Pepsi? I wanted Coke. But if that’s all there is, I suppose I’ll drink it.

Yesterday I gave a presentation to Creative Skillset. They’re the Sector Skills Council for digital media which includes TV, film and computer games (and oddly, fashion). Skillset presentation View more presentations from cimota. One of the points I made was that we had to follow the market and follow the money. I said that in … Continue reading “Pepsi? I wanted Coke. But if that’s all there is, I suppose I’ll drink it.”

Yesterday I gave a presentation to Creative Skillset. They’re the Sector Skills Council for digital media which includes TV, film and computer games (and oddly, fashion).

One of the points I made was that we had to follow the market and follow the money. I said that in 2008, we asked for Objective C and Cocoa courses from universities and colleges and, to be honest, we got a half-assed response. A little bit of Cocoa, a little bit of Objective C. And a heap of Android. Because, in the academics esteemed opinions, Android was going to take over. Android was cheaper. It was all the same really. Anyone could, they argued, make a great IOS app if they could make an Android app.

This did not happen. This was not the case. This was not true.

Four years later and look where we are. Universities are not producing graduates with the right quantity or quality to populate our local companies. Academia ignored the industry. And worse – the Department of Employment and Learning ignored the evidence.

And on iPhone versus Android?

For every $1.00 spent on iOS, an equivalent Android developer makes around $0.24. And that number is probably boosted through advertising. And as we know, advertising makes for an amazing user experience.

We can blame a lot of reasons for the disparity. It could be fragmentation of software and hardware. According to TNW, only one device counts for more than 10% market share in Android-land. But really, the software fragmentation is where it hurts. In two weeks, Google will be showing off Android 5.0 at their annual Google io conference. This is while their 4.0 version has managed to get only 7.1% market share. All of the new APIs and features, the user experience improvements and the bug fixes (and security fixes) of 4.0 only reached 7.1% in 7 months. IOS 5 has managed more than 75% penetration since October 2011 (also about 7 months).

Whether or not you like a platform is not important. We should train people to be the best, but we’re just training them to compete. The market demanded IOS, our educators gave them Android.

But we accepted it because when you’re dealing with a starving man, even a shit sandwich starts to look tasty. I’ve given this to the CAL Committee. I’ve spoken to QUB and the University of Ulster. I’ve tried to talk directly to DEL. I gave this presentation directly to Creative Skillset (in front of NI Screen, DCAL, Invest NI, the BBC, Belfast City Council and others). And I’ve had to listen to all of the investment given to film and television in terms of training courses, new facilities and new tax breaks. Dozens of new apprenticeships. Two new sound stages. Tax breaks for high end drama.

They do not seem to understand that software, in it’s myriad forms, already vastly outnumbers the film and television industry. And unlike television (the BBC is currently reducing headcount, remember?), the software industry is currently growing. And it’s growing faster than our universities and colleges are training people.

This is why CoderDojo and similar clubs are important in the North of Ireland. We’re in the boom times and we simply cannot afford to wait for the Minister for Employment and Learning to do something about it. What we’re doing isn’t enough. We know that. But someone has to do something, however small.

0 thoughts on “Pepsi? I wanted Coke. But if that’s all there is, I suppose I’ll drink it.”

  1. Hi Matt,

    The University of Ulster did respond by placing a Mobile development module based on Objective C which I was part of. This module faced numerous difficulties, the primary being that the we just don’t have lecturers competent in Objective C and let me tell you Objective C has a quite a sharp learning curve compared to Java. Secondly for anyone not owning a Mac it required that they use a lab which was often over subscribed. In my opinion the university made the correct choice given the circumstances. Also a point worth making is that Apple make it hard for students to get into iOS development the requirement of owning a Mac, and the need to purchase a developers license in order to deploy to the handset place a financial burden onto the student which I’m sure our lecturers were aware of at the time.

  2. As I said, I wanted Coke, but if Pepsi is all that is on offer, I suppose I’ll drink it.

    What YEAR did the course you describe start? (I know the answer to this).

    (and University itself represents, in many cases, an entirely unnecessary financial burden so can we leave that discussion where it belongs?)

  3. It was in my final year so 09/10 semester. The University tried and it didn’t take. I know Northern Ireland has some great success with the likes of Ecliptic, but at the end of the day Java ends out being a much more employable language to have on your C.V , having said that I got my job due to my bosses respect for the difficulty of the language.

  4. You do know that every IOS developer studio in the country is trying to hire new staff? There is no difficulty in ObjC-skilled developers getting jobs. Yet I know plenty of Java programmers who are out of work (they may just be a bit shit anyway). You yourself have confirmed you were hired because they had respect for your ObjC skills. What a shocking situation that graduates be respected for their skills (rather than despised).

    Yes, there’s plenty of Java jobs out there but there are folk who turn up to BLOC54 and say they have to start doing something different to their daily Javajob or they will start to hate programming.

    There are jobs and there are ‘jobs’.

    We’re not turning out anywhere near enough graduates and the ones we are producing have the wrong skills for tomorrow’s industry.

