February 13, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
Xavier University of Louisiana
Department of Physics and Computer Science
Ashwith Chilvery Ph.D.: The coronavirus pandemic has made a substantial impact on every industry across latitude and longitude. It adapted us to the new normal, which some industries see as a boon and others as bane. HigherEd, which happens to be the oldest and mature industry, is no exception. The cohort of graduates who are very special because they are flexible, comprehend concepts via simulations, videos and peer mentoring. The benefits of these pedagogies are unique, thought provoking and content rich. Subsequently, our conventional methods to calibrate or gauge student's learning outcomes were fine-tuned to current circumstances. Moreover, the prominence of online learning has also enabled us to bridge the gap. So, the repercussions of pandemic on current graduates would be narrow and low-gravity.
Ashwith Chilvery Ph.D.: With increasing unemployment rates, it would be challenging for most of the graduates to find suitable and relevant jobs. More precisely, the pandemic has increased the competition by reducing the number of job vacancies. However, the students with prior internships and research experiences have an advantage to be absorbed quickly but the majority would still be on a hunt mode. In this perspective, they may want to be strategic and pursue jobs that are at a junior level but aligned with their strengths and passion. Self-employment could be other means where they could be on the learning curve and hone skills that are desired. Volunteering has always rewarded those who have embraced it. In short, graduates have to digest the current scenario and strategize their skill sets to land in their dream job.
Ashwith Chilvery Ph.D.: In any job market, employers always desire graduates with sound technical skills that complement their teams. For instance, graduates may want to be cognizant of disruptive technologies in their fields such as software programming, coding, designing, 3d printing, project management, digital marketing, technical writing, data analytics and etc. In addition, employers have special fondness for graduates with multidisciplinary capabilities and skills. Having such sound skills would enable them to evolve as an independent thinker and thrive as a team player.
Indiana University South Bend
Department of Computer and Information SciencesWebsite
Hang Dinh Ph.D.: I don't think there will be an enduring impact from the coronavirus on graduates of mathematics and computer science. The Internet and technology industries are booming during the pandemic, which needs graduates in math and computer science.
Hang Dinh Ph.D.: In the coming years, when life is still being impacted by the pandemic in some way, graduates who enter the workforce may need skills that help them work efficiently from home. Those skills would include time management, self-motivation, and the ability to use technology. Of course, they still need the skills that are usually needed for their jobs, such as communication skills, teamwork, etc.
Hang Dinh Ph.D.: Determining which experiences stand out on resumes depends on the position. For example, when we look for developers for ExtentWorld, we would love someone with experience in building complex or large scale systems and in designing advanced algorithms. The experience of simple coding would not stand out for such a position. At ExtentWorld, we have code-generating tools that help us build a complex one-stop social media platform at Extentworld with just two developers. This means the simple coding tasks can be automated. Graduates of computer science should have more than just coding experience.
Pennsylvania State University - Erie (The Behrend College)
Department of Digital Media, Arts, and TechnologyWebsite
Elisa Beshero-Bondar Ph.D.: Yes, there certainly will. My digital project design course this fall involved seniors working entirely remotely on teams, and learning to work with GitHub, as well as Slack and Discord to coordinate together. Everything was more virtual than ever this year, and I know that these students learned more than ever before the pandemic about virtual task management and teamwork, because they relied on it more than ever to be connected with each other. They're marked by that awareness, and my colleagues indicate that those who graduate will be more resourceful and productive than before, and ready to work at a distance as needed.
Elisa Beshero-Bondar Ph.D.: Our graduates will need the vital skill of "looking stuff up" to find the most reliable and cost-efficient technological tools for a task. They need strong virtual as well as in-person communication skills, and they need experience with careful data and file curation. They need to be good at debugging problems and finding solutions, rather than presuming that the tech a company relies on will "just work." These things will help our students find good jobs and become indispensable employees.
Elisa Beshero-Bondar Ph.D.: Designing and developing a whole project from plan to completion, whether solo or on a team. A student with coursework involving coding won't stand out as much as a student who has applied what they have learned to a project they made themselves or with a clearly defined role on a team. A student who successfully leads a project team (during a pandemic!) clearly has much to offer the workforce.
Illinois Wesleyan University
Computer Science DepartmentWebsite
Brian Law: I'm not sure the pandemic has really changed anything, so much as it's accelerated existing trends. Large firms are still expanding their IT workforces - or planning to when the economy recovers - with increased interest in data science, artificial intelligence, and systems, especially with an eye towards contracting IT infrastructure and services, and moving towards decentralized work, whether that be in the form of remote work, "smart" technology, and/or the cloud.
All of these were happening already pre-pandemic as the various technologies matured, but the pandemic seems to have accelerated those trends as companies are both tightening their belts in the short-term and planning ahead for the long-term. Smaller firms may be struggling to survive, but technological progress has not stopped, so while overall job numbers may be down in any given month, that just means there's a lot of pent-up demand for when the economy recovers.
For example, the pandemic has pushed a lot of small businesses and restaurants to adopt online ordering and shopping systems; those systems aren't just going away when the pandemic ends, and new post-pandemic businesses will have to compete against incumbents with significant technology investments.
