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Employers receptive to hiring IT job candidates with MOOC educations

Fred O'Connor | Dec. 10, 2013
For IT professionals looking to advance their careers or people who want to make a career change to tech, taking a MOOC in a technical topic can help, according to employers.

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."

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."

Sisk's online studies include completing a Coursera course on Scala taught by Martin Odersky, who wrote the language, and finishing 75 percent of a comparative computer language course. MOOCs offer the opportunity to stop or pause a course without academic or financial repercussions, said Sisk, who is in his 60s.

"If you get busy at work or you don't have the time, you stop taking the course," said Sisk, who stopped the course after taking a new job that lengthened his commute. "You don't lose a ton of money. You don't have a grade that follows you down the years telling you what a failure you are."

 

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