IT job-seekers, look to the MOOC

Employers are receptive to hiring IT job candidates with MOOC educations, but education alone won't result in a job offer. Projects that show how candidates have used their tech skills are key.

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'Experience through whatever means'

At Black Duck Software, having tech experience trumps how a person received their education. The company's human resources department has recently started emphasizing "that we want people with experience through whatever means. Whether it's online course work, internships or through education," said Tammi Pirri, vice president of human resources and administration.

"We don't need someone to have the piece of paper from the university or the certificate from the online course work," she said. "If they're able to take courses and they're able to demonstrate the ability to do the work that we need, that's what we're looking for."

The Burlington, Massachusetts, company recently hired an entry-level engineer with an unconventional education. The employee's background consists of a high school education, University of Phoenix online courses in programming and internships at Microsoft and Black Duck.

"He has shown to be an exceptional coder already and our user interface team could not be happier with the work he's producing," said Pirri, whose company offers consulting services for enterprises looking to adopt open-source software.

Given the strong demand and competition for tech workers with desired skills, employers shouldn't dismiss the education MOOCs offer.

"A company that doesn't entertain the thought of potentially hiring someone [with an online education] is limiting themselves and their ability to accomplish the development projects that they need to get done," said Pirri. "We should be blind to where the university degree comes from. It should be based on the skill set."

Filling in knowledge gaps

The up-to-date material offered by MOOCs makes them ideal for learning IT topics that are relatively new, like antispam, an area that's important to a company like MailChimp since its business is based on sending email.

"Antispam has only existed as a subject for the last 10 years," Morris said. "Really only in the last five years we've got a reasonable handle on how it all works."

MOOCs allow Morris' staff to "cherry pick" the antispam material they may need a refresher on as well as stay current on the latest developments.

To millennial-generation employees -- and those coming after them -- education is just another aspect of their lives that can be digitized.

"In the generation that's presenting itself now, coming out of high school and beyond, they're learning 24/7 through online courses," said Pirri. "That's just how they've learned and received their education. It makes sense for us to embrace it."

Younger employees aren't the only ones enrolling in MOOCs.

Peter Sisk, senior software engineer at The Institute for Health Metrics, used a combination of evening and online courses to acquire the skills necessary to work in software development.

"I still don't have anything like a proper computer science background," said Sisk, who holds an undergraduate degree in civil engineering. "The online courses help me to fill in a lot of the missing material. There's nothing to lose but some time and plenty to gain."

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