Hi, welcome to Word of Mike, my little corner of the internet. I am a Software/Web Developer working in North Yorkshire. I mainly write about programming but my other passion is politics so beware. (click to hide)

2012-03-14 21:21:05 UTC

Going to University and Job Prospects


I am currently researching a company that I have an interview for this Friday, at the same time as recalling the numerous occasions I have failed to sell myself to employers over the past six months, and trying to figure out where it was that I went wrong.

First of all, I am not in a great starting position. I graduated with a 3rd class honours degree, which immediately eliminates about 80% of the jobs advertised. ("Must have 2.1 or above in relevant degree".) So I immediately know that when I enter the interview room I am going to be quizzed as to why it is that I performed so poorly at university. My answer is, upon reflection, a somewhat bitter rant about how exams are a terrible way to assess someone's ability in the field of Computer Science, and how that if I wanted to do a degree on memory, I would have taken History.

The wonder of the internet and the nature of programming mean that if you need to know how to do something, you look it up, you browse the API, you hit Stack Overflow's search box, you ask a colleague, what you don't do is scratch your head and try and remember back to Lecture 4.3 of Distributed Systems module in your second year. So what is the point of going to university? The point, at least in the case of the ever-evolving field of Computer Science, is to learn the fundamentals; you learn algorithms, data-structures, best programming practices, etc.

This takes me flowingly into my next point [rant] which is employers who write ridiculously limiting job adverts. Let us look at an example, I received a job advert with this specification in an email recently, bear in mind this is a graduate PHP development position:

You will need experience of:

- Php5/6 - Object Orientated
- MySQL
- Symfony 1.4
- Doctrine
- JQuery Framework (Including JQ UI)
- AJAX
- REST
- JSON
- XHTML & CSS
- HTML5 & CSS3
- Version Management with GIT
- Facebook API
- LinkedIn API
- Google Maps API
- TopTable API

That is not even including the "desirables". If there is a graduate who has experience in all those technologies then fair play to him, he will do well, but it is not realistic at all to expect graduates to have this and it is not sensible. All this sort of advert serves to do is put off scores of perfectly able, and in some cases exceptionally able, budding developers, the sort of people who could pick up these technologies in a matter of weeks.

So how do I prove to a prospective employer that I am worth my salt? I ought to have examples of projects that I have worked on in my spare time. I do not, of course, because I when I wasn't doing university work, I was doing other university kinda stuff, as one tends to at university. I do consider myself a hobbyist and I had minor projects before university but likewise I used to skateboard before university, and play squash, and drink less beer. Anyone who has been to university knows that it kind of takes over and immerses you and doesn't leave much time for extraneous activities. From an employers perspective, this makes me a risk, what with there being so little to go on to verify my capabilties.

My advice to someone considering going into university to study something that isn't research based or under the umbrella of the Arts and Humanities, is that unless you are the type that has a spanking good academic record, excels at exams and swatting-up for said exams (You know the type, usually girls.), then think very hard. Perhaps three years working a menial job, earning money, experiencing working life, not amounting debt, while building up a portfolio of work in your spare time could put you in a far better position than I am in now with my degree, unemployed, no experience, no money, enormous debts and living with my Mum.