What are qualifications actually worth?

Reading this short post on Mashable (extract below), which cites that Google have stopped asking job applicants for their academic results, I am forced to question the authentic worth of academic qualifications.

Google, one of the tech giants, have stopped (to some extent) requiring these certificates that our societies have evolved as the means of securing income earning potential. Is this indicative of wider change?

I have the pleasure of working with Graham Hobson, the Chief Technology Officer of PhotoBox, in developing our ICT Strategy. He gave a talk to my Sixth Form ICT students on SCRUM and his use of other agile development methods. At the end of his talk, I asked about the qualifications he requires from technologist job applicants. None. No A Levels and no degree. He places value on authentic (evidence-based) passion: some kind of portfolio of work they have done. Graham anticipated new recruits would become useful after training in the specific systems used by the companies and this might take a few months.

In the interests of balance, I spoke to a fellow teacher at another school whom has taught A Level Computing for many years. He was struck by how easily his students, past and present, were able to find temporary jobs connected to Computer Science in some way, and how this often led to long-term employment in interesting positions. His experience is as follows:

…if the computing boys can find a place to get started they quickly develop their skills to a level that either gets them holiday work or a full time job later. Graduates in CS from good universities are very employable; there seems to be a shortage of people at this level. But the skillset may be quite hard to develop. Few boys here choose CS (no UCAS applicants here in CS for 2014, the first time this has happened for as long as I can remember, we usually have 3-6). The job is not very well defined, as you know from your brother [my brother is a co-founder of Marketing QED and a formidable programmer]. If you are good then there is great opportunity but it’s not like other professions e.g. medicine where there is a more clearly defined path to the top. I guess computing is more entrepreneurial: you develop skills and then form your own company; sell up, get rich and start again. Exciting, interesting but not so clearly defined. We are puzzled by the lack of interest in software development and CS and usually put it down to things like the lure of the City, a fear of being labelled a geek, fear that it is boring and that it is quite hard.

Worthy of note is that, despite this evidence that it’s potentially fruitful, young people are steering their paths away from Computer Science qualifications. This indicates that it is not a natural career path. Maybe it is because being a programmer is too niche and not seen as a way to high-end income earning potential.

I asked my brother who is CTO of marketingQED and a programmer. He uses a recruitment agency who do the initial screening and basic competency checks. All compatible candidates are forwarded to HR in his company who telephone interview them to sift the wheat from the chaff and these candidates are then psychometrically tested. Successful candidates are then interviewed by the development team where, as part of the process, they have to present a piece of their own code to be discussed in detail. Two members of his development team had started a degree but failed to complete them. In both cases the courses were at non-UK universities where it is expected that the student will be working alongside their study and work can start to dominate their time, usurping the qualification. My brother noted that qualifications become significant when two CVs are otherwise similar, and added it is very important to include detail that makes you stand out, citing an example: ‘one of our guys listed “Mushroom Picking” as his only hobby which led to us interviewing him to find out more and he ended up getting the job despite lack of qualification’. So, we can see that qualifications are not defining in this selection process. The capacity of a candidate to write and discuss their code is. Are we sufficiently developing these skills in school?

Google, however, are opting to refine their selection process, possibly finding traditional methods are not satisfactory in identifying the key characteristics they require:

Google is more focused on “behavioral interviews,” which are less about the interviewer than the applicant. Bock [Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP] says these type of interviews yield more information about how the job candidate deals with situations in the real world.

Bock also noted during the interview that Google has found grade-point averages to be a “worthless” metric for hiring. For that reason, Google has stopped asking most applicants for their transcripts and GPAs. In fact, Google is also hiring more people with no college experience whatsoever.

“The proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time as well,” Bock said in the interview. “So we have teams where you have 14 percent of the team made up of people who’ve never gone to college.”

