Software Development

Building the next 'geek generation'

Are we doing what we can to cultivate the future geeks, some of whom will turn a coding or hardware "hobby" into the next HP, Apple, or Google?

While I've largely departed from my technical roots of programming and hardware work and moved toward the "advisory" side of IT services, I occasionally like to reestablish a connection to my inner geek. The programmers in the room will likely laugh, but a couple times a year I'll crank out an Excel or Outlook macro and bask in my programming "savvy" when the thing mostly works after an extensive effort on my part, one that would likely take a "real" programmer all of four minutes.

This week I replaced a dying "major brand" desktop with one I built, something I haven't done in years. Thankfully for me and my atrophied skills, building a modern computer is a fairly easy task, and gone are the days of setting IRQs, adjusting tiny jumpers (especially troubling to anyone with normal adult-sized hands), and configuring a raft of expansion cards to get basic functionality that today is built in to the motherboard. Unfortunately, the economic benefit to a home build is long gone, and off-the-shelf computers are actually cheaper, but there's a nice sense of accomplishment to turning on a machine that you built and watching it fire up successfully. There's also an opportunity to customize the system to your exact requirements, in my case I wanted a powerful, but nearly silent, machine, an objective that still seems a bit distant considering the howl of fans not too far from where I currently sit.

As I made the final cable connections on my new desktop, I began to consider the state of technology and wonder whether we're cultivating the future geeks, some of whom will turn a coding or hardware "hobby" into the next HP, Apple, or Google. Ask industry leaders and most would tell you that we are not building this next generation, and they would place the blame squarely on schools and a lack of "STEM" (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education. While it may be comfortable to put all the blame on the heads of teachers and universities, I don't think a solution to the problem is that easy.

Fundamentally, technology has taken an interesting and paradoxical path. As technology has permeated our lives and offered a massive array of functionality, it has grown superficially more user-friendly, yet dramatically more complex behind the scenes. Whereas you were once a blue-blooded geek for owning a computer, most households now have several, and UNIX-based operating systems, once the province of true nerds, now power popular smartphones present in pockets everywhere. While my 20-month-old son has figured out the fundamentals of operating mom's iPad, most of the population has no idea how these devices work on even a conceptual technical level.

On one hand, this seems like good news to the technical professions. Technology is now mainstream, and with a proliferation of complex devices, presumably a cadre of skilled technicians will be required to develop, support, and maintain them. Where I think the profession is missing the mark is by placing all its faith in STEM-based education. Put yourself in the place of a young person considering a future career. In one corner there might be a role in health care, with an arduous but interesting educational path followed by the chance to save lives and cure disease. Many of the business-related professions promise financial reward and dealings with interesting clients and customers while solving the complex problems one reads about on the front page of the Journal. The arts carry dreams of impacting humanity and personal fulfillment. I believe presenting technical careers as years of complex mathematics courses short sells the profession and turns off an entire generation of potential IT workers, while also not necessarily equipping them well for a technical career where problem solving and creativity are far more relevant skills than Differential Equations 101.

Few people actually use the higher mathematical courses in their day-to-day IT jobs, and most of us would be better served by an emphasis on problem solving and rapidly learning new technologies and processes, since what we learn in school is likely outdated by the time we graduate (says the "expert" Pascal programmer). Academics tell us that the courses teach us "how to think," and while there's certainly some validity to that assertion, a class where students attempt to make a smartphone talk to a coffee maker or some similar stunt would encourage thinking and likely be more attractive to someone who might otherwise choose a nontechnical career. Industry also needs to better communicate that there's more to IT than sitting in a cubicle, filing TPS forms.

At the end of the day, what keeps me excited about my career is that it has been far more than bits and bytes, and we are doing ourselves a disservice by short selling this profession and the wealth of experiences it offers.

