Maybe the last three startups you work for no longer exist. Maybe
you're one of the thousands whose job at that monolithic "solid"
company no longer exists. Or maybe you're still hanging on as one of four
people in what used to be a department of 30.
Regardless of situation, it's time to do something.
As the high-tech industry and the national economy
attempt to inch toward recovery, many tech professionals are taking a good
hard look at their skills, defining new goals for their future, and using
downtime to return to school.
For junior or intermediate Java programmers, the
path of least resistance may be to get Java certified through an online training
program. These computer-based training programs can certainly help you expand
and refine your skills, but Java certification doesn’t necessarily guarantee
that new doors of opportunity will suddenly fly open for you.
Any type of technical training adds to your professional
cachet, but we have yet to see a hiring manager specifically request that
candidates be Java certified or break into a dance of joy to find it on a
What hiring managers do respond to are bachelor’s
and master’s degrees in computer science and/or electrical engineering from
colleges known for their technical programs.
Going back to school for two to four years may not
be feasible for everyone, but unlike employment, education is something that
can never be taken away from you.
If you have a solid Java background and are looking
to make it stronger, you might want to seek out courses in skills that are
currently in demand, such as knowledge of distributed systems, enterprise
applications, multithreading, scalability, and security.
For a broader perspective on these questions of
technical training, we consulted someone who’s moved throughout technology’s
academic and professional worlds.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science
at Harvey Mudd College, Craig Persiko worked at a variety of companies as
a programmer, returned to school to get his master’s degree in computer science
at NYU, and now teaches programming at City College of San Francisco.
His early exposure to the professional world was
an eye-opener. “A lot of professional programmers don’t have formal training,
which means there’s a lot of bad code out there,” he said. “I was surprised
how many people in the professional world picked up their programming skills
on the job.”
Although academia can be somewhat removed from the
day-to-day realities of the professional world, Persiko attributes key skills
to a formal computer science education.
“The formal study of design skills – planning things
before you start coding – and issues of readability and maintainability are
very important,” he said. “It’s important not just that the code works, but
that it’s easy to understand and maintain.
One area in which the academic world has had to
catch up with the professional world is in the use of Java itself. Persiko’s
undergraduate training focused on C++.
“As a graduate student at NYU, I was amazed how
many students were learning Java to start with, but it really makes sense,”
he said. “Java is easier than C++ to learn first. It’s written to be more
robust and doesn’t let you make the mistakes you can in C++.”
Persiko sees an increasing acceptance of Java as
an academic language. There are still more students learning C++, but the
programming courses he teaches are now offered in both C++ and Java.
The student population moving through the academic
world has changed as well. While most of his day students are typical college-age
students, people attending the evening courses tend to be working adults
who’ve worked in some programming-related capacity but are looking for career
A lot of them have been recently laid off and some
are preparing for an IS management degree. But most of them are not coming
from a traditional computer science background.
Enrollment is down for some of the Web design and
graphics courses, but is strong and growing for the programming and Unix
courses. “The perception that computer science is the hot career to go into
has changed,” he said. “It’s a huge transition from a year and a half ago.”
His advice to technical professionals at this juncture?
“Examine what you want more of and what you want to improve on. Set your
goals and decide exactly what it is that you want to accomplish.”
Noting that not everyone has the time or motivation
to embark on a full degree program, Persiko stresses that it’s important
to stay focused and take courses that will move you closer to your goals.
“Either way,” he said, “It’s a very good time to
go back to school.”
Bill Baloglu is a principal at ObjectFocus (www.ObjectFocus.com), a Java staffing firm in Silicon Valley. Bill has extensive OO
experience and has held software development and senior technical management positions at several Silicon Valley firms.
Billy Palmieri is a seasoned staffing industry executive and a principal at ObjectFocus. His
prior position was at Renaissance Worldwide, where he held several senior management positions in the firm’s Silicon Valley operations.