The Blue Collar Coder may be Stuck in the Shallow End

October 10, 2012 at 9:21 am 6 comments

Anil Dash’s call for “Blue Collar Coders” reminds me of the lessons of Jane Margolis et al.’s book “Stuck in the Shallow End.”  It turns out that there are lots of African-American students in computing, just few in Universities and traditional CS programs.  DeVry, University of Phoenix, and a variety of community colleges and technical schools have much more diversity in their IT and Computing programs than we see in University CS programs. But those graduates may not get the same opportunities, the same salaries, the same advancement path as the students from the University CS programs.  They remain stuck in the shallow end of the economic pool.  Are “Blue Collar Coders” stuck there, too?

The comments to the blog post reflect a lot of the assumptions about the IT industry that keep us from creating more opportunities for others. “Most of the best software developers I know did not have formal CS degrees for the bulk of their careers.”  That may be true, but the assumption that students will teach themselves is often used as an excuse for not creating opportunities in schools for those students who don’t see a path to computing, who don’t live in a place with examples and role models available to guide them into the economic opportunities of a computing career.

Put another way, our industry can grow in a very meaningful way by giving lots of young people at a high school level the knowledge they need to learn jQuery straight out of high school, or teaching maintenance on a MySQL database at a trade school without having to get a graduate degree in computer science. That’s not to say that CS students aren’t also important — we’ll need the breakthroughs and innovations they discover. But someone has to run that intranet app at an insurance company, and somebody has to maintain the internal iOS app at a law firm, and those are solid, respectable jobs that are as key to our economy as a 22-year-old trying to pivot and iterate their way into an acqu-hire.

via The Blue Collar Coder – Anil Dash.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alfredtwo  |  October 10, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Back at the beginning of my career a hiring manager told me that he almost recommended that I not be interviewed because I had been formally trained in college. He thought that was a disadvantage. I still got the job and did well there anyway. But that exposed me to a bias that I continue to see 30+ years later.

    I have seen any number of very talented programmers with little to know formal training. But you seldom see anything less than the most amazing minds in that category. The average person just can’t get to a professional level without some real training in my opinion. There are many people who are self taught and program for fun and hobby but will never get professional jobs because they just don’t know enough. Often they don’t even know what things they still need to learn.

    Even top self-taught developers have asked me for help with “you went to college for this stuff can you help me figure out …” because they were lacking important concepts. Formal training is a short cut like reading the documentation.

    Community colleges often focus on the tools and techniques of the day. This is not unreasonable for them as helping people get better jobs NOW is a key goal for them. The university is about a career not just a job and so the concepts tend to be emphasized more than the tools or languages of the day. This may be a short term disadvantage but still a long term gain.

  • 2. alanone1  |  October 10, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    I think the confusion in the article is the perennial one between programming and design/architecture/meta.

    Too much of the former without the perspectives and expertise of the latter creates poorly organized programs and tools which require lots of human power to create and to maintain. This gives rise to demand for more “worker bees” who most often contribute to the urban sprawl (if not slum).

    Creating a problem with lack of expertise is indeed a way to create more jobs for people with little expertise. To me it is a very bad notion strategically because it pollutes the future.



  • 3. Bonnie  |  October 12, 2012 at 9:46 am

    When I worked in industry, I saw lots of software engineers who did not have CS degrees, in fact, the majority. But i could see problems, not just at the large scale architectural level, but also (in fact mainly) at the small scale code level. They often used the wrong data structures or none at all, were unaware of well known ways to approach hard problems, and did things in a very ad hoc way. Many of them, though, were sharp people, and realized their problems – and went on to get MS degrees in computer science. In fact, I almost think that was the normal career track of that era (late 90’s into the late 00’s) – get into the software world with any old degree, work for a while, then go back and get your MS in computer science. There are a number of universities and colleges in the NY metro area with massive graduate programs in CS that cater to this market.

  • […] I’m particularly concerned about this article appearing in IEEE Computer.  Thinking that high school is enough for a computing job is (a) wrong and (b) counter-productive at the high school level, since it encourages the instruction to be more vocational and less about developing computing concepts that could be used in post-secondary instruction.  I’m particularly worried about what an emphasis on high school computing education means for under-represented minorities.  A high-school only IT job will earn, on average, far less than a college degree IT job.  Emphasizing high school IT jobs may mean trapping more under-represented minorities “in the shallow end.” […]

  • […] strikes me as a good way to become stuck in the shallow end — learn enough to be employed on the first day, don’t know enough to transfer to […]

  • […] dubious, because they took only starting salaries as the comparison point.  Do the following years leave those with shallower education “stuck in the shallow end”?  But the point quoted below is clearly right — we need to know more about the downstream […]


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