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

41 comments
MTsyko
MTsyko

I agree with the balance of the article. I was a teen when the first Apple/PC's came out and it was a GREAT time to be a geek. However, as I got older I thought a CS degree would help me. I wanted to study computer science at Colorado State University. CSU requires completion of 3 levels of Calculus which I could not do. Even my programming professors did not agree with this, as with me as an example, I "get" it regarding programming and my teachers saw that but Admin rules would not let me acquire a CS diploma without the Calculus. That turned me back into an "anonymous nerd". Capable of programming and building computer systems but no degree. Stupid, Stupid, Stupid, Anyway, want to help nurture geeks in your area? If you know how to build or program invite young people to help/learn. Check with area schools &/or place some fliers around their hangouts.

sharkeys.machines
sharkeys.machines

I see multiple areas that need defining for this conversation. On a education level - I see referances to Engineers -both software and hardware, Business IT Management, Certified Services management, and your standard (comptia) tech. I am a onsite tech for a Global Enterprise that designs and builds hand held computers. I service engineers and business managers of every flavor. I am under contract to my second OEM as the company was sold to a larger Global Enterprise. Under the first OEM I provided service to this company Globally -under the second I am restricted to the US. I have about 200 remote users out of the approx. 600 I provide services to. In the last 2 years I have had 5 techs when my workload exceeded my ability to maintain the SLA of the contract. When I started it was "cheaper to build a better computer than what was offered". I had aspirations of being a branded OEM. I built custom machines, built Images, grabbed every piece of software I could find to play with, built networks and optimized them. I did all this while working on dual degrees in Computer and Electronics engineering technologies. My electives were focused on A+, Net+, Cisco, OS's. I discovered I had a knack for troubleshooting Hardware/software/OS/Network issues and switched my focus to IT services. I am at the lowest end of the service chain discussed in this article. I am a Hands ON tech. I jumped into all this when I was approaching 30 and decided I didnt want to work as a construction laborer for the rest of my life. The managed services for this company is like any other Enterprise and is what will continue as Technology services continue to be made simpler from a remote/cloud perspective. I watch as the Engineering department here is reduced so that the Compnay can make a higher profit by hiring and placing an Engineer at their China facility. They can do this not just because the Government makes it easy but because the computer and networking industry has made global communication easy. Hardware techs make less than half of what they did when I started this 12 years ago. Just as this country was made by being a melting pot the IT industry is being redesigned as a global melting pot of talent.We are not competing gaianst the 250 million US citizens, we are competing against the 5 billion around the Globe. When I get pinged by someone from the Helpdesk or Wipro in India -China -South America they have a 4 year degree and are on a helpdesk.I had no plans to get my 4 year degree to sit on a help desk. Nor did I think I would need my 4 year with several certifications to be an Onsite Technician. But that is exactely what is needed if I want to continue doing what I love. I need to diversify and qualify my skill set. Just as my child will need to do in school to be Educationally viable in a globally competitive work force.

IT-->PM
IT-->PM

My degree in Information and Computer Science had six areas of specialization from which we chose two and in which we focused our elective courses. This as allowed us to focus on areas in which we had an interest. My interests meant courses outside of technology. I didn't fully understand the value until I began supporting people whose jobs were centered around those subjects. I could much more readily understand their requirements than my peers could, making me more valuable. I was a co-op student, working every other quarter in industry. This provided the oppotunity to apply what I had learned to real world issues. When I graduated, I had over two years experience in a corporate environment in my field. Although I have changed companies fewer times than they have me (continue work at the same place after a buy-out), I have had a different job (within the same company) about every two years. It has kept my interest up and provided more opportunity. Check out the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) program. It is a goals-oriented program targeted toward middle school and high school students. If your area has the program, consider providing your support as a mentor. If your area doesn't, consider helping to start one. Help provide opportunities for the next generation. My opinion - if you enter this field (or any, really) only for the money, you will likely be disappointed. You must do something you at least like a lot. A bachelor's degree in purely (or even mostly) programming is like an associate's degree that took four years to obtain. Problem solving using the skills you learn must be part of the curriculum, either via internships, co-op, or team based projects.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

on business, they don't want geeks. They are rare, driven and hard to manage. What they want are cheap glorified clerks. Wish granted, big smile.... Part of that desire is this deliberate confusion between skill (e.g. programming) and tool (e.g. excel :D ) You've must more chance at going straight into a job with excel, than you have pascal, yet a comperent and enthusiastic teacher could teach an interetsed pupil a lot of the basics of programming with either, and teach them enough to pick up the other, IF they focus on the skill. Course that would mean less bodies available, therefore lower supply, therefor higher cost to the industry. So my heart bleeds for them.

