On course to a Java job

With Java still the hottest programming skill on the market, we meet some Java trainees from a variety of professional backgrounds and ask them about their learning experiences

As the SSP/Computer Weekly skills survey shows, Java remains the hottest programming skill on the market.

Ross Bentley meets some Java trainees from a variety of professional backgrounds and asks them about their learning experiences.

The amount some companies are willing to pay for the right skills has filtered beyond the corridors of the IT department. Professionals from all walks of life are jacking in their day jobs, ignoring the geekie image of IT and signing up to Java courses.

One such course is run by Wembley-based Fastrack IT which has been offering Java courses for the past year. So far more than 50 people have completed its six-month course with over 90% going on to find jobs in the industry. "Our students work on real projects as well as learning the theory of Java," says Paul Rosenthal, technical director at Fastrack IT. "This way they approach employers with work experience as well as a knowledge of Java."

Rosenthal says potential candidates are put through a rigorous selection process before they are accepted on the course. "They are putting their lives in our hands so it is only fair that we are honest with them - programming requires a certain type of intelligence and we do as much as we can to make sure they are the right people to succeed," he says.

The course costs a little over £6,000, but says Rosenthal this is the only way to reduce the skills crisis in Java. "There have been numerous calls for the Government or employers to tackle the skills shortage but that is not happening. People who enter our course are people who are taking charge of their lives and doing something for themselves."

Java talking - trainees talk about their career moves

Name: Ed Brode

Age: 49

Previous occupation: nurse

How long have you been studying Java? Five months

Why did you decide to study Java?

When I moved from California to the UK I knew I wanted to get into IT. First, I studied the C programming language through City & Guilds which was a waste of time as C is now stuck in the past. Looking at the job advertisements I knew that Java was the skill in demand so I took this course.

How are you finding learning Java?

It is fairly straight-forward. My knowledge of C gave me a background in syntax but Java uses another construction. I have had to learn to think in terms of objects rather than procedural programming. With C you can shoot yourself in the foot, with C++ you can take your whole leg off, but with Java you do not get a chance to pull the trigger as it does not let you do certain things.

We have spent two-thirds of the course working on specific projects. At the moment I am working on adding functionality to the Fastrack IT Web site, enabling visitors to book online rather than by telephone.

What would you like to do after the course?

I would like to go into building server-side applications for e-commerce, possibly in the banking sector. Working on real-life projects will help me when applying for jobs. Newcomers to IT always face the conundrum of not being able to get a job without experience but not being able to get experience without a job. In effect, we are paying to work for them but it will stand me in good stead. I expect my first job to pay at least £25,000 but hopefully that will go up quickly after the first six months.

Name: Greg Spinner

Age: 39

Previous occupation: mainframe programmer

How long have you been studying Java?

Three weeks

Why did you decide to study Java?

I had been a mainframe programmer for 15 years with the Prudential but I'd had enough of that and fancied a change. I started to look around at options and decided I wanted to stay in IT. I was interested in the Internet and wanted to learn how to build Web sites. From what I can gather Java is the main language that enables much of the clever functionality behind the best Web sites.

How are you finding learning Java?

I had dabbled in Java on a superficial level before but only as a hobbyist so I understood object orientated programming prior to this course, but no where near the depth that we are going into now. Coming from the procedural world, I keep asking myself, "What does this mean in terms of what I already know?" I can gain an understanding from my previous experience - both the object orientated and the legacy worlds are about manipulating data and memory but it is done in different ways.

What would you like to do after the course?

With another five months of training ahead of me, I have not really decided yet. There are several options - one is to start building Web sites off my own back. The other is to go back into contracting but this time using Java. I enjoy programming - that is why I went down the contracting route rather than down the management route, but as I say it is early days yet.

Name: Ross Allen

Age: 27

Previous occupation: IT recruitment consultant

How long have you been studying Java?

Three weeks

Why did you decide to study Java?

During my time as an IT recruitment consultant, I became interested in becoming a programmer. I also knew that I did not want to stay in recruitment. I thought, "Without a computer sciences degree, how do I get into IT?" A friend advised me that Java is the skill to learn. Things change quickly in IT but I think Java is here for a while.

How are you finding learning Java?

Before this course, I could use the Microsoft packages and had a layman's knowledge of how the different technologies related to each other. I am starting to get my head around object orientated concepts and I am finding it fascinating - I am learning syntax and already I can read code. All my life I have been a salesman so it is a bit of a jump to start using the logical part of my brain. I am already writing some complex code.

This is definitely an adult's course - perhaps a graduate straight from college may have a few problems keeping up. Before I started here, I saw adverts for crash courses in Java but it is already apparent that you need to take your time and apply your knowledge on live projects so when you get your first job you can hit the ground running.

What would you like to do after the course?

I am confident that I will get a job straight away after finishing this course - in what industry I do not know. My priority would be to get involved in an interesting project that will also enable me to develop my skills.

Name: Hema Shivji

Age: 27

Previous occupation: architect

How long have you been studying Java?

Five months

Why did you decide to study Java?

My work as an architect did not live up to my expectations and I wanted a career change. The world of architecture is not as fluid as I thought it would be; IT on the other hand is dynamic, it is forever changing and keeping you on your toes.

How are you finding learning Java?

There are similarities between my previous job and Java programming. The context may be different but both disciplines require a real attention to details - you have to be persistent and patient. Both also involve creating something from nothing.

At first it was a challenge, not just learning the language but getting to grips with industry terms. Initially I did feel as if I was being bombarded with information but I have found it easier as time has gone on - like putting together building blocks of information. It has been important for me to work on a real-life project rather than try and grasp it all from a crash course.

I feel confident that I can go into the workplace and be an asset - I think, "I can do this". I am looking forward to getting out there.

What would you like to do after the course?

I think I'd like to work for a large company, which will hopefully provide me with more resources and enable me to continue learning. I like the idea of working with a team on a project - the interaction between people on a project is an appealing part of programming but also a way of learning from others.

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