Last week I was interviewing a group of cooperative students who are seeking job placement for the Spring 2012 semester. All in all they were a pretty solid group, although I should probably blog a bit regarding some advice I have for them :) What I want to write about now is a few observations I have regarding what I heard the students say about IT, Perl and their overall interests.
Although this blog was inspired by my recent experiences at the University of Waterloo, I have also interviewed students and Stevan's University and NYU Polytech, so these ad hoc observations are a bit of a summary of several interview sites.
First of all, I always ask students what got them into programming and what programming languages are they learning from a young age as well as in College. Many students tell me they started programming early in highschool or even earlier. This jives with my personal experience (I stared programming in 7th grade or so, basically as earlier as it was possible given the technology of the late 1970's) So it seems IT people still are a pretty early selecting group, many people play with a computer at a young age and just fall in love with programming.
Early programming languages tend to be Basic and related. I was surprised to not hear Logo; I guess that has fallen out of favor?
In terms of what they are learning in college, I here C/C++ and Python a lot. Many students tell me they used PHP in highschool but seemed to prefer Python once they got into college. So it looks to me like the Python communities dedication and focus on being a learning language of choice has really paid off. I am told lots of teachers are using Python and recommending it.
Things students like about Python is its syntax and the depth of available libraries.
Regarding opensource / freesoftware, most students indicated a pragmatic preference. They liked the fact that the tools are free (as in beer) but didn't usually express this preference in philosophical terms. This makes me wonder if the open/free software movement has either moved into a sort of post political phase, where open/free software is basically a given, or if instead the quality of free (beer) tools and open(ish) documentation has to a large degree co-opted the philosophical underpinnings of the movement? For example, I heard a deep interest in developing for platforms that are far from Free (such as the Apple iDevice ecosystem.) To some degree this is enabled by the relatively inexpensive cost of entry (lots of free tutorials, tools are free or very easy for students to steal.) Partly this has to do with what kind of jobs are the students thinking about, I would imagine.
Quite a few students told me they participated in a number of statewide / national programming contests while in highschool.
In terms of the Perl community, we are pretty lucky that a percentage of these students end up learning Perl one way or another, given they don't get it in highschool or college. From what I can tell through copious interviewing for Shutterstock (as well as many other companies) people come to Perl typically through a job or because of a particular project they are interested in. This experience left me wondering what, if anything, we could usefully do to reach people at a younger age (at least here in the USA / North America area?) and if putting effort into such an outreach is a good use of our limited advertising / community building time?