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The Future of Knowledge Measurement Expand / Collapse
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Posted Wednesday, September 11, 2013 9:28 PM


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simon.crick (9/11/2013)
Steve Jones - SSC Editor (9/11/2013)
simon.crick (9/11/2013)
Why not base your decision on the candidate's academic qualifications?

College and university exams are far more rigorous and comprehensive than any interview tests can ever be.

Choose a candidate with good exam grades in a relevant subject area from a reputable college/university and you can't go far wrong.

Base your decision on a small number of random interview tests and you will get random results.

Simon



Not sure I like this. College/University isnt' a training ground. There are plenty of people, for all I know the majority, that work in technology, but didn't major in CS/IS.

The college exams often don't translate to the real world. Even in closely aligned programs, like medicine, law, accounting, there is a good amount of training done for the candidates later. I do wonder, however, how often companies in those fields regret their hires?


I am one of them. I got my first job in computing before I went to college/university. After 5 years I realised I could never compete with graduates who had a deep understanding of the underlying concepts in computer science, so I went to college, got my A-levels, then went to university and got a degree in Mathematics. I then went back into computing and now work as a senior software engineer responsible for some very large and complex databases.

When I left university I would have certainly failed the SSMS test because I had never had any exposure to Microsoft technology. Therefore, I know from personal experience that rejecting someone based on an SSMS test would be wrong, and I'm pretty sure that positively choosing someone based on a limited SSMS test would also be wrong because it only proves a very narrow range of skills and doesn't really prove the deep understanding of the underlying concepts that is necessary for problem solving and innovation.

I'm not saying that academic qualifications are a 100% reliable indicator of ability, but based on my personal experience from both sides of the fence, I strongly believe they are the best available indicator, certainly for entry-level jobs.

Simon



I don't believe a college degree is all that valuable in the IT field. I do have a BS. I do have experience on both sides of the fence as you do. I found that in my computer classes (programming, database, project management and hardware), there was not a single professor qualified to teach the material. In my programming and database classes, I was tutoring the professor. Having an Academic degree proves nothing more to me than the person spent money to go to and finish school.

College degrees are gamed and cheated - this is no secret. Here is a small figure from Stanford on the topic.
73% of all test takers, including prospective graduate students and teachers agree that most students do cheat at some point. 86% of high school students agreed.

source http://www.stanford.edu/class/engr110/cheating.html

College exams were far easier than the MCM exams and were just about on par with the MCSE/MCITP exams imho. You are trained to answer questions pertinent to the college exam. You cram for that college exam. Then you pass the college exam.

A college degree is not the same value in today's market as it was 20 years ago. I would dare say that cheating has increased and the negative stigma with cheating has been decreased significantly. Like with certifications, a degree can be largely gamed.

I'd rather gauge work experience, the candidates psyche, and then grill them to see how well they think than rely on a piece of paper.




Jason AKA CirqueDeSQLeil
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Post #1493983
Posted Thursday, September 12, 2013 10:25 AM
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I have read the postings on all three articles in this series and have come to one conclusion, due to the exceptionally large number of cheaters, liars, and con artists applying for IT jobs, you cannot trust any resume or face-to-face interview without a complete background check on the individual. To think we are trusting sensitive data to people who would lie about their education, experience, and certificates is unthinkable and in same cases criminally negligent.

It makes you feel like you need to have a contract with any viable candidate who applies that their resume and background will be checked, and if they are found falsifying any material they will be required to pay the cost of the background checking and might face legal action on fraud charges. That might slow some of these charlatans down.



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Post #1494279
Posted Thursday, September 12, 2013 12:48 PM


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simon.crick (9/11/2013)
Why not base your decision on the candidate's academic qualifications?
Because we know that many of the really great people in computing/IT/database had not a single academic qualification in computing or in IT or in database. Surely we shouldn't restrict ourselves to people who have more academic qualifications in the field than Alan Turing or Fred Williams or Grace Hopper or John McCarthy or Tony Hoare or Ted Codd or Cliff Jones or Chris Date - if they hadn't been allowed to work in computing we wouldn't have got anywhere near where we are today - they might never have been a relational model to give rise to an RDBMS like SQL Server. Do you think that no-one should have been recruited to work on computers before about 1958, since there were no academic qualifications in Computing or IT way back then?

