I often write about how people can go out into the market and recruit developers or programmers for startups and about how people can learn to code or change their career by learning to be a programmer in their spare time by taking MOOCs (e.g. Coursera, EDx, UDacity) and with the help of local learn to program groups often leading up to developer boot camp programs like Dev Boot Camp (Dev Bootcamp was recently acquired by Kaplan) or Hack Reactor. But lately I have noticed some fundamental changes are taking place that I would like to point out. The essence of these changes is that shifting attitudes concerning how to hire a programmer are prompting many people including hiring managers to re-evaluate how to recruit a programmer or developer and even how they recruit internet marketers and web designers.
For as long as I can remember, companies looking to hire a programmer or developer would look for people who had the best stats. There is evidence to suggest that there are still plenty of people who are this way.
For example: A discussion on the subject in /r/cscareerquestions subreddit a few days back got very interesting. The post was very unpopular, so much so that the net up votes was 0 despite getting 51 comments.
Here is one quote:
“I’m skeptical of MOOCs with no other experience to go on. But provided sufficient experience, or a portfolio of open source or other personal projects that I can peruse, I would consider that candidate…The 4 year university is a known quantity to me…If I’m hiring an entry level developer with no other real professional experience, I’d rather take the “safer” bet because that candidate doesn’t have a whole lot of background anyway. And I don’t have to stick my neck out professionally for an entry level person…”
Here is another:
“If you had the knowledge from completing the equivalent of a CS degree in MOOC’s, and you build a few applications, that would be good enough. At that point you should have the skills to get a job…The projects will get you the interviews, and your coursework will get you through the interviews.”
Someone else in either that discussion or a nearly identical one argued that given the choice, they would hire a Harvard person over anyone else just because they went to Harvard and were therefore the smartest possible candidate for any job. I pointed out that there are a lot of reasons why this blanket assumption is flawed and simultaneously elitist but I suspect that he is not going to change his mind anytime soon.
Considering that these are from people who probably already have CS degrees, it is worth noting that there is resistance to change. I can’t help but wonder if the reason for the resistance has anything to do with people clinging to the credentials that they worked hard to get and paid for vs. someone who paid a lot less (or nothing in the case of MOOCs) and got an equivalent or near equivalent education.
A separate discussion with someone who has served as an instructor of courses centered around whether or not MOOCs are accredited.
He had this to say:
“I’d have to ask whether the MOOC is accredited. A diploma from a traditional college or university is their certification that a graduate meets their minimum standards, and accreditation is a certificate that the school meets the minimum standards of the accrediting body. “Attending a class” is not the same thing as learning. The diploma is a certification that you actually are supposed to have learned something, vs. merely slept through all the classes.”
This is an interesting point. Traditional four year colleges in California have used accreditation to try to block and hurt developer boot camps.
Attitudes Are Changing And Discussions Are Too
Despite some prevailing attitudes about the credentialing process, attitudes are changing and so are some really interesting discussions. Consider one discussion in the /r/Coursera subreddit about how to present MOOC education as a credential on a resume and how I would recommend approaching this subject.
Another VP of Engineering that I know had this to say on the subject of MOOCs':
“Assuming someone did do a full set, however, the next thing I would look at is their project work. Whether someone is in a traditional 4 year program or has gone through a set of MOOCs, I’m looking to see if they understand the concepts they were presented with (like can you explain a sorting algorithm), and also have they developed the ability to complete projects. Understanding the concept is necessary, but it’s really difficult to get projects to completion, whether that’s a school project or (even better) a personal project.”
Someone else, an Engineering Manager, said this (agreeing with the previous quote):
“A growth mindset, drive, and experience trump any educational program. A growth mindset, drive, and experience trump any educational program…Don’t get me wrong, there are valuable things in a 4yr program. What matters more is how you spent your time there.”
Yet another Director of Information Systems said that he would look for what hobby projects you have worked on and whether or not the developer chose to work on other things beside their day job projects. He went on to say this:
“In all my years, only one person who had a degree was a good hire. My best colleagues did not have a degree, but they had a passion and clearly the skills to pull it off.”
I think that all of this is bigger than just who is the best candidate. There is also a ton of potential for people in poverty stricken areas to get an education that helps them reach for the stars.
I will end with this quote from a programmer who put it this way:
“One of the things a degree is evidence of is funding. It could well be that your MOOC educated candidate had no resources to pay for tuition. The fact that he was able to complete the MOOC courses on his own without the structured environment of the classroom speaks volumes for his drive and motivation, and that should count for something as well. If he can prove that he knows his stuff, there should be no need to penalize him for his poverty.”