

Useless agents

I once worked for a telephone company in Germany on a Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) project.

Ever since I have had calls from agents who assume I will be able to handle any and all Short Message Service work their clients might have.

Even when the difference is explained to them they try and push me forward - genuinely seeming to think I'd have a chance of getting the work and not being found out in the course of it. I am tempted to head along to some interviews just to prove them wrong and make them look bad. But what if they are not wrong?

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Re: age limit of 32

but who puts their age on a CV?

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Re: A time machine helps, too.

Modern Unix equivalent: for f in *.x ; do mv $f ${f%x}y ; done

Somewhat easier to read and do, I think...

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Re: A time machine helps, too.

So you've been taught: did you learn?

The real skill to learn is to teach oneself how to learn.

'Learning is acquiring new, or modifying and reinforcing, existing knowledge, behaviours, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information.' - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning.

I'm still learning new bad habits. And still trying to unlearn old ones.

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Re: A time machine helps, too.

"General stuff like this is considered "how to use a computer" so wont feature in any degree course."

That's the problem, perhaps it *should* feature in degree training.

A fair proportion of my job was doing exactly that, and sometimes automating it. You'll be surprised how often "general stuff like this" comes up. It's the grease that keeps the cogs (users, management, clients) quiet.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A time machine helps, too.

"Posting anonymously as I am a coward...."

Good employers are well aware of this. At Manchester we were essentially forced into using nothing but a Linux command line for the entirity of the degree (all courses were tailored for linux and the submission+marking systems required the command line). Again in contrast to your experience, "web" was effectively a swear word - with the totality of web experience for most students being told to develop a complete dynamic site for your first year team project. No teaching on html or php or js or css or any web technologies at all; it was simply expected that if you couldn't do that on your own by spending an hour a week with google you didn't deserve to be there.

The downside of course was truly awful tutors and staff, and an attrition rate that made the university pretty much actually cry. The upside is the top half of any graduating class is immediately picked up with golden hellos by the banks and the major consultancy shops.

Not all degrees are born equal.

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What you are taught is irrelevant

Specific skills are not enough and it is pointless for universities to try to teach skills in readiness for industry.

All that piece of paper says is "this person can learn techy stuff".

What is far more interesting to employers is demonstration of actual work done. Since universities are generally pretty contrived, that does not count.

What does count though is experience. Yes, you CAN get experience while at university. Just sign up with an open source project that grabs your fancy and contribute to that. It carries a lot of weight with employers.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A time machine helps, too.

lol, so true! John Latham would balk at an IDE!

All degrees are not created equal! Russell Group unis are the ones you should be going to anyway.

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Re: A time machine helps, too.

Or a little for loop if you're using bash.

for x in *; do mv "${x}" "${x/ext1/ext2}"; done

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Re: A time machine helps, too.

"Wildcard rename as in *.xxx to *.yyy is unique to DOS..."

That turns out not to be the case. Drawing only on my own limited experience, I can cite VMS, RSX, and RSTS as counterexamples - all of which, incidentally, flourished before "MS-DOS" was ever written.

Experience suggests that, in IT, it's dangerous to make assertions of the form "X is unique" or "Y has never been accomplished". There are so many different subdomains of IT, not to mention things that happened before a given person was born.

Of course, if you really meant "... can't be done in Windows", that would be quite a different kettle of fish.

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The first hurdle....

...is convincing Pam in the HR dept who is filtering all the applicants purely by "has a degree? Yes or No" to begin with.

Kind of makes it difficult for all of us IT guys that are 40+ that were told to 'get a job' at 18, have a wealth of real useful experience but no degree. We have the certs/experience/been round the block etc. but no degree.

Really great idea to make a degree the modern standard equivalent of "Maths and English O level".

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Unhappy

Re: The first hurdle....

Indeed. I'm in my 40s and halfway through a degree now - despite having worked on the internet since the 90s.

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Facepalm

Re: The first hurdle....

There's a surprisingly large number of us without degrees who are in our mid 40's.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The first hurdle....