fssrk1
fssrk1

I agree with many of the comments above about lack of hands on experience or opportunities to learn some of the technology in current use. I started off engineering school and struggled with the math and went to got an associate degree in electronic technology. The Associate degree got me to learn basic troubleshooting the confidence to take apart equipment and started my love of practical math. I went on and got my bachelor of science electrical engineering degree with Telecommunication option. I aced most of the math classes in engineering school but to be honest have a hard time applying it. Most of the work in a typical environment only requires Algebra, arithmetic, and Trigonometry due to simplifications and assumptions of working with linear region of most electronic devices. After working 9 years as a communication system engineer I realized I had only a high level understanding of how the equipment worked. I switched my job to an electronic technician and within 3 weeks have started to vastly understand the simple things I misunderstand as a project/systems engineer. It is surprising what things you can't understand by just reading. In the past couple of weeks I have configured, tested, installed mobile radio, have performed PBX admin work, configured communication circuits, used basic hand tools. Working in a technician role there is satisfaction knowing that you have completed an installation or resolved a problem. Currently I am working on Masters Engineering in Networked Info Systems. Our Electric Utility company has been moving towards a more packetized network and I aim to be one of the people influencing the design and implementation in our network. My brother after a couple of years of no work with a bachelors degree in computer science has got hired by the government but it is low pay. The only experience he had was class work and video games he programed as a hobby. My suggestion to the upcoming geeks don't be discouraged by the challenge of learning technical information you will often not learn it on the first pass through it, keep preserving. A future geek can start by attending local events held by the IEEE, First robotics competition, building their own computer and robots, taking vocational classes in high school and community college. Try to find a good mentor maybe a teacher, professor, or even online through the IEEE. If you are taking the college path take as many internships as possible. I had 4 internships, my brother had none, I got a good job at graduation, my brother took 2 years to find his first job. Working in the technical field has been a blessing over the 9 years, many great people are available to help if you have questions and show an interest in a topic. As I gain more experience working as a technician and trying to combine it with my project management and system engineering experience my next goal will be to train the next generation of upcoming geeks. I think that most network or communication engineers should work at least 2 years as a technician or installer and they would be a lot more productive when providing system designs. Hopefully I didn't ramble on too much but wanted to pass on my experience. Regards to Everyone.

jkameleon
jkameleon

Multitudes of them are hard at work right now, on the Wall Street, inventing new investment vehicles so sophisticated, that no judge or politician will ever figure them out.

DesertJim
DesertJim

Most STEM teaching is not done by enthusiastic mentors, but by teachers trying to meet targets arbitrarily set by well meaning bureaucrats. Not the teachers fault. But I assume we are mostly technically skilled people if you are reading this, so how about engaging with your kids and giving the love of discovery of things. This will help them learn, rather than achieve average targets. Geekdom isn't genetic it needs to be learned.

n.smutz
n.smutz

Our present wealth of technology owes much to the full-court press of WWII, when experts in theoretical and applied science (much seperated at the time) were deliberately thrown (forced?) together. I wonder if some geekly academic frustration comes of theory and practice dividing and camping up again. Low point in my mathematical career: Student (not me): "Is this stuff good for anything?" Professor: "Yes" On one side are fundamental theorems, principless, secrets of the universe. On the other are applications, changes in the world. Between is grinding swamp of tools. Ideally math would enlighten students with principle and carry through weilding the tools toward empowering implications. Too often math courses camp in the tool-swamp, letting go of principle and not taking hold of application. Maybe this is a vestige of the days when they trained people to be computers. (occupational title) The student feels like he's being neither enlghtened nor empowered; he's just being a tool.

calistra
calistra

Temple Grandin, by now a well known figure for her publicity of how Autism can be turned to your advantage, has talked quite a bit about wasting the next geek generation. She talks about the lack of "hands on" classes in schools run by enthusiasts. The BBC in a comparison between Germany and USA concluded that "vocational" training including apprenticeships seem to be a dirty word in the US.

