@madpilot makes

The next generation of web professionals

Being an active member of the local web community, I’m often speaking to students at Port80 meetups, about the best way of getting work, and it isn’t an easy question to answer – and it seems that I’m not the only one – both Alex and Gary have recently blogged about apprenticeships, graduate programmes and internships.

The problem we seem to have at the moment, in Perth anyway, is the number of companies large enough to be able to take on interns and run graduate programmes is pretty small. I’ve seen this in the software industry – I remember vividly the last 6 weeks of final year, where every soon-to-be graduate was sending resumes to the big three software companies that ran graduate programmes – the numbers didn’t add up as there was many more applications, than positions. Of course, there is more than three software companies here – however many of them looked for people with some industry experience.

So the problem is a chicken and egg one – no experience means no job, and no job means no experience. I think the education institutions need to get a bit creative with how they are teaching. A perfect example of this is the Centre for Software Research at UWA run by my old honours supervisor and mentor, Dr. David Glance. I was lucky enough to be the first student to go through this system, and not only has it given me some great contacts, it gave meĀ  valuable experience. They take internal university projects, and get final year students and graduates to work on them. They also take on some external projects, the proceeds of which pay for the running of the centre – and the student wages. This is a win-win on so many levels.

  1. The students get practical experience working with a Project Manager, a client and deadlines. And they get paid to do it.
  2. The lecturers, who acts as the Project Manager gets to keep their fingers on the pulse of what is happening in the real world – which is invaluable in such a fast moving industry.
  3. The University can implement and experiment with adding systems to improve their work flow for little practical cost.

Of course these programs aren’t a silver bullet, and take resources, but in my opinion they a big step forward from handing someone a certificate and then throwing them in the deep end of the real world.


  1. "The University can implement and experiment with adding systems to improve their work flow for little practical cost."

    Having been on the other end of this equation, unfortunately that's only true maybe 10% of the time. Even if the work IS up to scratch, students need to be supervised so heavily that the actual cost is still pretty high.

    Keep in mind students can't even work on a lot of uni systems - most unis aren't crazy enough to give students access to work on enrolment, financial or learning systems (oh look, Johnny got top marks and all his library fines seem to have disappeared...).

    This *can* work in the students favour as the systems they can work on are likely to be smaller, lower risk and more open to change. But, they're also more likely to have no funding at all to pay students to work on them.

    Even if the project goes really really well and it goes into production, you still have a support and maintenance problem. If they were good enough for the system to go live, they were good enough to graduate and they're gone. Got a problem with that system? Now you're paying someone to reverse engineer it or rebuild it from scratch.

    I know this all sounds horribly negative but it's the plain truth about student projects - they're a false paradise of cheap labour.

    External companies bring their own risks, primarily the risk of project failure with money involved; and the risk of students being exploited. A company doing it for altruistic reasons is pure gold; but some shonky operator looking for student slave labour is another issue entirely. The uni has to watch potential clients like absolute hawks.

    So the uni has to pony up the resources one way or another - which should still be done, but people need to understand that it's done for academic reasons and not to supplement the IT budget. You have to assume that the output will not be usable and be willing to go ahead anyway.
  2. Whilst I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment that students are not cheap, we run the projects professionally and the students when they are working for us are employees. The argument that students are inherently more dishonest or prone to have a vested interest in doing something malicious than a "regular employee" - (what is the difference?) - doesn't actually hold. We have now "processed" a reasonable number of students. They have all been honest, hard working and benefited enormously from the experience. UWA has a number of systems that run approximately $40m of their business that were written in this way. These systems would have cost orders of magnitude more if they had been bought off the shelf.

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