(QESP Editor’s Note: The following is a brief extract from the CrossTalk  January/February 2015 Issue on Software Education Today. The original, with details of the research and references, is available at http://www.crosstalkonline.org/storage/issue-archives/2015/201501/201501-Radermacher.pdf  )

Abstract. Graduating computer science students do not always possess the necessary knowledge to succeed in their careers after graduation. Interviews with twenty-three managers and hiring personnel at different companies in the software development industry highlight the struggles that recent graduates face when firststarting at those companies. Recent graduates lack essential skills in different areas to pass an interview. Descriptions are provided about these different areas along with recommendations for educators, industry managers, and recent graduates.

Introduction and Background

One of the main goals for colleges and universities is to prepare their students for their future careers and to ensure that they are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed after they graduate. The goals of educators in computing fields are no different in this regard. With the growing body of knowledge and vast variety of different jobs available to students, it is not possible to teach them everything that they will need to know for every potential job. However, there is evidence that educators need to do a better job preparing students for the workforce, especially when multiple sources have identified the same gaps in students’ education [1, 2, 3].

Historically, there have been several educators who have evaluated how the recommended curriculum [4, 5] or the education that computer science students were receiving compared to the needs of the software industry. In 1996 Byrne, et al. conducted interviews with 16 project managers at Irish software companies to ask about their perceptions of how graduating students met their expectations and how CS education could be improved [6].

Around the same time, Lethbridge surveyed over 100 software developers at different companies about the skill level currently needed for their jobs and where they perceived their skill level to be when they had just graduated from college [7]. In a more recent study, Begel, et al. conducted a case study at Microsoft where they watched newly hired, recent graduates to determine what parts of their job they struggled with and what other difficulties they experienced [8]. A large number of other researchers also reported similar findings [9, 10, 11, 12, 13].

Our students at North Dakota State University (NDSU) are required to take a capstone project course before they can graduate. In this course, students work with industry companies on real-world projects that will be used by those companies [14]. The purpose of the course is to expose students to what software development is like in industry and to help shape their expectations for their future. Because we work with industry companies,

we like to keep in touch and ask for feedback about our capstone course. During one of our discussions with a company, they raised concerns with us about some of the recent graduates from our university who had applied for jobs at their company. Specifically, they had mentioned that the students who had applied had no

experience with regression testing and struggled to write unit tests for a small piece of code during the interview.

We viewed this as an opportunity to improve our course and wanted to see if some of the other companies that we had worked with in the past were experiencing the same problem. We also wanted to determine to what extent other researchers were reporting this problem and to see if there were any commonalities in their findings. To do so, we conducted a review of the literature in order to determine what areas, if any, were

commonly reported as areas where recent graduates fell short of industry expectations [15]. We found multiple studies that examined this problem and that there were several areas (spanning everything from software tools to problem solving ability to personal skills and communication ability) that were reported more frequently than others. Collectively, we refer to these different areas as knowledge deficiencies.

Although the literature review was helpful in determining which knowledge deficiencies were most prevalent, much of the prior literature contained little or no descriptive information about the knowledge deficiencies. In order to gain a better understanding of knowledge deficiencies, we decided to focus our interviews on better understanding how recent graduates struggle. We spoke with managers and hiring personal at different

software companies that we had worked with previously. Twenty-three respondents (20 from the United States and 3 from Europe) provided information about areas where new hires struggled, along with which knowledge deficiencies that specifically prevented recent graduates from being hired by the company.

(QESP Editor’s Note: In the original paper :

Section 1, provides details of the Study Design,  Research Goals and Study Subjects and Study Instrument.

Section 2 illustrates the Results.

Section 3. Discussion: Areas Where Recent Graduates Frequently Struggle, covers Software Tools, Job Expectations, Communication and Software Testing.

Section 4. Areas Where Recent Graduates Fail in Interviews.)

5. Conclusion and Recommendations

Several researchers have previously identified various issues that recently graduated computer science students struggle with when starting their new jobs [1, 2, 16]. Our results provide additional support for the existence of several of these knowledge deficiencies including the use of configuration management tools, communication skills, and testing ability. The results from our interviews also provide additional qualitative information for knowledge deficiency categories which were not always well-defined in previous studies.

The results from our interviews also match several of the results that we had uncovered in the literature [15]. This suggests that several of these knowledge deficiencies have been pervasive for some time and that this is an issue that needs to be addressed. Although we do not have solutions for addressing each and every knowledge deficiency, merely being aware of the most pressing issues provides a good starting point for tackling them. However, we do have some general recommendations for academia, industry, and recent graduates.

(QESP Editor’s Note: The original paper goes on to provide useful Recommendations for Academia, Recommendations for Industry and Recommendations for Recent Graduates, together with About the Authors and References.)