College and university exams are far more rigorous and comprehensive than any interview tests can ever be.

If you had written "can sometimes be" instead of "are" the statement would have been believable; as you wrote it; it isn't. I've known people with first class honours degrees from some reputable universities who, despite having specialised in OO design and development using C++ in their final year, couldn't manage to write a working Hello world program during their interview (needless to say, none of those ones got the job); I've also interviewed people with similar degrees who had specialised in relational database theory in their final years, but didn't understand the terms "join", "foreign key", or "domain constraint" (again, they didn't get a job).

Choose a candidate with good exam grades in a relevant subject area from a reputable college/university and you can't go far wrong.

If only that were true. I guess that if the University or College is MIT or Stanford or Caltech or Oxford or Cambridge or Edinburgh or Manchester or NorthWestern (or certain others in several other countries) there is an extremely good chance that someone with a degree from there will be competent, but those places can't between them supply anything like enough candidates for computing/IT jobs to satisfy the demand and anyway there's not an absolute guarantee. In fact I would say that first degrees from most of those places are probably gameable (although not too easy to game), and even for Oxford and Cambridge you would want to see a good honours degree, not a pass degree or a poor grade of honours.

A bit up the chain from first job in junior/trainee position, after between one and four years in employment, track record is a far better indicator than academic qualifications. A bit further up again, maybe hiring chartered professionals (as suggested by Jane Dunn) would be sensible but I'm not convinced that chartered status is not gameable. (Just to make it clear that I'm not displaying sour grapes about chartered status, I'll point out that my non-academic qualifications include chartered status as CEng, CITP, and CMath.)


Tom
Post #1494323
Posted Thursday, September 12, 2013 2:22 PM
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can't tell who wrote this comment

Because we know that many of the really great people in computing/IT/database had not a single academic qualification in computing or in IT or in database. Surely we shouldn't restrict ourselves to people who have more academic qualifications in the field than Alan Turing or Fred Williams or Grace Hopper or John McCarthy or Tony Hoare or Ted Codd or Cliff Jones or Chris Date - if they hadn't been allowed to work in computing we wouldn't have got anywhere near where we are today - they might never have been a relational model to give rise to an RDBMS like SQL Server. Do you think that no-one should have been recruited to work on computers before about 1958, since there were no academic qualifications in Computing or IT way back then?

Alan Turing: PhD from Princeton
Fred Williams: Doctorate Magdalen College, Oxford
Grace Hopper: Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale
John McCarthy: Ph.D. in Mathematics from Princeton

etc etc

Given the time and the contributions, these guys had some pretty solid academic chops and while not disrespecting the ability they in all likelyhood displayed before these academic achievements, they none the less weren't uneducated. Given the state of the art at the time, the sorts of academics they pursued were exactly what you would expect from someone doing the sort of work they did.

I'm not saying that there aren't counter examples of folks without academic qualifications attaining success in computers, but I'm pretty surprised that folks who actually did have the chops were used in the unattributed quote to highlight the supposed uselessness of academics.
Post #1494361
Posted Thursday, September 12, 2013 8:16 PM


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patrickmcginnis59 10839 (9/12/2013)
can't tell who wrote this comment
'Thanks for pointing that out. I've fixed the quote tags in that message, so it should now be clear who wrote what.

Because we know that many of the really great people in computing/IT/database had not a single academic qualification in computing or in IT or in database. Surely we shouldn't restrict ourselves to people who have more academic qualifications in the field than Alan Turing or Fred Williams or Grace Hopper or John McCarthy or Tony Hoare or Ted Codd or Cliff Jones or Chris Date - if they hadn't been allowed to work in computing we wouldn't have got anywhere near where we are today - they might never have been a relational model to give rise to an RDBMS like SQL Server. Do you think that no-one should have been recruited to work on computers before about 1958, since there were no academic qualifications in Computing or IT way back then?

Alan Turing: PhD from Princeton
Fred Williams: Doctorate Magdalen College, Oxford
Grace Hopper: Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale
John McCarthy: Ph.D. in Mathematics from Princeton

etc etc

Given the time and the contributions, these guys had some pretty solid academic chops and while not disrespecting the ability they in all likelyhood displayed before these academic achievements, they none the less weren't uneducated. Given the state of the art at the time, the sorts of academics they pursued were exactly what you would expect from someone doing the sort of work they did.