You must be one of the few that don't lie on a CV. Lie, be economical with the truth or be creative, take your pick. Judging from the crop that gets through, at least with your experience you should be able to demonstrate some ability.

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Coat

Re: The first hurdle....

...despite having worked on the internet since the 90s...

Well, hurry up and finish it please!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The first hurdle....

"Lie, be economical with the truth or be creative, take your pick"

Speaking as somebody with two degrees to my name, I don't recall any of the past three employers has asked for proof, or made checks, so making it up is perhaps the way to go. So long as you're happy to run the risk of being shown the door without a reference should your bluff be called. A distant family member in her late fifties pork pied about having past her maths O level almost forty years previously, for a civil service job that "required" this. After a good few months of doing the job competently, she was shown the door after they asked for proof and she couldn't provide it. As you would expect, there was no requirement for any maths ability in the job, and it was a requirement (I assume) merely as an easy screening criteria for the lazy HR drones.

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Re: The first hurdle....

Maybe just write the word 'Degree' on your CV, on it's own on a visible part of it.

Might get you through the first round.

"I didn't say I had a degree it just says the word 'Degree'!"

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Re: The first hurdle....

Head of IT for a medium sized organisation with 5000 staff here.

First don't ever lie on a CV about qualifications, HR (the automated systems that are used for recruitment nowadays) always ask for an official transcript before appointing. Second, when I do recruit I always say "degree or equivalent such as demonstrable progression within the field of work". THis allows my recruiting managers to be more interpretive of the evidence presented by the applicant. Finally, keep your skills current; IT is a rapidly changing and complex industry, working on the internet in the 90's and being a top dog with Perl, gopher, WAIS and the like is about a useful to me as a horse and cart. Doing a part time degree or post graduate course in your 40's will show commitment to your work related personal development and update your skills.

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Re: The first hurdle....

"...despite having worked on the internet since the 90s...

Well, hurry up and finish it please!"

I thought it was finished - at least, the web, anyway. I've already read the whole thing twice.

Although I did notice that when I read it the second time, some things had changed.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The first hurdle....

This.

I'm 25, and was recently turned down for a development job because I wasn't going to have a degree within the next year (it's in progress at the moment). Regardless of my existing coding skills.

I'm stuck in a support role because I have no 'prior experience' working in an alternate role, and need a degree to get anywhere - despite the fact I know I'm better in some jobs than people who are in there with their 'fresh out of uni degree' already.

So as stated, catch 22; can't get a job without experience, can't get experience because the HR drones don't see you as intelligent enough. Fix this, and you'll actually get hold of some very skilled people.

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Thinning the hurdle

> merely as an easy screening criteria

The problem is when you have 1 vacancy and you get 200 applicants for it. What do you do?

It is impractical to diligently read each CV - I once got one of 40 pages (instant rejection, BTW) - so you need some way to come up with a list of "possibles", then a list of "probables" which you interview.

Also, for better or for worse, HR insist that any selection criteria must be non-discriminatory - which is a lovely idea, but very subjective (oh yes, and must be within the skill-set of HR's newest trainee). So a first pass: that has to be quick, objective, legal and relevant is to search for academic qualifications. (Another: that's based on spelling and typo's on the application is possible - but so many HR-types have such poor spelling & grammar that "LOL" and smilies would probably pass their filter).

After that, once you have got down to 10-20, you can start to actually read the CVs. Just bear in mind that you also have real work to do, in addition to recruitment duties. So detailed analysis of what the candidates (as they now are, as opposed to merely applicants) have to say is still a long way off.

Yes, it's largely random. Sure, some gems will slip through, Time consuming it certainly is. However it's still better than one proposal a colleague suggested: throw all the CVs into the air. If one of them sticks to the ceiling, that's the one to hire - since luck is as good as excellence (esp. if you're Napoleon and you are recruiting generals). However, the "lucky" ones might be the ones who don't get to work for you.

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Re: Thinning the hurdle

Listen to your colleague, total random selection would be just as good a selection method, if not better in some cases. The added bonus being: it saves you a lot of work.

