November 23, 2006

Careers for Computer Science Graduates

The British Computer Society opinions that the UK isn’t producing enough computer science graduates. In response many people from the information systems side of computing complain that skills are being wasted due to ageism.

After 20 years in the systems/network side of computing the following notions float around my head:

  • Do most people in graduate level computer jobs really need to know more about computers, or is poor inter-personal and communication skills a bigger problem?
  • Feminists complain that a job history of career followed by being a primary child carer followed by career just isn’t available in our society. Is this a similar issue to the non-availability of career, slow decay into a technological dead-end followed by a new career as a job narrative?
  • My tip to computer science graduates: get into labour only subcontracting, save a load of dosh, don’t worry about being on the scrap-heap at 40, just retire.
  • If the retirement age is pushed up to 68, won’t there be a flood of shelf stackers and lollypop people in their 60’s?

- 5 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Chris May

    “Graduate level computer jobs” is a pretty broad church. In my part of the world (development) “knowing about computers” is much more important than inter-personal/communication skills (though both are important). Actually, “Enjoying writing software” is more important than either.

    Contracting is atttractive from a financial point of view, no doubt about that. But I know a couple of people who have found that the recent downturn in the market has left them scrabbling about for work, with some way still to go before they’ve accumulated enough to retire.
    I’d also rather be doing something I loved until I was 60, than just trying to earn stacks of cash for 20 years and then starting to enjoy it. But I think I’m (unusually) lucky in the congruence of my jobs and my interests.

    Rather like the grey-beareded COBOL contractors that I met when I used to work in banks, I hope to be debugging ancient legacy Java code when I’m 67, not being a lollypop man. But if it didn’t work out, stopping cars for a living seems quite an attractive option. ;-)

    23 Nov 2006, 13:49

  2. Ah but you are talking from a university environment, where there’s a strong culture of keeping abreast of developments in one’s field.

    In industry (including services) there’s always a tension between maintaining a firm’s human capital and more short-term commercial considerations. Firms may even believe that they don’t need to preserve and improve the skills of their workforce as they will always be able to buy in suitable staff when the need arises.

    Some might suggest that people working in the private sector should take more care with their careers and manage the maintenance & development of their skills themselves. But the sort of person able to do that would probably make a success of self-employment. The typical employee is just not into developing their skills as marketable services, so outside of a supportive environment (such as at a university) it won’t happen.

    23 Nov 2006, 14:53

  3. Chris May

    Ah but you are talking from a university environment, where there’s a strong culture of keeping abreast of developments in one’s field.

    Not really, I’ve only been here for a few years. Prior to that I worked for a bank, a petrochemicals company, and then a systems integration consultancy – all very much the kind of places where human capital was seen as something that was every bit as disposable as any other asset. I’m not into developing my skills as a marketable service, but so far I’ve been fortunate enough that the way I like to develop my skills turns out to make them a pretty marketable service anyway.

    I’ve never fancied self-employment, but by the same token I’ve never expected my employer to afford me any kind of special status; if I’m not adding value to the company any more then I don’t deserve a place in it. It’s my responsibility to ensure that either I keep updating my skills so that I am useful to the organisation, or if I don’t want to do that, to get out and find something I do want to do.

    23 Nov 2006, 15:25

  4. Chris May

    hmm, that last para. sounds rather hard-nosed.
    I should soften it by observing that in my opinion, questions of whether I (or anyone else) am adding value to a company should be answered in a long term context.

    I quite agree with (what I think is) your implication that many firms take too short a view when calculating whether or not it’s worthwhile keeping employees on, to their own long-term detriment.

    23 Nov 2006, 15:29

  5. I’ve never expected my employer to afford me any kind of special status; if I’m not adding value to the company any more

    The point is that a person may have been adding value above the level for which they had been remunerated for years, but then conditions suddenly change.

    For example in the case of customer services, the work may suddenly be outsourced and the employee finds that the technology he/she had been working with is now out of date. Or in the case where I worked, GEC (not that I liked the job anyway – I had negotiated a four day week), the company virtually collapsed. So there was suddenly just no place for people who had been adding value for years.

    In fact I’m not even saying that the firm’s attitude is unreasonable, if it’s going bust how can it keep hold of employees? If all its competitors are cutting costs by outsourcing to India, surely it must do so also?

    23 Nov 2006, 15:58

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