  5. The picture of the industry when I started university was very different though, jobs were not plentiful as they are now, it takes 4 years for a university to respond to demand and at that they still can’t force people to take the course. My graduating class was around 15, no one was turned down from the course and no one was forced out. Students coming out of their secondary schools were just not choosing the course. I don’t expect careers teachers in secondary schools to be able to predict future demands in order to help assist students to make wise choices so at the end of the day we just have to put up with the short supply. On the positive side I know for a fact that last years computer science course at Jordanstown was over subscribed the first time this has happened in many years.

    On the point of not turning out people with the right skills, I don’t see your point here, although you say every iOS developer in the country is hiring these are small compared to the likes of Liberty NYSE and Citi who all seek Java and hire in far greater volumes. Objective C may be in demand but the masses want Java.

  6. It doesn’t take 4 years to respond to demand or changed in industry requirements. That’s nonsense. We told the universities and colleges what to do in 2008. They didn’t respond until late 2009. (not 4 years later but still too little)

    Yes, universities had to pick from a bad lot but part of this is that they do not limit the courses in other disciplines and for a while there were no entry requirements for software engineering. Therefore, obviously, poor students took the course on.

    Big companies can retrain people in Java easily (and they’re heavily subsidised for it by DEL as well). Small companies cannot engage with DEL the same way (DEL won’t give them the time of day). Also, I’m not expecting a university to spend 4 years teaching someone only objective C, but to create programmers. And the quality of Java programmers being produced has always been in question – even the big employers complain that graduates are not good enough.

    Ultimately we get what we reward. We have rewarded universities for taking on too many of the wrong courses. We have a glut of lawyers and physiotherapists and a deathly dearth of software engineers. NISP reckon we could employ 50,000 people in STEM related careers if we just trained them right and their research was much more robust than mine or yours. I agree with them utterly.

  7. Any job application I have ever seen for a iOS post has required previous tangible experience, I don’t recall any suggesting that they would be willing to train someone if they appeared to be competent programmers. Its disappointing that DEL won’t pay for the training for small companies so its kind of a vicious circle in the iOS world of Northern Ireland, can’t get a job without experience, can’t get experience without a job.

    I couldn’t agree more with the last point.

  8. It’s interesting because software engineering/programming is the one high value job where experience is really easy to get and to demonstrate and is much more valuable than a degree in the damn thing.

  9. My best friend has worked in some of the best software houses in the world. His CV reads like a list of cool places for geeks to congregate to make virtual stuff. He does not have a degree. He was able to demonstrate his talent.

    Having a degree OR being able to evidence talent are not necessarily mutually exclusive. They just seems so.

  10. I’m happy this is the case but for someone starting out now trying to get a job without a degree would be almost impossible. I would love to trial this just to see how many rejections/interviews I would get if I filled out my C.V without my degree. Previous employers do play a big part and I have seen people employed solely on this basis as well, but how do you get that foot in the door, how do you get employed by that first company. You could obviously take it on your own head, become an entrepreneur but without a steady income it would be hard to support yourself. Unfortunately a degree is a necessary evil thankfully the executive had the sense not to increase fees here otherwise it wouldn’t be worth it.

  11. Kudos to them for that! The intern-ship approach is a really good idea as long as it doesn’t get abused. Should the University fees increase I definitely think this is the only path future programmers should take.

    A four year computer science course at maximum fees equals 31.5k for a job that will pay roughly 22k doesn’t make sense to me. Obviously assuming wages won’t inflate to reflect the increase in fees.

    Out of curiosity what can a 17 year old expect from such an arrangement with the above companies is it a paid position?

  12. Excuse my suspicion but, they either are employing extremely talented 17 year olds with experience or they are training them for a period before letting them loose on the code base it has to be one or the other. I hesitantly say because as a mentor for students coming from computer science courses letting them loose is a very bad thing often we give them attainable tasks which shouldn’t prove to difficult. This is not to say that they aren’t capable just that working in a company environment where breaking a build can result in contractual slips is a burden that shouldn’t be placed on them.

    Obviously I have no idea of the size or complexity of the code bases in question and I know there are whizz kids out there but I find it hard to believe that anyone joining at the age of 17 wouldn’t need at least 6 months training/supervision before making large contributions to the code base .

  13. True, I hope that those who do get these jobs don’t taken advantage of, one thing I hate seeing is people in the industry for X amount of years getting the salaries of those who have been in for shorter period of time but are equally as gifted.

    I wish this options was available when I was making my choice. Not that I regret the choice I made, but that it was the only choice available

  14. I think that universities should probably stop with the useless assignments in year 2 and higher years. Students should do projects for local startups as their assignments. Build some experience/portfolio. Get to know a local company.

    If I had access to students (not just in software engineering) for Conquest Dynamics, I think we’d be in a muchly advanced position.

  15. That would be a good idea, it would also get student a step in the door with a potential future employer. Finding small equal pieces of work which companies could give to students and have them assessed fairly on would be difficult though which equates to “not going to happen” in the university world.

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