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Re: Thinning the hurdle

There's research that agrees with it too: most selection processes are no better and sometimes worse than random selection would have been.

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Re: Thinning the hurdle

> total random selection would be just as good a selection method,

You may well be correct. However the very first time your randomly-selected candidate screws up, the blame-balls will start flying. Sooner or later someone will ask two questions: was this person qualified? and who hired this idiot?

Now, it may be that if you're hiring CEOs for The Co-Op Bank people won't ask - but for any normal organisation you don't want anyone putting your name up to answer those questions. At that time it's no good saying "Well I saw an article on Wikipedia that said random selection was just as reliable as academic selection", as you could soon be finding out, personally, that the recruitment process is much more arduous and deeper probing than that. As for the competency point: yes, nobody can assess whether a recruit will be able to do a particular job. However since the name of the game is CYA (or "indemnity" as professionals call it), if you can point to some objective criteria - no matter how irrelevant - and say that this person scored better than others, you stand some chance of still sitting at the same desk tomorrow. The worst that will happen is some jobsworth will set up a process review and witter on about "continuous improvement" and "learning lessons" - the lesson to learn is to avoid these people.

Finally, there's the perennial issue about HR. While they don't care about whether a person can do a particular job, they do care that the organisation (or more properly: they) doesn't get accused of unfair hiring practices. Therefore a process must be in place. It must have been approved and there must be documentary evidence to show it's been followed. If that all sounds a bit "ITIL-y" or "ISO-y", then I agree. However it's one of the hoops you have to jump through.

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WTF?

Re: The first hurdle....

...that's no excuse dude. Get some experience by starting your own online service for something or other. It doesn't have to be commercial .. something easy like online unix utilities .. converting from Unix timestamp to real time and date, for example. Or some photo manipulation tool .. whatever. Anything really.

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Re: The first hurdle....

don't worry I came out of University in 2008 when shit hit the fan, and tried of all places to get into IT within Finance, it really is a catch 22, stick with it, I was desktop support, and 5 years later I am Infrastructure Architecting solutions.

The recruiters do not care about you they just see the $$ comission. End of day you are more qualified then the recruiters so who are they to say what jobs you can or cannot apply for...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The first hurdle....

40+ , with 20 years of experience, you shouldn't be depending on Pam in HR to be making or breaking your career. If you are not utilizing the modern equivalent of a rolodex, like Linkedin. Or have other real world contacts, the decisions you have made in the past has ended up working yourself into a corner.

Before you think this is a negative criticism, I have done the same thing to myself. I burned one or two lucrative bridges prematurely. Or procrastinated on a few things sufficiently long enough it has had negative impact.

That being said, I picked a good time in my life to go into contracting. It has paid off significantly, I feel I have more job security as so many people can't take the risk, there is more demand than supply. I am not apart of the corporate head count, so where there are mass redundancies, you are not apart of the head count, but approved project budgets stay on.

I have no personal investment in development for the company or image. That being said I have gone from a day rate of 250 to 325 in the space of a year, because I have skills in other domains and I requested a readjustment to reflect extra responsibilities. I finish on time every day and don't get negative reviews for it. And I never take a call nor is one expected after work. My stress levels in work are non existent as there is no disparity between expectations and deliverables.

Its up to you to shape your career. Everybody knows that a degree is bullshit, I even went as far as getting a masters. Which I regret because I do honestly feel real world experience in the industry I am in would of paid of significantly. We all know the rules of the crappy game. If its a degree that ticks the box and can help you make a return on your time investment. There is the OU, pick the utter easiest engineering topic and apply the skills you learned through "been round the block" and fly though it. I sit beside many people who are doing that. I have to do shit I don't like all the time, like VMware certs that cost 3k. But that 3k probably brought me in an extra 20 over a few years.

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Re: The first hurdle....

You are doing the right thing though. Its a bitter pill to work through 4 years just to tick a box. But with out risk and investment its hard to get bigger rewards. Hopefully if you do have a bit of money after all that work, its significantly easier to survive the struggle of being a student.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The first hurdle....

