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What skills will get entry-level IT job candidates noticed by hiring managers? Not surprisingly, technology vendors expect applicants to know their products. For example, anybody who walks through The MathWorks front door in search of employment should speak fluent Matlab, the proprietary programming language on which the companys software products are built. Similarly, officials at Microsoft expect knowledge of Windows, Office and other products. Recruiter McCreary said the companys Windows, Office, .Net and developer tools divisions are hiring big. The natural languages, Tablet PC and gaming divisions will also be staffing up.
Besides product-specific skills, virtually all employers—including The MathWorks—expect "some basic technical skills" such as programming in a variety of languages, Cole said. And, like many employers interviewed for this story, The MathWorks is increasingly looking for students or recent graduates with engineering backgrounds. That means software or hardware engineering—or, in the case of The MathWorks, experience with real-time or control systems or signals. Many hiring managers believe such training enhances a candidates potential for contributing on product designs, experts say.
In addition to technical skills, many employers are looking for students whose passion for technology surpasses anything that can be contained within classroom walls.
"Weve seen students whove developed databases and Web sites, those who developed sites to run their families businesses," said McCreary, whos based in Charlotte, N.C. "Some have written their own games. Or theyve created opportunities for the world around them: community service, where people have decided to go help Habitat for Humanity set up a membership database. Theyre going beyond what theyd get for skills in the classroom."
Unfortunately for entry-level candidates seeking to satisfy employers that increasingly demand knowledge of the latest technologies, universities have not always been adept at keeping up with rapidly shifting technology trends. Many educators downplay employer-driven requests for graduates sporting the skill du jour, pointing out that students would be stuck with soon-to-be-outdated skills, were that the focus.
"If two years ago, we had taught everyone about [Component Object Model], where would all those students be with .Net?" asked Richard Rasala, associate dean for undergraduate education at Northeastern Universitys College of Computer Science, in Boston.
Now, however, at least partly in response to the tough IT job market, schools such as the University of Minnesota, Crookston, are attempting to react quickly to market demands. The college last year added a messaging systems course because companies were looking for people with backgrounds in Microsoft Exchange and IBMs Lotus divisions Notes as they began to address unified messaging of voice, e-mail and fax systems.
Systems security and hacking courses were also added, again at the request of employers, said Bruce Brorson, program manager of the Information Technology Management degree programs and an eWeek Corporate Partner. The latest requests from employers have prompted the school to roll out application development courses using Macromedia Inc.s Dreamweaver, ColdFusion and Flash MX.
But the most loudly voiced demands center on Web-driven application development. For example, local hospitals such as Riverview Hospital, in Crookston, are looking for server-side skills as they move to dynamic Web site development for projects such as online patient databases, according to Bruce Lim, assistant professor of IT management and director of the universitys Instructional Technology Center. Insurance companies and training companies are sniffing around for graduates with gaming skills to apply to e-learning applications. Besides facility with a joystick, such skills encompass plenty of math and physics, as well as C++ and Java.
Once IT students graduate with such in-demand skills, there are other tactics that can serve them well. Gary Bronson, enterprise operations manager for Washington Group International Inc., in Boise, Idaho, and an eWeek Corporate Partner, recommended that entry-level IT workers head for a region or city that has many large companies, such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston or Texas. Larger markets and larger companies have more spots for entry-level people.
In contrast, smaller operations such as Washington Group Internationals data center—which employs 28 people, including Bronson—demand only technology workers who can be instantly productive.
Thats a tough, albeit understandable, stance. Its also very common now. Indeed, in times like these, one has to admit: If you can swing it, working for dad may not be so bad after all.
IT Careers Managing Editor Lisa Vaas can be reached at email@example.com.
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