Trainers & Counselors
A Training Program that Suits You…
Experienced Software Professionals
Future Software Professionals
An Ideal Training Program
In the previous article we have seen why the software training institutes fail to produce professionals who can be readily absorbed by the industry. This article contains some suggestions, which I believe can improve the situation.
The first and the most important factor that can influence the quality of the output is the input quality. The training institutes should take only students with the right aptitude for the software courses. When I say software courses, I mean courses which are supposed to make them a software professional. Anybody can go to an institute and take a basic computer literacy course. This is a trend that should be welcomed and encouraged. In fact by doing such a course, the students can be better equipped to tackle their responsibilities in their chosen professions. For example, in today’s computer world where people are talking about computers on each and every desktop, one should at least know how to type in a letter, send an e-mail, browse the Internet, and say create a presentation. Today we have many good software products which makes the life of an executive easier, which automates almost all aspects of the his day-to-day chores, may it be composing a memo, preparing the monthly schedules, or making a presentation.
So the computer literate professional has definitely an edge over his non-literate counterpart in producing high quality output in a much shorter time. But most of the training institutes are making their students just computer literates not computer professionals. Even though these basic skills can enhance the chances of a non-software professional and can make his job easier, it will not help in getting a software development job.
A career in software profession is a different cup of tea. Not everybody can become a software professional. So the training institutes should design aptitude tests and counseling sessions to find out people with the right aptitude. A good counselor could suggest alternative courses, for the people who are not cut out for the software job. For example, a person who is very good in financial accounting or finance can take up a course which teaches him some of the popular accounting packages.
TRAINERS & COUNSELORS
The institutes should restructure its compensation package to attract the best professionals as faculty and counselors. These people should have practical experience and should have worked on real life projects. The wealth of information these people bring to the institute could not be substituted by the instructors who have no practical experience. Because the real life software development is a totally different ball game, where people will be put to tremendous pressure and if they are not prepared for that beforehand they might crack. So the experienced and battle hardened professionals can impart that practical side of software development, because they have seen and experienced it and above all survived it. If it is difficult to find full time people of this caliber, they can be invited as guest faculty, say to take up about 20 – 30% of the load of each course. Another advantage of this is program is that, the students will be interacting with people who will be or who are similar to their future superiors.
I had mentioned about the industrial practice or apprenticeship, which some institutes offer. Even though the concept is very good, it fails to achieve its objectives. The objective of this program is that the while the students get an exposure to the real life software development process the companies get a chance to try out the students before employing them. The success of this program depends on many factors like the organization, the student’s mentor in the company, the kind of work given to the students, etc. In most cases what happens is that, the student will be send to some organization, where the mentor will be somebody who is not qualified for the job. This happens because people who are qualified will not have the time for mentoring. So the students will be either given some project which will never see light or will be used for data entry operation. I am not saying that this is the situation in all cases, there may be exceptions, but in most cases this is the reality. The students are happy, because they are getting the stipend and will get a service certificate. This situation could be improved. The companies could be invited to the campus, rather than the students going form one company to another asking for a project. They can conduct campus interviews and can select the students (this is what is happening in the formal educational sector, so why can’t this be tried in the informal sector also). Once a student is selected by the company, he should be absorbed by the company, the ‘if you are not satisfied …you can send him back’ philosophy won’t work. Because, if a student who is going for his industrial practice is equipped with the theatrical and practical knowledge, the only thing he lacks is the real life experience. So if the companies can recruit engineering graduates and MCAs, why can’t they do the same with the students of the training institutes. If the student is on the company’s rolls, then people will give him more attention and he will be involved in the actual work. The selection of the mentor has to be done carefully. He should be a senior person, who have the necessary technical expertise and maturity to guide the students during their initial phases. This is an area where the industry or the organizations should cooperate with the training institutes. The mentors should find time to spend with the students and give feedback to the training institutes. This feedback can be very valuable to the institutes in modifying the training methodology and curriculum.
A TRAINING PROGRAM THAT SUITS YOU…
There are different segments of people who need computer training. Rather than making a one-course for all, the training institutes should design and develop separate training programs for the different segments. The major groups that comes to my mind are:
- The non-software professionals ( say doctors,engineers, accountants, businessmen, etc.)
- The experienced software and IS professionals–people who need refresher courses to keep themselves abreast with the latest technology.
- The would be software professionals–people who want to take up a career in software development.
