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Sunday, July 04, 2004

About Computer Science Students

A few weeks back I received a telephone call from a distant relative, asking my opinion about a short computer course that he wanted to do during the vacations after SSC exams. I was a bit tired after a hectic day; anyways, I told him to go for it but he further enquired, "the course can be followed by a 6 years diploma in software development. Should I opt for it?" "What! How many years?" was my response. "Six," came the reply. Then, I had to tell him what possible options were at his disposal; how much he could get out of life if he started working hard at the right age; the subjects he could take at college level; the various other careers he could pursuit; the comparison of good institutes of Karachi with average and poor ones; etc. A simple telephone call turned into a complete career counselling service.

When I was a student, Wasif Kazmi (then in Wavetech) visited FAST and during his talk he asked how many of us would like to start our own software houses. Many hands got raised. His next question was, "Will it be proprietary, partnership or public limited?" And no one in the hall, including me, knew what the difference was. On a side note, over the years, I have only come to know that it's all about liability.

I sympathize with students who don't have access to accurate information. But students are also to be blamed for creating a hype out of everything and not doing good in what's assigned to them - the studies.

A year down the road, Netpace organized an Application Service Provider (ASP) competition (they were getting very popular back then) amongst students of various institutes. The best students from my batch didn't want to participate. When I tried forming a team, they showed lack of interest and the reason I was told was a clause in the competition rules: "Netpace Inc. will hold all rights to the source code." I was surprised at both the clause and the way students were interpreting it. My only argument in favor of the competition was, "Have you ever written anything that you would like to protect the way you are protecting the code you will write for this competition?" The answer was in negative.

And the topic of students and IT reminds me of another incident. After graduation I joined CresSoft and usually had plenty of time at my disposal. I was once browsing through books at a local book shop when a middle-aged man interrupted and we had the following conversation:

The man: Could you please suggest me some good book on EJBs?
Me: I don't code EJBs and know little about them; You better look for a Wrox title...they are invariably good; I hope you know Java and JSPs already?
The man: Yes, I have undertook one course from Operation Badar...I am a doctor by profession. [I was surprised why this man is bent on changing his career in the middle of his life.] I hope there are good jobs in the market once I do EJBs with Java.

And I was afraid of telling him the reality. I still think how many others are doing short courses as if they were short cuts to getting rich.

To my dear young, aspiring friends, I would urge you to concentrate on your studies. Also, each one of you is unique in one way or another; identify that uniqueness; in almost all the cases, it's that unqiueness that will help you most in your career (it can be a pleasant personality; the ability to communicate well; ability to handle pressure; being smart enough to find simple solutions to complex problems; the ability to work continuously without break for many hours and so on). And the most important thing is to work smart and seek perfection in what you have been assigned to do (as compared to the usual trend of seeking perfection in only what interests us).

Don't seek guidance from just anyone out there. Find and be friends with someone who has already built up a reputation in your field and then treasure your acquaintance with that person. There is only one real sin in your career: sitting idle.

Pleased to beat you!
(a Nike store in City Center, Doha)

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