>Why I don’t care if you have a computing degree or not

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I have a real problem which I am aware of and compensate for, but it exists.

When I see CV’s come into my company for technical jobs and that person has some form of IT degree something inside me dies. Now, I am old enough to recognise that. I have and do and will continue to employ people with IT related degrees. But just because you have a degree in some discipline of computing doesn’t mean you know jack shit that is any use to me.

The following is an example of why.

Akemi has just started a three year full time degree called ‘Internet Computing’. Let’s read the yada yada of what that actually means. From the web site:

The internet has become central to a wide range of commercial, educational, and leisure activities.  As a result, the internet is used directly by a diverse collection of individuals and organisations, with different requirements and priorities.  This course provides knowledge and understanding of the architecture and design of web-based systems and web development tools.  it also provides skills that underpin the development and evaluation of collaborative and interactive web sites in commercial settings.

Nope, I’ve got no idea what that means. Currently she’s learning about ARM Processor architectures and Java and bash scripts and management techniques! So today she’s asking about aliases. I rarely use aliases (I don’t like having commands working on one machine that don’t work on another) so I give my stock response.

Her: I can’t get this alias to work

Me:  No idea, google it

Her: Not allowed to, we must use man

I google it

Me:  Do this

Her: How did you find that out?

Me:  I googled it.

Her: I am not allowed to do that. I must use man

Now what sort of goddamn computing course forces you to search ‘man’ for answers whereas you can find informed, understandable, easy to read answers virtually anywhere else. man was useful for finding out information approximately never. OK, OK – you could argue that before widespread availability of the Internet, man had a part to play. But you’re wrong. I remember back in the early 90’s sitting with a hulking big professionally published and printed copy of Linux How-to’s, tutorials etc because ‘man’ was no bloody use. I think ‘man’ was named by a woman as a jibe. It has all the information you want but it’s bloody impossible to make any use of it.

Have you ever tried to get anything useful out of man? Try it.

Let us turn to our most loved bible of computing misanthropy, The UNIX- HATERS Handbook. Click here for a downloadable pdf and treasure it for ever. If you don’t laugh A LOT you’re probably dead. Anyway, back to ‘man’. What does this book that was written in 1994 have to say about ‘man’?

man was great for its time. But that time has long passed.

That was in 1994. Here we are, in 2009, and computing courses (Internet computing courses, for the love of all that is holy!) are teaching their students to use ‘man’. By the way, there’s a whole chapter in that book about documentation, it’s great.

Where was I? Oh yes, IT related degrees.

This ability of Universities to provide minimum useful information but excel in modern techniques of Arse Hattery is stupendous. Now I can’t blame the Universities completely because really, whether people have degrees or not in computing doesn’t have any effect that I can see on whether they can ‘do it’ or not. But when your teaching material is so far removed from real life (unless your goal in life is to write man pages) what is the fucking point? Teach something that is useful. In some ways these degrees are the worst things that can happen because you’re making people think they actually know something about the real world requirements of computing. I remember years ago arguing with a newly indoctrinated graduate about how to tackle a certain issue. My years of experience were no match for their shiny little degree certificate although I assume their management technique training did give them more gravitas that my rather to the point ‘fuck off’.

Now some disclaimers. I assume there are good and bad Universities, courses, lecturers etc. It is very likely that within this world medicore programmers are being educated and improved. My two favourite programmers both have degrees (although only one has an IT related one). But when I get a CV I have no idea what side of the divide you are. I can find that out by talking to you and working with you. And at that point, I really don’t care about degrees.

 And no, I don’t have a degree.

7 Comments

  • 1
    Anonymous
    October 18, 2009 - 1:49 pm | Permalink

    >Well now I was able to work my way round a VAX solely by the use of man. Quite why the client (bank would you believe?) would allow me loose on their system when I obviously had never been near anything like it is anyone's guess. But man was all I needed. OK I also did nothing much more than… ermm no idea what I was doing as this was 1995. Probably the same held true back then. But give me a 20 ft shelf of manuals any day rather than the 'helpful' help that the likes of MS dole out these days. Can't undertand a word.

  • 2
    Ian J Cottee
    October 18, 2009 - 6:20 pm | Permalink

    >You're missing my point. Did you have Google available then? No? Compuserve? No? Then no choice.

    You did? Well, you're a masochist.

  • 3
    Anonymous
    October 23, 2009 - 11:12 pm | Permalink

    >This is a fairly standard position from someone without a degree. I remember doing lame stuff like this in the first couple of days of my degree 15 years ago. I can assure you we had moved onto more advanced and relevant stuff by the time the 3 years were out. I realise that the lack of a degree can lead to doors being slammed in your face, which can cause you to develop a chip on your shoulder, and lead to posts like this.

  • 4
    Martin Owen
    October 27, 2009 - 12:47 pm | Permalink

    >If Larry and Sergey hadn't studied CS there'd be no Google.

  • 5
    Ian J Cottee
    October 28, 2009 - 4:39 pm | Permalink

    >Dear anonymous. Ah my secret is out. My lack of degree has been a huge hindrance to my career and I'm a broken bitter man. Teach me your ways – PLEASE – so I can reach the peaks.

  • 6
    Anonymous
    November 27, 2009 - 2:10 am | Permalink

    >Oh the sarcasm, the lowest form of whit. I'm glad that you've done well for yourself. Unfortunately your post doesn't really address the problem any hiring manager or recruitment agent has when reviewing hundreds of C.V's, whereby a good degree is the best filter. "Having a chat" with every candidate is simply not going to scale.

  • 7
    Peter Morris
    January 2, 2010 - 10:37 pm | Permalink

    >For me, a computing degree is neither a positive nor a negative in a CV.

    Whats important is whether the person has an INTEREST in their craft.

    Are they just looking for a job or are they looking for a job because programming is what they MUST do?

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