Yesterday I spent the day in various curriculum meetings with my colleagues at Seneca. We were discussing, among other things, how best to update our Internet programming courses (conclusions: html5, more js, jquery), where we're at with our programming stream, and how best to deal with the need for more project management knowledge in our systems stream. I dislike meetings in the extreme, but enjoyed most of these, if for no other reason that it gave me a better sense than I've had in a long time that I'm part of an interesting community. Teaching is an incredibly isolating profession, and post-secondary even more so.
One of the discussions that really got me fired up, and to which I'm returning now, was about our expectations for grads. I asked a simple question: "Should our students be getting hired by Google?" By this I meant, should our best programming students be able to apply to, and have a chance at landing a job at Google, Mozilla, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, Ubisoft, EA, etc. They're all hiring. Many of them have large offices in Toronto.
I'll jump to the ending here and tell you what I think: yes. But there's at least one big problem, and it is perfectly reflected in a mail I got recently from a mid-sized tech company:
"...we normally only hire from universities, but might be open to a college student."
This was followed by an invitation for me to come sing and dance for them, in order to prove our students were worth considering. I've done a lot of singing and dancing over the past five years and I'm starting to tire of the intellectual snobbery and education elitism that claims to want one thing, but interviews and hires for something else. Meanwhile, we're shipping software. Meanwhile, we're getting real shit done.
I make a promise to my students at the start of every term: if you're hungry, if you're willing, if you're dedicated to pushing yourself to do something important, I'm going to do everything I can to help you get there. I have a lot of energy to spend on people who are taking risks and giving it all they have. I tell them they can because I know it's true. There are enough people other people in their lives who will caution them against attempting great work that I don't need to add to it. I don't judge them when they walk in the door--I've seen too many people who looked like they couldn't cut it completely blow my mind. I'm not going to get fooled again.
I challenged my colleagues yesterday to expect more for our students, and to expect more of themselves. I know we're capable of it. I have a new batch of students starting next week, and I'm eager to give them the same message. And if a few of them want to really push the envelope and go for a job at one of these companies, we're going to help them. I work with or know people in almost every company I listed above, and most of them are just like what I've described: hard working but not demi-gods. This is possible.
As it stands today, our students still have to sing and dance their way into many places, so it's important that they have amazing work to show. If they're going to encounter people who only know how to be impressed with the credentials of a candidate's education, we have to distract them with amazing code.
We can do that.