College Courses & IT Skills

Interesting article over at Server Specs about how certification doesn’t pay anymore.

She asks a question at the end about computer science education, and its relevance to IT jobs. “Are today’s college courses relevant to the technologies actually used in today’s data center?”

My response: yes and no.

Yes, in that my CS education taught me the fundamentals of programming, program design, APIs, and operating systems. My solid understanding of operating system concepts has served me well. I understand how an OS makes scheduling decisions, allocates resources, and interacts with applications much better than many of my peers. I also understand programming language concepts very well, too, which helps a lot when dealing with my developer brethren.

No, in that CS departments seem to fancy themselves as being “better” than technical colleges. Actual practical experience isn’t something they are interested in, because they’re teaching the theory. For folks interested in IT, though, the theory is useful but some practical experience is necessary, too. Many business schools have MIS degrees that go more into the practical aspects of being an IT worker. Those get heavy into the business end of things, with budgets, marketing, etc. A good balance of theory and fundamentals, mixed with business concepts like budgets, isn’t something that I’ve ever seen in a four year university program.

Then again, maybe I haven’t been looking in the right places, either.

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  • Of course, I’ll argue that University-level CS departments aren’t “better” than Tech Colleges, but that they aren’t for the same purpose. University classes should not teach you the particulars of any given operating system or programming language, they should teach about the decisions and theories behind how those things work..

    You’ll also get the argument out of me that most of what business schools teach is not university-level theory and concepts, it’s “how to use Microsoft products 101.” (Actually, given the number of times Word is used as a page layout program, or Excel is called a “database,” maybe that should be “mis-use.” :))

    It’s hard to make a concrete argument out of because it’s very hard to draw the lines, but sometimes it feels to me like any time you move away from drawing things out on paper and in to using any particular product, you’re running the risk of making the class more about a particular product than a concept.

    Certainly any time you have to spend several hours using Excel to cut and paste values from one spreadsheet to another as “homework” for a class, I think we’ve missed the point.


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