Firms and Universities Join Forces to Satisfy IT Boom
Published: March 14, 2006 (Issue # 1152)
With demand for IT specialists growing at 25 percent to 30 percent a year, software companies and universities are joining forces to offset a state system of education that is failing to keep pace with the booming industry.
Valentin Makarov, president of the association of software developers RUSSOFT, said that there are two types of worthwhile education — programs held at university departments in close cooperation with software developers, and courses organized in further education and retraining centers.
“In both cases qualified programmers are trained by teachers who have experience in commercial programming and scientific research,” Makarov said.
Andrei Terekhov, head of system programming in the department of mathematics and mechanics at St. Petersburg State University, indicated that the absence of unified educational standards for program engineering was the main problem.
“Education programs even in specialized institutions are too academic. Students are not taught to plan, assess risks, manage projects and tackle other practical issues,” Terekhov said.
Companies have to spend about six months training the young specialists they hire, he said.
Only 10 percent of IT specialists become high-level programmers just after graduating. About 40 percent of graduates attend additional training courses. Half the students find jobs in other areas.
To tackle these problems the city’s leading universities have started experimental programs in cooperation with private companies. As CEO of Lanit-Tercom, Terekhov organized additional education for his students. About four years ago company specialists started running courses on new technologies and management. Students also run experimental projects.
“Nobody expects a commercially profitable product. The goal is the study of new technologies and science,” Terekhov said.
The projects get more complicated as studies advance. Students are also taught to plan budgets and present projects. The most talented ones are already employed by Lanit-Tercom and other companies by the time they graduate.
“At the moment we are trying to create a techno-park near the faculty in Petergof to house 2,500 people from between 30 and 40 companies. We expect them to participate in educating students,” Terekhov said.
SoftJoys Computer Academy has a program of further education, which comprises over 500 hours of lectures divided into six terms.
The program aims to compensate for the State University’s focus on physics and mathematics at the expense of computer science. Professors combine teaching experience with software development, and the program is based on the suggestions of IT companies.
At the end of the program students undergo practical work in leading IT companies and complete diploma projects. Network equipment producer D-Link holds lectures in the Polytechnic Institute to prepare specialists in network technologies.
While D-Link tries to make those courses available to a mass audience, the Polytechnic Institute promotes the introduction of such courses in school and university programs.
Reksoft launched a center in 2001 to train students in programming, testing and project management, the best students being offered positions with Reksoft at graduation.
“Russian companies choose various ways to overcome the deficit in personnel. We not only monitor wages and adjust them to market conditions, but also try to create a comfortable social and cultural environment in the company,” said Nikolai Puntikov, director of StarSoft Labs.
StarSoft Labs also hires people from other countries in the former Soviet Union and educates students from local universities, which allows them to hire 10 to 30 people per month.
Puntikov agreed that traditional courses should include the preparation of software engineers. However, he said that fundamental education should not change dramatically, since Russian specialists are sold om the global market as “people able to solve problems” as opposed to routine programmers within a limited field.
“Programmers who understand quantum mechanics could easily solve a client’s problem,” he said.
Unlike their Indian equivalents, most Russian programmers hold degrees in higher education. However most programmers should be supplied by a system of vocational colleges, and this “does not function at all,” said Valery Andreyev, general director of SoftJoys Computer Academy.
“We have more and more projects that while far from ‘rocket science,’ still demand important professional skills. People with higher education are often bored with such work. It is time to educate specialists in narrow fields within the framework of secondary specialized education. I have no doubt they will be in demand,” Puntikov said.
IT professionals see a solution to the problem by combining the advantages of the classic education system with working specialists, in constant supervision of programs from professional associations.
RUSSOFT promotes amendments to university education program in the ministry for informational technologies. At the city level the association promotes development of technical schools.
“IT science has a constant part like theory of algorithms and permanently changing part like programming technologies. To keep an eye on it within the framework of standard education is impossible,” Andreyev said.