I'm not saying that there aren't counter examples of folks without academic qualifications attaining success in computers, but I'm pretty surprised that folks who actually did have the chops were used in the unattributed quote to highlight the supposed uselessness of academics.

The comment you are responding to says nothing about any academic qualifications except those in IT/Computing. So why tell me what I already know, that the people mentioned all had PhDs in mathematics (except Williams, whose PhD was in Electrical Engineering and Jones, whose PhD was in Computer Science but was taken long after the work that made him famous, and Hoare, who never had an earned PhD at all)? PhDs in mathematics (or in electrical engineering) are not academic qualifications in computing (and neither is a BA degree in Litterae Humaniores, which is what Hoare had).

None of the people mentioned had any computing or IT academic qualifications when they did the work in that field that made them famous; and the only one who ever obtained an academic qualification (other than honorary ones) in computing, Cliff Jones, started his research at Oxford University which led to his academic qualification in computing after 15 years working on computing for IBM, in the course of which he developed VDM, and wrote his famous book on rigorous software development methods.

Turing's PhD at Princeton was in mathematics, mostly mathematical Logic (his thesis was entitled Systems of Logic based on Ordinals) but it did introduce the concept of relative computing (augmenting Universal Turing Machines with Oracles) so I suppose you might claim it was partly an academic computing qualification but even if you say that you should note that his invention of the Universal Turing Machine was perhaps his most significant contribution to computing and that of course took place while he was employed (as a Fellow) at King's College, Cambridge before he ever went to Princeton, and hence before he had any academic qualification with any computing content.

Of course you may think that degrees in mathematics are academic qualifications in computing. If so, we'll have to agree to differ. My three degrees are all in mathematics, and if you thing that my research in the semantics of calculi with expressions of infinite length (a strange mixture of set theory and mathematical logic) taught me anything about computing I can assure you that you are wrong.

I do firmly believe that a first degree in mathematics (or pretty well anything else other than non-subjects like social science or psychology or economics) is a better qualification for computing/IT (whether for work in industry or for work in academe) than a first degree in computing/IT. That doesn't make it an academic computing qualification, though.


Tom
Post #1494422
Posted Thursday, September 12, 2013 8:30 PM


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L' Eomot Inversé (9/12/2013)
A bit up the chain from first job in junior/trainee position, after between one and four years in employment, track record is a far better indicator than academic qualifications. A bit further up again, maybe hiring chartered professionals (as suggested by Jane Dunn) would be sensible but I'm not convinced that chartered status is not gameable. (Just to make it clear that I'm not displaying sour grapes about chartered status, I'll point out that my non-academic qualifications include chartered status as CEng, CITP, and CMath.)

If I was a hiring manager or tech interviewer on a regular basis I would ask the person for the related user ids they use on various tech sites. And then do a google such as jim p. site:sqlservercentral.com and then see what comes back.

If they don't have membership in any tech sites, then I'm going to look askance at the rest of their resume. They don't always have to be answering questions, but let's see what questions they have asked (and how much guidance they needed).

We just had a newbie ask a question on another site. He was wanting to put a barcode on envelopes. He couldn't understand that a barcode is just a text box with a different font attached to the Excel data. Seeing that question would have told me he was not who I am hiring. Now seeing the question occurred five years ago would temper the reaction.





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Post #1494423
Posted Friday, September 13, 2013 1:35 AM
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A degree indicates you can stay the course and can indicate you can work hard, and dedicate yourself. Your first degree is your evidence to the rest of the world.

A PhD is evidence of "Original Thinking".

Being Chartered is confirmation of your experience and the fact that you have held very responsible positions. It is only gained by investigation, confirmation, and interview. Sometimes being Chartered is a prerequisite for a level of authorisation, and can be legally so.

Never pass up anyone however who does not have any of these. Some of the best in the business have very few or no qualifications. Work with them, make up for their shortcomings and benefit from their abilities.

Clearance to work on data/systems of the highest level of sensitivity is only gained after months of investigation. There is never an absolute guarantee, such do not exist in life, but every possible effort is made to ensure security.

Likewise interviews cannot guarantee abilities. They are merely a reduction of risk.

Bear in mind that interviews are a two way process, if they are of any use to you as an interviewee. If you get turned down it might easily be that you are too good. Interviews are not one-sided.

