Technical education at the speed of tech

As tech enjoys an unprecedented growth spurt, it's harder than ever for education to keep up. A few innovators light the way

In another sure sign of the zombie apocalypse, I just learned that certain startups here in San Francisco are hiring developer interns -- interns -- at salaries that amount to around $70,000 per year because, according to my source, "that's the market price." And for crack lead developers, many of whom happen to be in their early 20s? Closer to $200 grand a year.

You might wonder, at those prices, exactly what qualification are employers looking for. As InfoWorld's Andrew Oliver noted in his classic, "Is a computer science degree worth the paper it's printed on?," a BSCS wouldn't be one of them. Instead, the hiring process focuses on vetting the projects applicants have worked on.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Is a computer science degree worth the paper it's printed on? | IT certifications no longer sure path to premium pay | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line blog and newsletter. ]

You say you coded your first Web app when you were 14? That counts. Maybe an iOS app a couple years later? Let's see the code. If you're good, the more you've done, the more a developer manager can review, and the better the chance you have of landing a high-paying gig. It sounds a little like the guilds and apprenticeships of yore, except the skills change too fast to be handed down.

The devaluation of conventional academic credentials tracks with the recent slide in the premium pay for certifications, cited in Bill Snyder's coverage of a Foote Partners survey of 2,400 employers. It's a real problem: Those who offer certs or university degrees are having a hell of a timing keeping up with what the market wants, from Node.js ninjas to Java developers who know how to code MapReduce jobs.

What can fill the educational gap? Last week TechCrunch gave its Best New Startup of 2012 award to Coursera, an online learning nonprofit that offers a whole range of courses, including dozens taught by marquee universities in tech disciplines. Udacity offers a similar array of free college-level courses.

But such sites represent only the start of a new wave of online education, much of it video-based. A portion is already provided by tech companies and open source communities. Have a look, for example, at Google Developers Live, which offers dozens of video presentations per month on topics ranging from Android and App Engine development to the full range of Google APIs. And 10gen Education stands out as a great resource for developers who want to make the most of MongoDB.

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