Mark Miller
Mark Miller

A couple areas I think need to be addressed to solve this. You say that emphasizing math is not likely to bring more innovative people into the field. That's true if you're talking about continuing down the road we've been on, which is increasingly needing fewer and fewer people, at least in this country. The reason math is valuable is it's a tool that can be used to reason. It's not just about jobs. It's about being able to see better within the mind. What we see in the world is not totally what we think we see. Our brain interprets what our eyes see, and that is what we actually see, not what's actually there. The people who created our major technology companies had more skill than your typical IT worker, so I think you're selling the skill areas short. A big problem with math education is the way math is presented. There's also a big assumption made in our education system: that the people who "get" math were born with the ability. Everyone else just has to plod along, understanding how to use it, but not really getting it. Our whole math curriculum is oriented around this assumption. Most undergrad math education in college is oriented around this, too. This really needs to change. Most people go through years of math courses never really understanding what it's about (I include myself in that group, though I'm trying to remedy that). It's just a skill to be applied, to most people. To make an analogy, what we are typically taught about math is like the modern computer world you described. People understand how to use computers, but they don't understand what makes it all tick, much less that there are some really interesting ideas behind what makes it all tick. There's also a realization that can be made that you--yes you--can contribute more interesting ideas to make it all tick. You don't have to just look at the interesting ideas and be impressed, and say, "Ooh! Aah!" Secondly, the world of programming has not caught up with the technology world we now exist in. Back in the days of the early microcomputers, every computer came with a programming language, usually Basic. Secondly, the computer companies made it known to their customers that the computer came with such a language, and gave them some short introductions in how to use it. This is how I got started in programming at the age of 12. I didn't have any courses in programming until the 8th grade, which was the first time I had seen a computer lab. My experience was not unusual. I think most of today's skilled programmers got started on their own, not because they had a programming class in school. The thing was, more than 20 years ago, they were given every excuse to get into it. There was a language on their computer, and every computer came with something showing them how to use it. The thing was, the programming language back then encompassed quite a bit of what those early computers could do. Now we have computers with GUIs, and we have the internet/web. There are languages with massive libraries that enable all this software, but nothing that presents a nice comprehensible interface to these new features. A new language is needed that acknowledges this new world, and makes it more understandable to most programmers. What we have now is inadequate. It can do what we see, obviously, but only experts who can wrangle with our now arcane programming systems can deal with it. So I think a lot needs to change, but we need to up our game, not avoid the tasks that seem too hard. Avoidance is not going to get us the next Microsoft's and Google's. What would be great to see is if newer innovative programming systems emphasized simulation and modeling. That would help people to see that computers are not just useful for automating things, but also seeing ourselves and our world more clearly. A major hurdle to get over, though, in people's understanding of this, is to help people understand that a computer simulation is not the same as the real thing. It is our *idea* about the real thing, and our idea is a model we have constructed. Since it came from us, not from what we modeled (just based on our conception of it), it needs to be regarded with some caution about what it tells us. This isn't to say that computer simulation is dangerous. Far from it. Even with this blurring of the lines between fact and fiction, it can still help us see more clearly what we *think* we see.

