Tuesday, June 17th, 2008
The value of a college education in software engineering fields has always been up for debate. While the early days of our profession nearly required some form of academic exposure to so much as interact with a computer, the microcomputer revolution of course changed all that, and people have been debating how to gauge the quality of information workers ever since.
Some of our biggest role models in tech. never finished school (e.g., Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, etc.) but that doesn’t stop many large tech. companies from heavily frowning on applicants who don’t have Comp. Sci. chops; some firms require college diplomas as a prerequisite for consideration.
Sridhar Vembu, CEO of Zoho, weighs in on the debate in a recent blog entry entitled, “How We Recruit – On Formal Credentials vs. Experience-based Education.” While the blog entry is fairly specific to the India talent-pool, it is at least partially of general application. Some highlights:
Based on a few years of observation, we noticed that there was little or no correlation between academic performance, as measured by grades & the type of college a person attended, and their real on-the-job performance. That was a genuine surprise, particularly for me, as I grew up thinking grades really mattered.
He goes on to talk about their efforts to create a sort of technical trade school that feeds into Zoho, much like IBM’s recent efforts at partnering with schools like Neumont University to provide Big Blue-heavy curriculum. From an employers perspective, it doesn’t get any better than that: having a years-long track record of a candidate’s ability to use your stuff when they finally apply for work.
Sridhar is evasive on exactly how Zoho evaluates new job candidates:
One question that comes up often: if you donâ€™t look at formal credentials, what do you actually look at? This is a surprisingly difficult question. In fact, doing full justice to it would take me a series of posts, and take me into some deeply philosophical territory, which I will attempt some other time. At one level, the answer is very simple (â€go by gut feel, i.e use your human gift of judgmentâ€ – yeah, I know, what a cop-out), but at another, it is exceedingly hard. The difficulty comes from the simple observation: any formal rule-based system involving human beings is very easy to game and will be gamed.
If the CEO can’t easily articulate the hiring philosophy, makes you wonder how the troops manage to apply any kind of consistent benchmark. This pretty accurately reflects the state of confusion around gauging a job applicant’s potential fit in our industry.
What are your opinions on the value of college education in our industry? Do you require it of your potential employees? Do you look down on peers without a degree? How do you identify top talent?
Posted by Ben Galbraith at 7:00 am