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What core skills does a new Computer Science Graduate need to be employable?

So, I'm in my next to last semester as a Computer Science major and I am wondering about jobs as a programmer. How easy is it to obtain a job as an entry level programmer? What skills should I possess?

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marked as duplicate by Demian Brecht, Anna Lear Oct 2 '11 at 1:38

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Where do you live? –  Randy Minder Oct 2 '11 at 0:04
I live in Virginia. –  Brock Oct 2 '11 at 0:13

4 Answers 4

I'm a senior developer at one of the largest solar companies in the world. We have quite a few software developers, of all experience levels. When we're looking at hiring entry level developers, we look for much more than a CS major. In fact, IMO, that is no advantage whatsoever. We look for folks with a passion for software development, and has developed apps/tools on their own. If the only thing on a candidates resume is a CS degree, but no outside projects/apps/tools completed, we won't consider them. This is not a person passionate about software development. Even for entry level, we won't consider anyone who hasn't written at least some amount of code outside of school projects.

As far as the skills we're looking for, it varies, but would include: C#, SQL Server, WCF, WPF, good understand of OOP principles, and the ability to think.

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A woman who worked for me had worked for Mobil, JCPenney and CitiGroup, and she talked about homemakers who came straight from being a mom to getting into programming. It was aptitude for programming that got them the job, not necessarily the appearance of aptitude (a degree). –  Jared Farrish Oct 2 '11 at 0:10
@Agreed. CS degrees, IMO, have no almost no value, and can even be a disadvantage. I have very little regard for the ability of universities to teach kids how to write software. –  Randy Minder Oct 2 '11 at 0:18
I work at a university, and have a non-programming degree, so I of course have an opinion on that. Generally, you have two problems: High-earning-job seekers, and shut-ins with no social skills but voluminous brain power focused on a single objective. My opinion is that among the two, neither typically have a lock on the meaning of a higher education, which is two-fold: higher order pattern analysis (the educational part, the ability to solve problems), and the network part (network socialization). Oftentimes university students are very strong in one or the other, but not both. –  Jared Farrish Oct 2 '11 at 0:24
Thanks for the input. I wasn't stating that a cs grad had any upper hand. I was stating my situation. –  Brock Oct 2 '11 at 0:25
how can you have passion for software development if you don't even have the decency to get a CS degree? –  Andy Feb 11 '13 at 14:10

This is probably going to be an unconventional answer, but I suggest finding a shop (or two or three) and try to contact the programmers that work there (or the administrative assistants). Ingratiate yourself, use the internship angle, offer to sweep the floors and clean the windows and anything that gets you in the door. Then, when you get in the door, shut your mouth and absorb as much as you can, including the hierarchy (such as, what's considered an entry level position). Shake hands, smile often, be honest and respectful, and find an advocate.

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+1 some of the best information I've heard in regards to getting your foot in the door. I wish I could +10. –  user29981 Oct 2 '11 at 1:07
I lived for a short period of time in Mountain View/Santa Clara back in the early noughts (00's), and the above was consistently the gist of what they had to say (plus some film set wisdom). How do you get a job at Cisco/Oracle/Google/etc.? Go have lunch on their campus. Often. Talk to people. Find out what they're working on. Research, be interested, ask thoughtful questions. BE NICE. Stick around. Don't be a pain, don't sulk; congratulate the more fortunate. Be persistent. Observe hierarchy. I wish I had been more skilled and more confident; I wish I still lived there. –  Jared Farrish Oct 2 '11 at 1:16
This is a good way to find a job. In order to find a really good job (which entry-level graduates do get, but they are special), the asker could benefit from understanding the dirty weed-out tactics of Joel Spolsky joelonsoftware.com/articles/HighNotes.html –  Job Oct 2 '11 at 1:41
@Job - Keeping in mind that Joel Spolsky's weed-out criteria would weed out all but 0.00001% of the entire population, and the rest would have to demonstrate brilliance in the face of adversity ("uncommon characteristics", "winning at a high level"). I think that Jeff Atwood's approach is more reasonable, which is that most "programming" is mundane and non-heroic, but still fulfilling. –  Jared Farrish Oct 2 '11 at 1:46

That all depends on many factors (where you live/are seeking employment is a large one). Having a CS degree doesn't give you much of a leg up, but having a technical degree is a great start.

Prove that you love software development. Show your personal projects off and what you did to get past many troublesome parts of it. Dedicate some time in open source software, so you can prove that you know how to work well with a team.

Also, there are many interviewing skills and characteristics that just come off well. These aren't the be-all-end-all for getting a job, but (un)fortunately they do make getting hired a bit easier.

Don't get discouraged if the first interview doesn't end in an offer. You have to get a lot of "no"s before you get a "yes".

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Don't be discouraged if the twentieth job interview doesn't end in an offer. –  Jared Farrish Oct 2 '11 at 0:12
@JaredFarrish I couldn't agree more. If looking for a new job was fun and easy, everybody would be doing it WAY more often. It's the reality of life. The best you can do is find out why you didn't get hired, and sometimes that is a self-improvement tool. Other times, it's just the fact that there was a better candidate. –  user29981 Oct 2 '11 at 0:14
Thanks for the input. I wasn't stating that a cs grad had any upper hand. I was stating my situation. –  Brock Oct 2 '11 at 0:19
@Brock absolutely, and I didn't think that was your point. I used that to make my point that often times job requirements are a CS degree or an equivalent technical degree. I personally think somebody with a History degree would have a harder time explaining that situation. –  user29981 Oct 2 '11 at 0:43
What about a music degree? I've known some terrific programmers who were BA's in music performance. –  Jared Farrish Oct 2 '11 at 0:48

If you can write working code, and have any interest in doing so, I don't expect you will have much difficulty finding a job.

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... eventually, if you continue looking and build a network. It depends on the job market available and it's capacity to absorb the talents on offer. –  Jared Farrish Oct 2 '11 at 1:19
this is entirely true but the trick is getting hired for that first job, which requires you to somehow prove that you're that guy, on a resume, and then in an interview. –  Kevin Oct 2 '11 at 2:02
@Kevin: If he gets an interview, he will probably get a chance to program in the interview. Currently in the US the unemployment rate in technology is 3.3%; essentially full employment. I interviewed a number of new graduates in 2010, and was happy to find one who could solve a simple programming problem and could explain the difference between a HashMap and a TreeMap. –  kevin cline Oct 2 '11 at 16:21

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