MargaretBartley
MargaretBartley

This is a big topic, and I applaud your taking it on, but unless you want to discuss it at a deeper level, it's just going to be more dross in the pond, more glazing over of eyes. There is a deep movement afoot to dumb down the US population. It started with the student protests of the 1970s. The ruling elite did a collect dope slap to their foreheads and said, "THIS is why we don't educate the peasants!". You can see a good discussion of this in the 1974 Trilateral Commissions white paper, "The Crisis of Democracy" where they call for changing the educational system from being one of educating good citizens, to being only a job training program, for most people. Many states (I don't know the number) issue a bi-annual report comparing educational resources to future job needs, and for the past decade, in Washington, the report has said we have more than enough people with Bachelor degrees, we need more people with one- and two-year certificates (their wage demands are lower). Employment in the STEM fields has plummeted for Americans, as the alphabet soup of visas has put millions of foreign guest-workers in jobs that used to be done by Americans. Many of those workers were brought to the US on limited visas designed to give them enough time to learn the job, and take the job back with them as they returned home. Even the jobs that are still done by Americans are seeing significant wage drops. Most of the programming jobs I'm seeing now pay less than what I was making 25 years ago, when I was just out of school. It's not just the lack of a future, it's also things like the lack of resources for kids. Radio Shack used to have all kinds of kits that were toys. When is the last time you saw a chemistry set? An electronics kit? What happened to all the computer user groups? Where are the amateur science clubs in schools? Where are the after-school clubs for kids to get an introduction to this? They used to be ubiquitous. These were all conscious decisions, to take away young people's ability to get a fun introduction to techie issues.

jbobst
jbobst

What is going down the tubes in this country is the supply of competent skilled workers, machinists, millwrights (bet you don't even know what that is, do you?), patternmakers, tool and die makers, gage makers, metallurgists, and the list goes on and on without adding any construction trades. It takes a tough four year apprenticeship of classes and hands on to get your ticket, more work than computer geeks can actually man up to. Lacking these people it is easy to see why companies offsource. Geeks just can't run machines or use complex tools. That they were once important is true, but not today. The supply far outweighs the demand. Joe

puertoricoman101
puertoricoman101

As a student pursuing a B.S. in Computer Science my main concern is what will the true effect of outsourcing/offshoring be on the job market by the time I graduate (hopefully 3 years!). I enjoy learning programming languages, web development, and just messing around learning linux commands, but will I be able to actually get a decent paying job without having to move around the country and be able to support a family? It seems to me the only way for me to get the x amount years of experience anyone is asking for is to go to India and work there... on U.S.A. offshored IT jobs!

premiertechnologist
premiertechnologist

About how useless Generation Whine seems to be when it comes to the truly technological. Good luck in getting truly qualified candidates which fulfill your business needs -- if you can figure out what your IT business needs are, that is. Or you can wait until the economy crashes and we go back to the Dark Ages, in which case the whole question becomes moot.

John.M.Thompson
John.M.Thompson

I have thought about this too. I think some of the reluctance might be in that the field is so huge. Nobody can know it all. Where would a young "techie want to be" get started?

Mark Miller
Mark Miller

Maybe you got in earlier than me. I majored in CS at Colorado State U. from '88-93. I was only required to take 2 semesters of Calc. I got through it with C's. I was also required to take 2 science courses, English Comp., and a couple courses from a list of electives, such as EE, philosophy of cognition, linguistics, CIS, etc., from what I remember. I noticed that the CS program was getting watered down as I went through it. The new courses were generally not as hard as the versions of them that came before. The older sophomore and junior courses had large semester projects, and there was a lot more emphasis on dealing with assembly language, linkers, and such. The new versions dealt a little with assembly, and only used linkers to produce conventional executables, but there wasn't as much "digging into the guts" of computers. Everything became more abstract, though C was the main language used in senior level courses. I was just barely keeping ahead of the "wave" of the revised program. I didn't understand why they were doing that. As one example of this, I took a graduate compilers course as an elective. The older version of the course had the students producing assembly language, which would then be run through an assembler. In the version I took we compiled our source language into C, using it as our "assembly language" (we had to emulate dealing with an abstract machine as much as possible, not merely translate source constructs into normal C constructs).

