About a year ago, a student of mine (let's call him "Jim") was called in to be interviewed for an entry level Visual Basic programming position for a major corporation in the Philadelphia area.
While a programming dynamo in the classroom, Jim had no real-world programming experience-and he told me that as the interview progressed, he felt that prospects for an offer were getting dimmer and dimmer. Although he answered effectively all of the questions the interviewer posed to him, he felt that he was getting nowhere in convincing the interviewer that he was right for the job.
Just as Jim believed the interview was about to wrap up, he was asked him if there was anything else he wanted to say. Jim calmly reached into his shirt pocket, pulled out a diskette containing a copy of the Visual Basic project he had turned into me for his class project, and handed it to the interviewer.
The interviewer popped the diskette into his PC, fired up Visual Basic, and for the next half hour, Jim and the interviewer discussed the project. Jim told me that he presented a ten minute overview of the project, and spent the next 20 minutes or so answering questions about the project. The interviewer seemed impressed with the project, and about a week later, Jim was offered the job.
Now don't let me give you the wrong impression here-Jim's project, while excellent, was hardly commercial grade. It was a very good project that earned him an 'A' in my class---but it was just that, a very good student project.
What Jim and I are both convinced got him the job was not so much the quality of the project-but the fact that he was able to discuss it, explain it, and critique it intelligently and enthusiastically with the interviewer for a full half hour.
That half hour discussion allowed the interviewer to see beyond Jim's lack of professional programming experience---and realize that in Jim he had found an intelligent, highly effective communicator who could be an excellent team player---valuable skills in today's job market.
Written by John Smiley, MCP, MCSD and MCT, is an adjunct professor of Computer Science at Penn State University in Abington, Philadelphia University, and Holy Family College, and has been teaching computer programming for nearly 20 years. He also teaches a number of very popular online courses at SmartPlanet and ElementK. In addition, John is the author of four very popular Visual Basic books, and is reportedly the first guest to write a computer program live on ZDTV's Screen Saver's show.
John Smiley is president of Smiley and Associates, http://www.johnsmiley.com/smass/smass.htm a computer consulting firm located in New Jersey.
This was first published in June 2000