Source: http://mashable.com/2013/06/20/google-stopped-asking-brainteasers/ (accessed: 21/6/13)

Is this an increase in relatively low-educated technologists? It feels pretty much impossible to collate how all the major tech companies recruit their technologists, but surely this is indicative that, despite there being excellent Computer Science degree courses (as well as some dodgy ones), that the criteria for interview success is based on individual personality and a portfolio of projects, with a core element of being able to show that you have an authentic understanding of your work. Was it ever any different? You would be hard-pushed to say personality never played a part, with or without specific qualifications. What this does mean is that we, as educators, need to be encouraging our pupils to develop themselves holistically in their specific areas of career interest. And to find a way of creating a portfolio or evidence-base of their work, be it private that can be shared at interview, or public on a blog or similar. Pushing for league table success might make sense to the educational organisations, but, in some cases, it might be a disservice to the young people in our care. Having said that, one of my ICT students now studying Business and Information Systems at Aston University visited school to have lunch with me a couple of weeks ago. He was surprised by the quality of his whole education. He presumed that all schools educate you in the same way but he now realises that this is not true. The education we provide for our students is really very important to them. To each of them. And we should make sure they have their eyes open, know a lot about the world, and that there are many roads to choose from. As we are driven by exam results and the like, the employers are increasingly abandoning such measures as indicators of suitability for employment. How do we tell our students and pupils that school is possibly not providing the first rungs on the career path?

Computer Game Storyboard Design

I’ve just finished creating these resources – when I say creating, I mean copying from @dogtrax blogpost with permission kindly given by Kevin – so I thought it a good idea to share it with others.

Two documents, made in MS Word and uploaded to Google Drive. In lessons, pupils will be able to use an online copy, an offline copy or a hard copy.

1. Storyboard design template with a table for the game design workflow designed by Kevin.

2. An exemplar of the storyboard design filled in.

I might amend these files after I have used them but I like the simplicity of it all. Once again teaching Scratch, I am surprised and pleased by how engaged so many pupils are. This year, the year eights have started by making their own PONG game by copying the script. Then onwards to PIMPING my PONG by improving cosmetics and gameplay and levels and other objects to bat around the screen and more sound effects. They will compose their own sounds using CuBase with their music teachers, and explore recreating sound effects like they do on radio plays. These will then be imported into their own games or animations. Hence the storyboard design tool above.


Scratch Me! I must be dreaming

Quick post about some cool scratch games my Y8 learners have made. See it all on the YouTube video below. Recorded with SnagIt from TechSmith.

Props to the young people spending far more than the 30 minutes homework they are allocated to ICT each week to develop awesome games! Now I have to work out where scratch fits into the new curriculum without discrete ICT lessons. First idea is the music department where they will create animations or games and then compose their own music to accompany them. Any other great ideas out there?

Programming the Maths Curriculum

This was written as a response to Pete Bell’s blogpost ICT and Computing in Schools – Harness a new dawn

Show me the money

Show me the money (image by me)

AQA have attempted (2009)to take this issue seriously and consulted IBM, British Aerospace and other big corps to identify what they want from graduates. The answer, according to Barbara Wilson – chief examiner at the time – was business-savvy young people who understand how technology can add value to an organisation and the complicated process of implementing tech successfully. The new ICT A Level spec attempts to do this. I quite like it. Paper projects are still a problem. I hope to see the end of these shortly, but it is not easy to nurture the real-life project process without interaction (research, deliverables, testing) with users and clients. A controlled assessment approach might otherwise be a good idea. Fixed time frame. A range of problems set by the board. Effectively a practical exam.

The BIO takes this format but it is quite raw and difficult programming and I think there in lies part of the problem no-one seems to talk about. Programming is hard. [The one student I enter for the BIO – he got distinction last year – is the best mathematician the school has seen in 20 years.] I guess that’s why these conversations inevitably encourage everyone to start learning code young. I might, maybe after a pint, argue that all the visual programming simulators (Scratch et al) are doing a diservice to the cause. In Bob Noyce‘s final interview (in the 1990’s) he said that, if he were in charge of it all, he would like to “make sure we are preparing our next generation to flourish in a high-tech age. And that means education of the lowest and the poorest, as well as at the graduate school level.” I’m not sure these immediate gratification software applications are the answer. Love them as I do. The joy of programming is writing lines of code to achieve a solution to a problem – not make a game or an animation. Who would be interested in programming to visually uninteresting outcomes after the rich loveliness and quick win play of KODU.

My cigarette packet solution is the Maths curriculum. Maths is already embedded in the heart of every school and connected to programming via algorithms and logical sequencing etc. I feel that the most effective and efficient way we can impregnate coding into UK schools is via the same route as algebra and geometry. Who should we be talking to? Those in charge of Maths. What’s the probability of them saying yes? One or zero.