2008-02-25

Another Woopsi Project; Off-Topic Thoughts on IT Qualifications

First update in a while. Well, not strictly true - I have about a dozen posts typed up and ready to go, but I’m holding off from posting them until after the deadline. Cryptic, yes. Ultimately exciting, probably not - it’s not going as well as I’d hoped, mainly because I’m losing interest in it and haven’t got enough free time to dedicate to it.

None of this has anything to do with Woopsi, which I’m increasingly looking forward to picking up again in March. This, however, does:

http://student.computing.dcu.ie/blogs/eoin/

This is a blog about “DSTalk”, a Jabber client for the DS. DSTalk is apparently being written using Woopsi, which makes it the fifth Woopsi project that I know of: Jeff’s HP emulator and organiser, a maths game (which unfortunately reverted back to the coder’s own GUI system), some sort of robot controller system (uses Woopsi as a coding model rather than Woopsi itself), and now this.

Not doing too badly for a library that isn’t even into alpha status yet. Possibly a big headache for someone if (when) future versions change the API…

DSTalk is being written as a university coding project, which is rather ironic. Despite being a professional developer for the last 5 years I’ve got no formal IT qualifications at all, but my code is now being used to bolster a comp sci project.

I discount my GCSE in IT on the grounds that my school reports used to say things like, “Ant can turn on a computer without assistance.” It didn’t say, “Ant is bored senseless at having to perform mail merges in Word and alleviates the tedium by writing games in VBA,” which would have been more accurate. In truth, switching on the computer was about the limit of the teachers’ technical abilities, and thus all they could offer an opinion on. Anything beyond that was some kind of unspeakable voodoo that they did their best to ignore. My experiences in this class were the main reason why I’ve since avoided signing up for anything resembling computer science academia.

Anyway, this has been something of a problem. Interviews that I attend usually start off with this question:

“You’ve got a degree in English and a master’s in Film Studies. Why are you here?”

I then have to prove that it’s possible to know how to program without a programming degree and that I can eat without dribbling. Personally, I’ve never found qualifications to have the slightest bearing on someone’s coding ability. I’ve known great programmers with hardly any qualifications at all, let alone comp sci degrees, and awful programmers with alphabet soup suffixed to their name on their CV.

The most important interview question I ask (when I’m on the other side of the desk) is:

“What programming projects do you do in your own time?”

Every good developer I’ve worked with has their own projects on the go, be it just playing with new languages or writing entire applications. Every bad developer I’ve worked with has no interest in coding outside of the job.

This makes no difference to the HR departments that filter out the CVs, though. Unless your CV says “BSc Computer Science” on it you won’t get your CV delivered to the developers who will be more adept at spotting a decent coder.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot lately, and finally came to a decision. I’m in the process of applying to my old university for a place on their comp sci MSc course. Hopefully they’ll let me do more than switch on a computer.