Income is not always relative to responsibility. Responsibility and control do not always to hand-in-hand.

Size of orgainsation is irrelevant, the best jobs can be in the smallest or largest of organisations. It can however be amusing if your organisation has a turnover measured in trillions.

Like everything in life, it is the gut-feeling that should matter, both ways.

A job is a two-way process not just what you get from an organisation but, perhaps much more importantly, what contribution you can make to that organisation.






Post #1494491
Posted Friday, September 13, 2013 3:46 AM
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L' Eomot Inversé (9/13/2013)
patrickmcginnis59 10839 (9/13/2013)

Now that you have acknowleged that there weren't more appropriate fields in your more recent reply (or did you?), who then would be more qualified than say Alan Turing, Grace Hopper or John McCarthy for instance? Why does this reply look like Mr. crick would have rejected these candidates because they didn't have an appropriate set of credentials, when in fact we're now seem to be fairly well in agreement the appropriate set of credentials didn't exist or more preferrably for me, they actually had the best set of credentials to do the pioneering work they did? Ie., it reads like you would hold up Mr. crick as not preferring these eminent pioneers as able to work in the field, heck, the very field they were instrumental in creating.

It's simple really. If someone tells us that they want an appropriate degree for a computing/IT job it usually turns out that they want a CS/IT degree. And if someone has a CS/IT degree, that is no indication at all of capacity to do computing or IR work, unless it was awarded by one of the exceptional universities who make a good job of Cs/IT teaching. And there is a great pile of evidence, as you obviously agree, that a lot of people did a lot of really splendid work in computing/IT at the time when they held no CS/IT degree. Given those three things, I'm going to disagree when someone tells me that the thing to look for is "an appropriate degree", or claims that relying on academic qualifications is a panacea for bypassing the untrustworthy certification problem.

Well I still amd struck that, because at the time with the work many were doing early on in the history of the industry, the sorts of degrees they had access to and did get (with notable exceptions which I can agree on), were the appropriate degrees, and additionally, now that we do have an industry that the notable folks we discussed were really instrumental in building (obviously still a young industry), we also have "appropriate" degrees available. I put that in quotes because as has been noted here and elsewhere, the degrees are leaving plenty to be desired. I would think these degrees in the field should adapt while acknowledging that theres some that think they're unfixeable.

If we are mired in the situation that CS/IT degrees leave something to be desired and certificates aren't working as many have indicated, what does the industry do? My choice is to change the degrees and certification to what extent we can, because without a track record for a candidate (assuming of course we want to provide a path for folks new to the job market), what else do we have? Sure, theres always the apprenticeship suggestion, but how much can companies afford to spend time on the intangeables, to take a few examples, maintainability, some assurance of correctness in programming operation and as all too obvious nowadays, security. Companies are notoriously shortsighted and I guess they have to be, and I worry that they're not the place to build the sort of foundation that keeps the industry from producing problem factories.


There have been times when the bane of my life was having to skim-read the great piles of CVs of deadbeat no-hopers (that's the impression the CVs give of the people they describe, although of course that may be partly because the recruitment agent has rewritten them without clearing the revisions with the candidate) sent to me by recruiting agents because they believed anyone with a degree in CS/IT must be competent.

And be honest about it: would you take on someone with a degree in Literae Humaniores (Latin and Greek literature plus ancient and medieval philosophy)? Would you take on someone with no degree at all, or with a degree in History, or French Language and Literature, or Theology? If not, you would turn down two of the people I named if they came to you with the same qualifications (and lack of fame and world-wide reputation) as they had when they first took on jobs in computing; and you would also turn down a lot of the people I worked with over the years.


I'm going to hazard a guess that most companies would have probably turned them down if they had no experience and irrelevent degrees, and I'm probably not going to beat them up for this. If at the time these folks you named had instead shown a track record in the field, then this could be a different situation (and I'm not even requiring fame and world-wide reputation), I'm a big fan of the requirement "x college or equivalent experience".