A head of IT who can confuse a currently popular and useful ( try searching for perl jobs) scripting language with some old internet stuff is in the wrong job. Although expecting a Head of IT to actually know anything is probably the optimist in me coming out.

You wouldn't be zaphod beeblebrox would you? As I don't believe it is possible to get that amount of stupidity into one head.

I'll also be assuming the up votes are from your minions / cronies / other SFB heads of IT

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Re: The first hurdle....

I know a guy who wrote a small program for learning Japanese characters and uploaded it to sourceforge. Ended up with a development jobs in localization at a major bank with an outlandish salary at a very young age. If you have nothing to do, you might as well work on something.

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Re: The first hurdle....

I keep getting asked what GCSEs I have. I don't have any! I have 'O' levels.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The first hurdle....

I would not recommend lies on a CV, particularly if you want to work in financial services - believe it or not they do do background checks! For example:

My wife was recently starting a contract - but to the jobsworths at the background checkers, a copy of a PhD certificate is not enough! She ended up having to send them pages from her thesis...

As for me - all employees here are asked to bring in evidence of their degrees on the day they start.

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Re: Thinning the hurdle

> total random selection would be just as good a selection method,

That's why I always pick a CV at random - I like people who are lucky

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Re: The first hurdle....

Head of IT for a medium sized organisation with 5000 staff here.

First don't ever lie on a CV about qualifications, HR (the automated systems that are used for recruitment nowadays)

By the way, your automated systems are broken. They search for buzzwords, not actual knowledge. Good luck getting qualified help with that kind of half-arsed system between you and people who actually know what they're doing. Most of the people I know who really know what they're doing were too fucking busy to get a bunch of jerkwad "certifications', 90% of which are obsolete by the time you get it. Yet that's all your automated systems check for.

Bitter? Me? fucking right.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The first hurdle....

Degree is bullshit, but necessary bullshit to get through the door as an employee...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The first hurdle....

@AC 13:22

> I'm stuck in a support role because I have no 'prior experience' working in an alternate role, and need a degree to get anywhere

You might consider looking for a job in testing as a change. It's still a stop-gap until you get your degree, but easier to get into without a degree (any firm that demands a degree for a tester is not one you want to work for) and shows your willingness to learn about more than one role in the industry.

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Re: The first hurdle....

He is, for the NSA.

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Linux

Re: The first hurdle....

> HR (the automated systems that are used for recruitment nowadays) always ask for an official transcript before appointing.

Must be a European thing then. I've worked in all sorts of companies over the years including the kind that subject you to a month's worth of red tape before hire, and I doubt if one of them ever verified my credentials. I would know if they tried.

References are another matter though...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: for a civil service job that "required" this...

The Civil Service had the requirement of Maths, English and at least one other O Level 30 years ago when I joined, my job offer was conditional on passing English O Level (I already had Maths + 5 others) - they also wanted see the certificates.

Funny enough my current employer checked my degree where previous one didn't, but I think more to check I was being honest than anything else.

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Vic
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Re: The first hurdle....

> I don't recall any of the past three employers has asked for proof

When I took a permanent job back in July, my new employer asked for proof of the qalifications I'd claimed in my application.

I simply answered "I didn't tell you about my qualifications"... :-)

Vic.

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Re: The first hurdle....

"Maybe just write the word 'Degree' on your CV, on it's own on a visible part of it."

Scarily, it would probably work, very few that actually READ CVs to verify something like this.

I recall one repair job I was at, testing a landline modem at the time (yes, back in the day when they were still around), and the only number I could recall off the top of my head was my own BBS.

Supervisor looks over my shoulder, point to screen and says "what's that?"

"It's my BBS, I'm just testing this modem".

"Oh, you run a BBS?" Supervisor sounding surprised.

"Er, yes, it was in my CV, you would have known about it".

"Arg, there was a stack of CVs this high, we're not going to read all of them!" He explains.

"Ah yes, but *I* got the job"...

Earlier, upper manager said I got the job because of my technical skills, though, couldn't name one of them...

It was an odd place, great fun, but odd.

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