The training needs of these three groups are very different. The first group needs to be trained in computer basics, and the utilities to do their day-to-day activities like say a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation package, basics of Internet, how to browse the world wide web, e-mail basics, etc. These courses should give a lot of hands on experience so that the participants can be productive once they have completed the course. May be a second session after a fortnight or so, to clear any doubts, discuss the problems faced by the candidates in applying what they have learned in their actual work, how they solved the problems,etc. would be very effective.
Experienced Software Professionals
The second group, the experienced professionals will have enough background and experience in the IT field, so the courses for them should be precise and should give maximum information about the topic that is being covered. They will not be interested in the introduction to computers, and other basic stuff. They have come to learn about some specific technology, and they will need only that. They will be more interested in aspects like how they could adapt or adopt the new technology to their workplace or how the new technology will make their jobs easier. So these courses should have a practical orientation with case studies, discussions, site visits where the participants can actually see the technology in action, etc. The faculty for these courses should be people who are actually using the technology and are pioneers in that field.
Future Software Professionals
The third group are the people who join the institutes for making a career in the software profession. They are people who have neither the application knowledge (which the first group had) nor the technical skills (which the second group had). They are graduates or undergraduates fresh from college. Their knowledge of computers and the IT industry will be little. Many of them have joined the courses because of the software boom and may not be fit for the profession at all. So the curriculum for this group should be divided into phases and the student should have the option to quit at the end of each phase. There should be an evaluation at the end of each phase, by a qualified person and the students should be given the feedback as to where he is what are his drawbacks, whether it is worthwhile to continue, etc.
An Ideal Training Program
The first phase should be the computer basics and the related stuff, something very similar to the syllabus for the non-software professional, with a little more on computer fundamentals, computer architecture, current IT scenario, the different career opportunities and their job descriptions, etc. The advantage of this is that the students can quit the course at the end of phase one, if he thinks that it is not his cup of tea or if the evaluator feels that he does not have the right aptitude. But by quitting at this point the participant has not lost anything. He has acquired the computer literacy which will come in handy in any other profession that he chooses.
The second phase should concentrate more on topics which will be useful in a software development organization or in an IS department. Some of the topics that come to my mind are the software development process,good programming practices, software engineering, structured systems analysis and design, software quality assurance and testing, database concepts, database and relational database management systems, etc. The aim of this phase is to make the student knowledgeable enough to take a decision as to choose the right course and career for him, may it be a job in the IS department or in the software development organization. The student should be able to make a self assessment as to what his strengths are; whether he will be a good systems analyst, a good application programmer, a good systems programmer, a good database administrator, or a good data entry operator. Here the guidance from an experienced and qualified professional can be of immense help to the students. May be the training institutes could invite guest speakers from different industries and software organizations to tell the students about their job, the work environment, the duties and responsibilities. These sessions should give the students an opportunity to interact with the these experts and clear their doubts and will help a great deal in making the right decision.
The third phase should concentrate on giving focused training in the area the student wants to specialize. There are hundreds of areas where one can specialize. There are a plethora of hardware platforms from mainframes to PCs, and host of software packages and languages that run on these platforms. So if the curriculum is designed to cover all the areas, it is impossible for the students to gain an in-depth knowledge in any area. So during this phase the objective should be to impart maximum knowledge, both theoretical and hands-on, in the area of specialization. Here the faculty can be actual practitioners of the relevant technology so that the students will get a better picture of the reality.
I have pointed out the importance of effective communication skills in software profession. If the training institutes do not have the necessary infrastructure and qualified faculty to conduct these programs, they can hire an external consultant. The duration of the course can be 3 – 5 days. In addition to effective communication skills, they can be taught how to face interviews, how to participate in group discussions, etc.
The final phase can be the campus interview and industrial training, where as I have mentioned earlier the quality of the organization, the mentor, the kind of work given to the student, etc. are critical in shaping the software professional.
There should be a national body which assess the quality of the training institutes, the syllabus, the quality of the teaching staff, the method of training, etc. The same body should conduct the qualifying examinations rather than allowing each institute to conduct examinations and issue certificates. The institutes can do the screening of the input, but the quality of the output should be judged by a national body. Here institutions like NASSCOM, NCST and DoE can play a major role. Passing this examination should be made compulsory for all students. This will provide a common base, where all are judged by the same yardstick. The industry, on their part should take only the people who have passed these examinations.
Alexis Leon, DQ Week Madras, 3rd March 1997.