Mixed signs on the state of IT education

The good news: You can get a college degree that prepares you for a career in IT -- but you'll have to work for it

A couple of weeks ago, I posted the story of a reader's daughter who received a degree in data processing (who knew anyone even used that phrase anymore?) without ever having had to write a single line of code.

Part of the specific problem was the use of group assignments, which meant that so long as roughly a fourth of the students could write code, the rest could perform other project work. Like real-world teams, these academic ones were built on specialization, which would be convincing except that classrooms are supposed to make sure everyone who passes a course demonstrates a minimum level of knowledge in the curriculum.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Bob opened the floodgates when he asked about the seemingly sorry state of IT education -- find out what the readers had to say on the topic. | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line newsletter. ]

That's the specifics. I asked readers with recent experience in computer-related education to share it. Here's a summary:

  • If you want a degree that indicates you know something about computers without having to actually know very much about computers, you can get one. Education is a marketplace, and if you have the money and want to buy, you can find someone willing to sell. This isn't new, by the way. Back when I entered college 40 years ago, if all a student wanted was a piece of paper, plenty of diploma mills were willing to provide one.
  • If you want a degree that teaches you a great deal about computers, how they work, and what you have to know and do to succeed in IT as a profession, you can get one of those, too. You can't graduate from some schools without demonstrating a great deal of competence. Others are less stringent -- you'll take out of your education what you decide to put into it.
  • There's a school of thought that says actual programming shouldn't be a required skill anymore, because that work is no longer conducted in the United States -- it's all sent offshore. Opinion: This is both misleading (if you're going to offer a degree in computing, graduates should know how to compute) and shows a serious misreading of the actual marketplace.
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