Getting into the minds of the next IT generation

If companies want to hire some of the best computer programming minds coming out of university today, they should offer them jobs that challenge their brains, according to a group of Canadian university computer science students.

“I want a [job] where I can solve a design problem that is challenging for me and engages my brain,” said Frank Chu, a computer science masters student at the University of Toronto (U of T).

Chu listed job content as the most important factor when it comes to job hunting. His fellow classmate, Igor Naverniouk, a PhD student in computer science theory at U of T, agreed.

“How interesting is it going to be, stuck doing user interfaces for some program that has been written thousands of times? I’m interested in solving a problem that’s never been solved before,” he said.

Chu and Naverniouk were two of several students who participated in an exclusive ComputerWorld Canada roundtable discussion that focused on their career aspirations. It was held during the 30th Annual Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) world finals in San Antonio, Tex., a computer programming contest that brought together the brightest computer science students from 83 countries.

When asked what excites them most about a career in computer science, almost all of the Canadian students answered that it is the thrill of solving complex problems, similar to the ones they face during programming competitions like the ACM-ICPC, that really gets them fired up.

There are other factors for them to consider, too. Many Canadian participants will eventually face the question of whether to work in Canada or in the U.S.

Many of the roundtable participants saw themselves migrating to the United States.

“The U.S. is where the jobs are,” said Bartholomew Furrow, a second-year Masters of Physics student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He added that if Google had an office in Canada, he would consider working there instead.

“Canada is my home, but I don’t see myself making a lot of career decisions to put myself back in Canada. That’s not important to me right now,” he said.

Andrew Neitsch, who recently graduated with an Honours Math degree from the University of Alberta (U of A) in Edmonton, said that when he was job hunting, the deciding factor that made him accept an offer from a New York City firm was that the company didn’t give him a phone interview but instead tested him on his computer programming skills.

“Other places would have given me a better salary, but they never tested whether or not I could code. I liked that [the company] made me write code in a setting I was familiar with and used that to judge my skills,” Neitsch said.

Salary was number two on the students’ list of importance when it comes to job criteria. Company culture also ranked high.

“If you are going to enjoy yourself on the job, you’ve got to like who you are working with. It would help to be at a place where you can play a game of foosball and not feel like you are running down the company clock,” said Furrow. Company culture was one of the main reasons why Furrow accepted a full-time job with Google in the fall.

Some participants have already got their feet wet working in the IT industry. Sean Henderson, a third-year U of T computer science student, spent last summer at the City of Toronto’s help desk, but is expecting to soon move on to other areas of the industry.

“The only thing I was doing was things like jiggling a cord to get a printer working. That’s not my idea of problem-solving,” he said.

This summer, Henderson landed an internship position with Microsoft in Seattle where he will be working on security updates for Windows XP.

Some of the students at the roundtable weren’t interested in a career at a company like Google or Microsoft but instead wanted to pursue careers in the realm of academia and become professors to teach the next generation of IT students.


Many said they are taking what they learn from the ACM-ICPC competition and applying it to their studies and future careers.

“Some of the adrenalin factor of [competing] and the love of problem-solving transfers over [to the real world]. The great thing about this competition is that you get to work with people of different mindsets; that [lets you] develop good collaboration skills,” said Furrow.

Many students, like Zachary Friggstad, who is in his first year of his Masters of Computer Science at the U of A, plan on putting their participation in the ACM-ICPC on their r

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