College graduates can go a long way toward getting themselves a first job by diving early into technology that interests them and developing expertise apart from what they learn in school. A number of tech employers interviewed by Computerworld said that experience is a bigger driver than degrees when it comes to making entry-level hires, and that in today’s world there’s no excuse for not getting your hands dirty.
“With a credit card and 10 dollars you can buy a server at Amazon’s cloud or Google’s cloud or Rackspace’s cloud,” pointed out Jim O’Neil, CIO of marketing software company HubSpot. “There’s no excuse anymore.”
Where candidates got their degree isn’t an indicator of success, O’Neil said. Instead, he looks at graduates’ ability to demonstrate their skills and enthusiasm through work they’ve done outside the classroom. Not only does building an app, taking care of a nonprofit’s database needs or creating a website prove your technical skills, it shows that you’re motivated enough to learn and apply technology in real-world situations. If you can demonstrate that your work solved a real business problem or developed a real user base, so much the better.
“What hiring managers are looking for is somebody who is able to consciously plan to approach a certain problem,” said Markus Schwarz, senior vice president, Global SAP Education. “They need to prove that they can connect the world they’re familiar with—technology—with the worlds of business and the business user.”
Another way to demonstrate potential is to steep yourself in the basics, and be ready to build on them. Shravan Goli, president of Dice, told Computerworld that learning languages like Java, C++ and SQL will ground you in the foundations of technologies that are hot right now. For example, someone who knows Java doesn’t have to start from scratch in order to learn Hadoop. Given the opportunities out there for Hadoop developers, it could be worth a candidate’s time to use their knowledge of Java to learn Hadoop on their own.
Many employers recognize that your skills may not directly translate to their immediate needs. So, if you can demonstrate your potential, they may be willing to train you. Said Ray Lowrey, CIO of McGraw-Hill Education: “A very passionate, talented individual who wants to come in and get involved, you’re going to find most employers are open-minded to taking a chance, especially if they prove to understand the industry and have a focus as far as what area they want to get into.”
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