Where “higher education” misses the mark

Last night, I saw the article Google class debuts at the UW, and of course I had to check it out. Aside from the usual “what’s google doing now” antenna that quivered, I worked at a University for seven years, giving me a pretty good inside view (I think).

It always struck me that the transition from College/University to a full time job was fraught with peril (for the students/prospective employees) because (WARNING: basty generalization here) Universities do a completely shitty job of keeping up with change. I think a large part of this has to do with the rewards system for faculty at Universities – but that’s an entirely different story.

I’ve got to say, I’m impressed with what this Christophe Bisciglia is attempting to do. The way the article is written smacks of elitism on his part, but I don’t know Christophe, so it would be unfair to cast him in any sort of negative light because of what Laurie Burkitt at the PI wrote. Especially when she mis-spells his name right at the front of the article. This kind of forward looking, changing things attempt is something that a lot of companies won’t do. My cynical side says it’s because the bean counters can’t figure out how it benefits the bottom line. I’m impressed that Google is letting/encouraging Christophe to take a stab at closing that gap. I thought it was particularly cool that Christophe appears to be doing all the Map/Reduce algorithm teaching with Hadoop – at least that’s my guess based on this handout.

One of my personal pet peeves is that new employees straight from college/University usually don’t have a clue about how to use Source Control. It seems strange to me that something as basic as source control is missed out in the curriculum – but then I think quite a bit of the pragmatic learning that comes with just being in the job can get missed. Even just getting the concepts of source control into heads would be useful. It can be pretty abstract if you dive into the esoterica of it, but the fundamentals are really pretty straightforward: checking out, editing, checking in, reverting to a specific version, rolling back a change.

Working on a team is another one of those things. I know a lot of places try to work on that skill, but it doesn’t come through much. I suspect it’s because the teams have limited time together, and it’s driven entirely by a student’s motivation. Even still, most of what you see coming from academia focuses on the individual (I’m not asserting thats incorrect – just the way it is) student, and group function doesn’t come through all that much. Sports, actually, I think does the best there.

And to round this little blather out, I think the flip side of the coin is that nobody appears to want to hire entry level staff. You look through craigslist, job postings on Monster or Jobster, whatever – everyone is looking for at least 3-4 years experience. Most of them are looking for “Senior … blah blah” whatevers. What’s up with that? Well – no, I know exactly what’s up with that. Nobody wants to be the first to train someone into “their way” of doing things. Hopefully Christophe’s stab will be more generic than Googly specific and it’ll help everyone.

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