tbmay
tbmay

I recommend kids think long term. What do they want to be doing when they're 45 or 50. Not right now. My wife is a school teacher. Not an easy job but for a bit of comparison, what they do doesn't change all that much from year to year. Their re-certification is typically funded. They usually have to do that over summer, but hey, they don't teach over the summer. And there are only a few certs. Usually only one relevant for the subject and/or age range taught. Contrast I.T. What you're good at now won't matter 3 years from now. As Tony clearly 100% correctly pointed out, there is a DELIBERATE confusion between skill and tool. Emphasis on deliberate. Ponder on that a bit. Recertification....up to you. Your time, you finance. Good luck choosing from the gillion expensive certs the ones that are best for you. Expect 80 hours per week. We only want people "passionate" about what we're doing, and I.T. here. (Someone has already commented in another thread about how grown ups can can actually be "passionate" about I.T. Tony is right, if someone is determined to get in to it, I certainly can't stop them. But I'm not going blow sunshine up their backsides either. They could be in for a long haul if they're going to try to make a career out of I.T.

JJMach
JJMach

I would also like to encourage people with a technical background to get involved in programs like FIRST. Lets face it, folks in technical professions are not among the leading baby-making demographics, so if we are going help create a new generation of techies to follow in our footsteps, we should not just rely on doing it at home. Besides providing a great educational opportunity, I think of FIRST as Big Brothers/Big Sisters for nerds. Not only can you help the kids do things that are pretty dang cool, you can help kids realize there are a lot of people out there in the real world (making decent money) that are a lot like them.

tbmay
tbmay

"they don't want geeks. They are rare, driven and hard to manage. What they want are cheap glorified clerks." "Part of that desire is this deliberate confusion between skill (e.g. programming) and tool (e.g. excel grin )" Great observation, and dead on from what I can see. So, as far as cultivating youth, why in the blue blazes, if we REALLY care about a kid's ability to earn a living in the future, would we encourage him to get in to a field where, at best, it's probably going to be very hard? I'm not going to encourage someone to get in to something because I think it's neat. He or she is the one who will have to live his or her life.

Madsmaddad
Madsmaddad

But I assume we are mostly technically skilled people --> Yes so how about engaging with your kids and giving the love of discovery of things. --> I did, and now my son has a higher qualification than I ever earned, (PhD in Physics), following on from M.Eng in Electronics. He now teaches me stuff, especially about linux.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Can be shown, it can't be taught though. When I started IT was sci-fi, it was a completely open field, and it became within reach. People like us who went into it were those that would have gone for math and science and then into the world as applied techs, or as theorists and teachers. Geekdom isn't just IT and it is a combination of genes and environment. Mo While I agree some enthusiasm from teachers, parents, nearby carbon based life forms would be more than good, the best it would do is not put budding geeks off. As a parent would you recommend an IT career to your child? Unless they were badgering me for how to find out how this works I wouldn't. That's how academa is working now.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I taught for five years in one of the more affluent school districts in my state. The attitude from the 60s that voc ed was for those people who weren't smart enough to go to college was still prevalent in 2005. Many mainstream educators still roll their eyes when the subject of "Career and Tech" (today's "vocational") education comes up. I used to say, in the introduction to my basic electronics course, "We spell electronics a-p-p-l-i-e-d m-a-t-h," then hand my students a worksheet that allowed me to assess their practical knowledge of algebra.

SKDTech
SKDTech

I would much rather see employers looking for vocational certification than university degrees. I am currently working on a Bachelors degree and while there are many subjects which I enjoy learning, there are several which I am required to take for my degree that don't appear to have much, if any, bearing on my field of study.

JJMach
JJMach

I agree with your lament of the lack of availability and accessibility of programming in this modern day and age, but I think there are some things to be hopeful about. While I do not want to sound like a shill for National Instruments, I am very impressed with their collaboration with LEGO to develop the Mindstorms line of components that are the building blocks for some of the FIRST competitions. NI took their LabVIEW graphical programming language and derived a programming system for the Mindstorms controllers that even a grade-school student can understand and work with. How many of us older generation got a childhood thrill the first time we used BASIC to make the TV say "HELLO WORLD!"? Can you imagine how much more awesome it would be if you were able with about the same effort to make a robot (you just built yourself) start moving around? More recently, NI came out with an educational version of LabVIEW, specifically designed to compile general programs for the Mindstorms processor that will allow high school students to develop far more complex logic for engineering projects and the upper division FIRST competitions. I thought it a brilliant move in helping to sustain STEM interest as kids get older (and not to shabby a marketting move, getting kids to grow up with their software, so they will be more inclined to continue wanting to use their products as adults).

