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BAe's Combat and Radar Systems Division, which is based at four sites in the South of England, is taking on 50 staff a year with backgrounds in everything from physics to medieval history.
Richard Knowles, engineering trainer at BAe, said, "We certainly could go out there and try to recruit software engineers but it is very difficult. Our approach is to bring very bright people in and give them a grounding in software engineering."
BAe uses a rigorous aptitude test to select candidates with the right thinking patterns to make good software engineers. "Our experience is that some people who don't realise they are good programmers do very well on the test," said Knowles.
The company said it is able to train raw recruits in the basics of software engineering in just four weeks.
The course, run by training company Global Knowledge, alternates programming theory with practical exercises so that candidates can immediately apply the principles they have learned. The students then undertake a one-week practical project.
Although the candidates learn the Ada programming language, which is widely used in the defence industry, the aim is to teach software engineering principles rather than Ada programming.
Recruits are able to start work on real projects as soon as their four weeks' training is complete, said Knowles