Thoughts on IT Workers

So I’ve got some puzzlements about the IT industry. I’ve had them for a while. First, a note from Slashdot. They point to an interesting article published in the "Herald Sun", found here. The basic idea: the IT industry is heading for hard times, because the supply of computer science graduates is decreasing and the demand is increasing. Interesting.

Second note: years of experience in the field does not equal knowledge of basic programming skills. For companies who are looking for qualified individuals, I think this should be alarming. Or do they already know this? The reason why I bring this up is that I occassionally do phone tech interviews for my employer to screen applicants before a real in-house interview (which I enjoy, for some reason). And, while I was working for my previous employer, I also saw their screening process.

What I see is some resumes with years and years of experience (the last two had 15 and 8.5, respectively) but for people who cannot answer pretty simple questions. Examples? Sure. Take, for example, one applicant that had Brainbench certifications for some technologies and 8.5 years of experience. Couldn’t tell how you got the length of an array in vbscript, javascript, or C#, even though he had experience in all on his resume. Not only that, but he couldn’t explain anything coherent about database joins, even though he had experience in sql.

Also, resume inflation is a problem. How about this one? Someone with a statement about wanting to leverage his skills in object-oriented programming in the purpose-statement of his resume who, when asked about inheritance, said "I haven’t every really done that, so I’m not sure." Problem with that? Well, inheritance is one of the key attributes of object-oriented programming. Hmmmm...

Now, please understand me. I’m not the brightest programmer to ever exist on God’s green earth. I’ve only been seriously programming for two and a half years now (and I’m not even a CS grad), and I realize more and more that I have more to learn. The field is huge, and the potential range of useful stuff to know is quite large. All I’m saying is that the vast majority of people I end up tech interviewing seem to know little about the details of programming, even in the environments that they are supposedly programming at the moment. So what is going on? What leads to this?

  1. Keyword inflation. People say to put a lot of key programming terms in your resume to attract HR workers, like "object-oriented programming", "refactor", "architecture", "design patterns", or whatever else you can think of that looks techie. The idea itself is not bad. After all, if you know how to do object-oriented programming, refactoring, etc., you should tell prospective employers that you do. These things are needed, after all. But the problem is, people put stuff on their resume that they frankly do not understand. So when someone asks them about that keyword, or work they have done in the area, they won’t be able to answer. For example, I’ve read a couple chapters out of an assembly book that I have here at home. Am I going to put that on my resume? No way, because if I ever got asked a difficult question about it I would look like a fool, and I have no experience in it really. But that apparently doesn’t stop people. Hint: hiring people, watch out for this.
  2. No desire to be exceptional. Some people just really want to be really good, or even the best, at what they do. Maybe it’s fame. Or fortune. Whatever. I’m the same way. Partially because I don’t want people to think I’m a complete idiot, and I do want to make enough money to support my family. But it also comes from my belief that it is God’s design for man to work, and so it behooves us to be good at it to please Him. But I don’t think a lot of people have any real kind of motivation to be exceptional. I guess they just go to work and do the minimal to get by. Kinda sad. Hint: hiring people, try not to get these guys.
  3. Nervousness. I just had to throw this in, because this actually might be a real problem for people. It’s possible that we could be passing up really talented programmers. But, it surely happens. I almost seriously jeapordized getting my job at TriTech a couple years ago because I couldn’t remember how to form a database connection string properly. Yep, that’s right. Nervousness? That was probably part of it. Of course, part of it was that I just don’t write them very often. I usually put it one place and keep fetching it from there when I need it. Sprinkling your connection string all over your code is a really stupid idea. But, before time was up, I remembered, and ended up doing really well on that part of the interview.

I’m kindof curious if any of you other techie people out there have experience with seeing this. you?

What this means is there is plenty of opportunity out there for you folks who are looking for a field to excel in. Learning to program with any proficiency takes time and hard work, but it isn’t something that is out of reach for most hard-working individuals. Actually, it is quite a bit easier than the field of biblical studies and Greek, where my real training is. There are so many scholars, ideas, pieces of data, nuances, intellectual influences, historical events, languages, etc., that you need to know to do good research that it is very difficult to do well. Programming...much less subjective. Not completely, because there really is a great deal of art to program architecture, especially. But which one is more likely to be completed to the satisfaction of a large audience? An essay on the identification of the author of Hebrews, or a complex three-tier client-server application? In terms of difficulty, give me the programming job any day.

Wow this post ended up being too long...


Anonymous 2005-05-22 07:23:00

Eric, I am so blessed after reading this post on your blog. I ACTUALLY understood some of it...
You are a very special person...just in case I’ve not told you that lately.

I have no clue what some of that meant, but I do recognize integrity when I see it.

Eric Sowell 2005-05-22 08:29:00

Thanks, anonymous.

Kirk H. Sowell 2005-05-22 12:07:00

I suspect that this was anonymous Mom again.

Eric Sowell 2005-05-22 07:35:00

Yeah. That’s what I figured.