Marc Jellinek
Marc Jellinek

If all the "bi-annual reports comparing educational resources to future job needs" state "we have more than enough poeple with Bachelor degrees", why are companies like Oracle, Microsoft and IBM constantly going to the US Federal Government demanding more H1B visas to import highly skilled workers they say can't be found in the domestic supply? One thing I have to agree with: It's almost impossible to outsource your average plumber, HVAC, auto mechanic or construction worker. I have friends in all of those trades, and with the exception of the construction trades, they've had constant work for the past decade.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

You say we're oversupplied with geeks, then say there's a shortage of competent skilled workers. What the h3ll do you think a geek is?

SKDTech
SKDTech

But a post such as yours raises doubts. As a computer geek who also spends time on farm work, construction and various other pursuits requiring much time to be spent sweating in the sun, the remark "more work than computer geeks can man up to" offends me. Any skilled trade takes a lot of hard work to master, whether it be machining or programming. Just because it doesn't involve sweat and hand tools does not mean it is not hard work. I agree that we are suffering due to a decrease in the numbers of new craftsmen in industrial occupations but that is not the fault of geeks. All types of workers are needed as we move forward into the future, from ditch diggers to CEOs and shipfitters to software developers.

me
me

Find an internship fast and if you can do several. Interning at companies is a great way to get experience, network and "get an in" at companies you work with. Your school should be able to help you find opportunities.

SKDTech
SKDTech

Employment agencies and freelance job boards such as eLance, ODesk or others can be your friends when it comes to getting experience. Pay may not be quite what you could expect as a full employee but it will give you experience and a lot of places are starting to use agencies for finding full time employees since they can try you out for an extended period before making a decision on whether to hire you.

Marc Jellinek
Marc Jellinek

You know, there's never been a better time to be a nerd. There is an amazing amount of software, programming languages, database platforms and tutorials on how to use them all.... available for free. With all the blogs and websites available to post questions (and answers), it isn't hard to start building a reputation. The first Windows program I ever wrote was an application to balance my checkbook. After I got comfortable with that (using it almost daily, finding bugs, fixing them), I had the confidence to start solving other people's problems. Where to start? Find a problem, find a way of solving it. It isn't overly difficult, it just takes time, effort and initiative. Here's a list of free items, widely available and widely supported to get anyone started: Operating Systems: Besides the Windows OS that seems to ship with every PC in the known universe, there is Ubuntu and the other Linux variants Virtualization: Don't want to screw up your PC while messing around? Check out VirtualBox or VMWare Player Databases: SQL Server Express MySQL PostGRES Programming/Scripting Languages: Visual Basic Express C# Express Java php Ruby On Rails JavaScript HTML4 HTML5 Visual Basic Script PowerShell IDEs: Eclipse SDKs: Android SDK iOS SDK .NET SDK It isn't hard to find good tutorials on how to install, configure and program against any and all of these. It certainly beats the days of hand-typing code out of 2600 Magazine back in the day.

puertoricoman101
puertoricoman101

If you are looking to start a career and are unsure of where to start I would peruse multiple job posting sites www.dice.com www.cybercoders.com www.monster.com and see what employers are asking for as well as what positions there actually is right now. As a "young techie" the internet is your best friend. The only thing you need to work on is being able to sort out the B.S. from the actual good information. Save any good resources you find, you may need them in the future. Most of all... just follow you true inner geek, you must not underestimate it.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

If they don't, what reason would there be to encourage them to do so. The money, even if they were lucky enough for that to become true again at the the time they enter the job market, life is way too short, and way too much of it it is spent working to do something you don't enjoy. Terrible thing to do to your kid.