I do readily admit, these are for our IT/CS positions, and not for choosing the pioneers and originators of entire industries, although with the industry still evolving maybe even this sentence of mine is on shakey ground

I even more enthusiastically admit that I probably don't have any solutions, just a few bullets on a wishlist.

editted: to finish the post
Post #1494518
Posted Friday, September 13, 2013 3:53 AM
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L' Eomot Inversé (9/12/2013)
patrickmcginnis59 10839 (9/12/2013)
can't tell who wrote this comment
'Thanks for pointing that out. I've fixed the quote tags in that message, so it should now be clear who wrote what.

Because we know that many of the really great people in computing/IT/database had not a single academic qualification in computing or in IT or in database. Surely we shouldn't restrict ourselves to people who have more academic qualifications in the field than Alan Turing or Fred Williams or Grace Hopper or John McCarthy or Tony Hoare or Ted Codd or Cliff Jones or Chris Date - if they hadn't been allowed to work in computing we wouldn't have got anywhere near where we are today - they might never have been a relational model to give rise to an RDBMS like SQL Server. Do you think that no-one should have been recruited to work on computers before about 1958, since there were no academic qualifications in Computing or IT way back then?

Alan Turing: PhD from Princeton
Fred Williams: Doctorate Magdalen College, Oxford
Grace Hopper: Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale
John McCarthy: Ph.D. in Mathematics from Princeton

etc etc

Given the time and the contributions, these guys had some pretty solid academic chops and while not disrespecting the ability they in all likelyhood displayed before these academic achievements, they none the less weren't uneducated. Given the state of the art at the time, the sorts of academics they pursued were exactly what you would expect from someone doing the sort of work they did.

I'm not saying that there aren't counter examples of folks without academic qualifications attaining success in computers, but I'm pretty surprised that folks who actually did have the chops were used in the unattributed quote to highlight the supposed uselessness of academics.

The comment you are responding to says nothing about any academic qualifications except those in IT/Computing. So why tell me what I already know, that the people mentioned all had PhDs in mathematics (except Williams, whose PhD was in Electrical Engineering and Jones, whose PhD was in Computer Science but was taken long after the work that made him famous, and Hoare, who never had an earned PhD at all)? PhDs in mathematics (or in electrical engineering) are not academic qualifications in computing (and neither is a BA degree in Litterae Humaniores, which is what Hoare had).

I'm simply intending to make an argument for the benefits of academics. I would use the folks in this list to highlight their respect for academics and recommend that they did not necessarily commit an error in their pursuit of and association with academic qualifications, and additionally, that the areas of study most likely proved useful in their subsequent work, ie., were not entirely irrelevent to their field of endeavour and in fact may have been the best choice at the time.

Because we know that many of the really great people in computing/IT/database had not a single academic qualification in computing or in IT or in database.

Maybe it would be interesting to consider what phd's were available at the time that many of these folks did NOT choose and instead pursued studies in mathematics, engineering or other non CS studies. For example, should we wonder why Mr. McCarthy or Mr. Turing did not pursue their education in the field of computer science? Would that help us determine whether all the present day companies are mistaken in desiring job candidates with academic credentials in relevent fields?

edit: spelling
Post #1494519
Posted Friday, September 13, 2013 6:18 AM
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I've got a degree and I'm ruddy useless. Just sayin'.

I actually do think qualifications and certifications can be a good indicator of competence buat's all they are; an indicator. So's a well written CV, a blog, being the administrator of a well known website or having a lot of experience. All those things are good indicators. But if you are ready to recruit based only on indicators without taking the time to really examine the individuals actual abilities then you deserve everything get.

I do think taking a degree improved me as a programmer, not because of the qualification but because of the grounding in the basics it gave me. I could already "program" before I tok the degree but, honestly, my work was a mess. And I didn't even know how much of a mess it was so I wasn't out there looking for ways to improve it. Maybe I lucked out because I had a few very good lecturers (along with alot of very bad ones) but it was the grounding they gave me that helped me avoid becoming one of the many horror shows I've had the displeasure to work with over the years.

That said, I know I'd have got by without doing the degree and I'd have delivered functional code (though I pity the poor sucker who'd have maintained it behind me). I reckon the 3 years spent doing the degree would have been worth 6 or 7 spent in industry at that stage in my growth. And the next 3 years spent in industry would have been worth another 20 spent in academia. The degree got me going, the work took me further.


due to the exceptionally large number of cheaters, liars, and con artists applying for IT jobs, you cannot trust any resume or face-to-face interview without a complete background check on the individual
I say bring back flogging.
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