Brian Law: There are several areas that are "hot" right now, such as the previously-mentioned data science, artificial intelligence, and systems, but also cybersecurity and databases/data warehousing. That being said, the most important thing for a new graduate seeking employment to do is just to do anything, produce something. Tech employers don't and have never trusted computer science credentialing; that mistrust is the origin of the infamous "tech interview," used to verify whether a candidate actually has the technical skills to back up their piece of paper.
So to preemptively answer that question and get a leg up on other candidates, graduates should be sure to generate some artifact(s) that demonstrate(s) their technical and organizational skills. Show them that you can plan a project, design it, see it through in programming it, and do so in a responsible, organized manner (good coding style, readable code, well-documented, and using proper version control), and you'll have addressed your future employer's greatest worries right off the bat.
If it's a project in one of these "hot" areas or specifically tuned for the work the employer does, all the better, but anything the employer is doing is probably leagues beyond what a fresh graduate can do by themselves in a few months, so ultimately they're not going to be that impressed with your domain-specific technical knowledge. Instead treat it more as an opportunity to show off your "soft" skills, your programming maturity, and your ability to actually produce a product rather than just answer exam questions. And while you're at it, you might as well make it something fun for yourself so you'll be driven to finish it.
Brian Law: i) Explore your options thoroughly. Too many students get bewitched by Big Tech companies, with their bold promises, their fancy campuses, their big recruitment events, and their nice swag. Nowadays, this also happens to students with start-ups. But those jobs are not only highly competitive, but they also have very similarly exacting work cultures and very little work-life balance. These are cutthroat environments that are, frankly, not suited for everyone. Instead, many graduates would probably be happier working at, say, medium or small-size companies where they can find a workplace culture that fits them rather than the other way around, or non-tech companies where the pressure is lower because the goal is more stability and support rather than rapid innovation. Of course, this is the exact same dynamic that plays out with young consultants, accountants, lawyers, and doctors, who are also often initially attracted to high-powered, high-pressure environments but often end up deciding it's not for them, especially as they get older and start thinking about families.
ii) Specialize. There's no job out there with the title, "Computer Scientist." Employers are looking to hire you for a specific set of skills and knowledge. If you can identify the area of Computer Science you're interested in and the work you want to do in that area, you can again get a big leg up over your competition if you can demonstrate that you actually want to do what your future employer wants you to and that you're good at it. If you want to work with databases, then take those extra database electives and learn some other database technologies on your own time, and your resume will stand out amongst all the others for any DBA job.
iii) Don't sweat it too much. You've probably been alive for 22 years or so, so you'll probably be in the labor force for 50+ years. Your first job is not going to be your last job, and you may easily find your career path taking unexpected turns that you never even knew existed. Just like you didn't know what the areas of computer science were as a freshman, there are many many CS-related job types out there that you're not even aware of, and 50 years from now, there will probably be even more. While it may seem like your first job will set you on one path for the rest of your life, really it starts you towards 5000 possible paths out of millions in total. No, you don't get the stability of a "job for life" anymore, but that can also be freeing in a way. Don't worry about finding that "perfect" job; even if you did find it, you and the world around you will change over time anyway, so just take your first step confidently and always keep an eye out for your next one.
New Mexico State University
Computer Science DepartmentWebsite
Dr. Shaun Cooper Ph.D.: For most graduates, no. Most employers have their own platforms, so the effects from the pandemic are not in play as the employer; the investment into the new graduate would be similar with or without the pandemic. The new graduate may have a more difficult time catching up from the loss of some educational experiences from the pandemic, but I think it will even out in twelve to eighteen months. Some examples of the biggest challenges for new graduates are the transitions to working with others and being in offices. The past eighteen months has allowed all of us to enhance our bad personal habits; the new graduate is likely to bring these to work and expect that this is normal (e.g., bathing, eating at the desk, playing games during work time).
Dr. Shaun Cooper Ph.D.: Most young graduates want to be game developers. Frankly, there are too few jobs in game development for students to find a reasonable change. The skills employers want are in using SQL with relational databases, and they want the ability to work in a full stack development environment and the willingness to learn new platforms and programming environments. The employer has a huge investment in their development stack, and the new employee has to learn that stack. Also, they want employees with the ability to communicate with management and, most importantly, the ability to work with others. The graduate should be solid in basic data structures and how they are applied to solutions. Additionally dynamic HTML web services are welcome.
Dr. Shaun Cooper Ph.D.: The most important experience on a graduate's resume is the fact that they worked during their undergraduate years. Employers certainly prefer a student who has had a computer science-related internship, but regular employment experience is equally important. The recruiters want to see a person who has been in the employment system. A student who has never had any job is more of a gamble to an employer.
As for internships, one internship is good. A second one is even better. Preferably doing a different activity and maybe at a different employer.
As the Chief Information Officer at NMSU (now retired), I oversaw 100-plus regular employees. When we interviewed new graduates, it was very important to me to see that the applicant had consistent, continuous (part-time) employment.