Mark Miller
Mark Miller

...is to get a well-rounded education, not to train for a career. That's what vocational training is for. Unfortunately, there is increasing pressure for universities to turn into vocational schools, and I think it's to the detriment of technical fields, because what gets lost in that process is the ability to go into unknown areas and do research that will advance the state of the art. Instead the focus gets put on dealing with what exists.

MargaretBartley
MargaretBartley

http://www.wtb.wa.gov/Documents/EmployerSurvey2010.pdf: "As has been the case since the Employer Survey launched in 1999, the largest shortage of skilled workers continues to be middle-skill employees who have gone beyond high school to obtain a vocational certificate. About 11,400 firms are estimated to have had difficulty finding employees with an appropriate vocational certificate." and "Plenty of good workers to choose from ??? In 2007, 60 percent of firms who were hiring had difficulty finding suitable candidates. That percent dropped to 26 percent in 2010."

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

:p As far as the UK is concerned, I feel it all started when they chose to take the competition out of school, because some pupils might have had their self esteem damaged by failure. 'No child left behind' = every one comes last.

tbmay
tbmay

I can tell you, at least here, none of them really had any say in what they taught. For that matter, the district didn't have much say either. Lots of bureacracy in education, at least in the states. Can't imagine it being much different on your side of the pond. That's one problem. The thing is, it is a symptom of what business wants, as you have correctly pointed out in another post. Cultivating someone TRULY interested in the intellectual aspects of learning (i.e. geek, nerd, whatever people might call him or her) is quite likely to the long term detriment of the child these days. There was a day when a high IQ and a science mind could mean success. We want fast food and sharp salesmen in 2011. I would like to think the pendulum would swing back, but I'm not betting the farm it will.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

No reason at all why vocational study can't include how to learn, not presenting the material which will almost certainly be out of date (as far as the HR types are concerned) within a year, in way where you research experiment and learn, Especially if it teaches skills with a set of technologies. Should ALWAYS be at least two to achieve the same sort of thing, and I don't mean two versions of the same one. Not doing so is simply a typical cost oriented short cut. Change is a given in our game, any education which doesn't teach how to cope with that isn't worth wiping our collective anus on. Well rounded has always been an argument I've been wary of. Well rounded isn't learning more than one thing, it's applying what you learnt in one to another. the math behind geometry and writng some simple graphic routines. Like practical proof of complex numbers and displaying a mandelbrot set. Or matrix algebra and wire graphics, for instance. Lots of fun and practical examples out there for students and teachers who want to stop taking the easy way out, to avoid thinking. Nobody has a career in VB.net, or admin of Windows Server 2003, those are tools that you may pick up in a career in IT. The eejits running the show just want an instant plug in carbon based robot with tool X, which is why we'd better of ignoring people who obviously didn't learn anything useful when they were at college.

MargaretBartley
MargaretBartley

Not the worker. Not only are H1-b visa workers cheaper, they can't quit when they decided they've had enough 80 and 100-hour weeks! It's indentured servitude. Plus, Microsoft has invested billions in India, and it brings newly-graduated students to the US for on-the-job-training, and then the students, after 3 or 6 years experience, return to India, and take their job with them. As the tech companies build up a corps of experienced programmers in India and China, I expect this need for OTJT to decrease, and the demand for H1-b visas to decrease, as well. We already see that. Back in the hay-days of the early 2000s, the visa limit was 195,000 per year, and there were about another 30% over-allocation, that would be caught and reported on after the year was over. Now, it's back down to 65,000 a year, because most of the damage has been done. Those jobs are gone, and they ain't comin' back!

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Given this major shortage, how do you explain IT salaries, not being at boom levels. H1B, offshoring etc? So the question is the answer...

Marc Jellinek
Marc Jellinek

While this study, from 2010, states that there is an oversupply of labor, why are these Washington State employers filing for H1B visas to fill open positions? Boeing: 649 H1B applications since 2001 Microsoft: 29681 H1B applications Amazon: 2378 H1B applications

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