back to article Raspberry Pi daddy: Stroke your hardware at night, land a job easy

Eben Upton, a key player in the Raspberry Pi's genesis, said out-of-work graduates should get busy with computers in their spare time if they want to land a job. And he didn't mean logging into Facebook. Speaking in a Google Hangout video chat conference call thing, Upton drew on his years of hiring newbies at chip giant …


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  1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    ...when hiring people we probably cared more about our assessment of their ability to learn new stuff than their ability to do things when they come in the door.

    Too true. When hiring, we do small informal tests. The tests aren't to see how much the candidates know, but how (or if !) they think. The ability to think outside the official text book is way more important that being able to recite the book cover to cover.

    1. Skizz


      "...when hiring people we probably cared more about our assessment of their ability to learn new stuff than their ability to do things when they come in the door."

      Of course, the problem with looking for work is that many recruitment agencies just do keyword matches and miss the important element of being able to learn and adapt. I'd much rather have a great programmer with no experience in the specific areas the job requires than a poor programmer with lots of experience. A great programmer can learn new languages and systems quickly and start producing quality code within a short time.

      There must be a better way than what we've currently got in the recruitment agencies. StackOverflow careers is possibly a step in the right direction.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Agree

        There are a few good agencies who do understand the positions that they're filling.

        I was in the awkward position of having lots of relevant experience, but most of it through hobbies and none through employment. After several months of unanswered job applications, I found an agency staffed with technical people who were able to understand the relevance of my CV to the jobs I was interested in. I presume that their submitting my CV lent it credence, and allowed it to bypass front line HR and go straight to those doing the hiring, as within the week two applications turned into two interviews, and later into two offers.

      2. Kristian Walsh

        Re: Agree

        @Skizz - Agreed that "needs language X" is the biggest red-herring in software. Anyone who knows how to write good code can learn another language quickly enough and well enough for most tasks. There are very few positions where you need to know the intricacies of a particular language from your first day...

        However, the worst candidates I ever interviewed all had one thing in common - they knew only one language, and it was the one they had to learn in college; usually Java, but that says more about Computing course plans than the merits of Java as a language (Python is beginning to take over that role now).

        Personally, the very best answer I've ever heard from a technical interview is this: "I don't know. How *do* you do that?". No bullshitting, no bravado, just someone who was actually interested in learning something new (and the question was pretty esoteric, something like: if (x!=x) { /* This DOES execute, but when? */ } )

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Agree

          However, the worst candidates I ever interviewed all had one thing in common - they knew only one language

          The practical pragmatic programmer's mind set* doesn't seem to be taught in CS courses.

          They don't make the mental jump and realise that if you can read one language you can pretty much read them all (maybe not brainfuck).

          They also don't teach the most important skill a programmer can have; knowing how to ask the right question. I know fuck all, but me and Google are unstoppable...

          * AKA the engineer's mind set.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      I've kind of found this out in my interviews. The only jobs I've got are the ones where I tend to fail a simple test, but show the ability to learn the new application/system. :P

      Perhaps it's the enthusiasm. Because 1 volunteer is worth 10 hard pressed men. :D

    3. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Ability to learn new stuff

      I'm at the opposite end of the career trajectory from these graduates, and I agree that ability to learn new stuff is the second most important** aptitude. You also have to be prepared to take the discomfort of starting something new. It's a bit like cycling up big hills: is never gets easy, and there's usually another hill somewhere over the top, but after a while you come to know that you can do it.

      This is fine when you know the "textbook" solution and have sound reasons why it doesn't meet present requirements, less good when you can't be bothered to learn it and prefer to re-invent the wheel (yours is going to be different - it's hexagonal). Anyone who's maintained software will have had to fix errors in some inspired but faulty neophyte solution. This is the whole point of things like design patterns and coding standards.

      ** The most important aptitude is the ability and desire to make computers do stuff. Quite a few of the people who go into software development because they think it's a good career seem to lack this. They end up complaining that they hate the job. which is deeply shocking to those of us that love it.

      1. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

        Re: Ability to learn new stuff

        I have to agree.

        In my current job (involving admin and some development using fairly proprietary systems) I would not have got the job based purely on the interview and my CV (one of the guys who interviewed me told me this later). What made the difference was the "tour" afterwards. As we wandered around the offices, I discussed the systems and architectures involved. I asked questions, offered possible solutions to problems they were experiencing, and was generally enthusiastic about the role. My enthusiasm and obvious willingness to learn elevated me above the other candidates.

        My problem now is that, in many cases, I *don't* know the "textbook" solutions. I have had very little formal training in computers, and have learned most of what I know by doing it. I know that what I do isn't the "right" way much of the time, even though I don't actually know the "right" way, but it works, but at least my methods make me very adaptable to new situations.

    4. Charles Manning

      Bugger the paperwork

      Before becoming self employed I would often get involved in the process of interviewing grads.

      I never looked at grades. What I looked for was whether or not the people had that little bit extra to go out of their way to learn real stuff - not just get As.

      The guy with a row of Bs but who had also significantly contributed to some open source project (or whatever) was far more likely to get hired than the guy who had all A's but was so focussed on getting As that he knew absolutely nothing outside of his course material.

  2. Steve I

    I don't think you can make a success of a career in IT without having a basic interest inthe subject. You can plod along, following written procedures etc but to be able to code, debug, find new solutions etc you have to be able to think in a certain way - that you can't be taught - and to basically enjoy the process.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      I wonder if you could say the same about any career/job. Unless you show some enthusiasm for the work, you won't put more effort in which would help open doors for you (or at least make you aware of other opportunities in the field)

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Damn right

    If you only use computers at work, don't expect to go far in the industry.

    VMware is the best thing that's happened for me in IT in the last decade or so. You no longer have to have stacks of hardware for a really good home learning lab. There is now no excuse other than laziness to not know Win, Lin, Unix, various server side packages, storage simulators etc.

    1. Gaius

      Re: Damn right

      Doesn't that strike you as a little weird tho'? Can you imagine if the same applied to accountants and doctors?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Damn right

        Not really, the doctors and accountants I know take their interest home with them, have libraries of textbooks, etc. Its just rather difficult to practice being a pathologist in your own home...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Gaius

        Do you know any Doctors or Accountants? They may not take work home, but they take the learning and progression part home for sure!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Damn right (re VMware)

      But have you noticed that now you, me and many many others are hooked on VMware, the licence has changed?

      What used to be zero cost for home and for work now costs money for either. Specifically, have a look at the licence for Player 5.

      Correction welcome.

    3. David Hicks

      Re: Damn right

      I know plenty of folks making good money doing solid work at major corps, some of whom don't even have a computer at home. While I would look at enthusiasm and outside interest in a candidate without experience, not everyone that's good at the day job is obsessive about it at home too.

      Maybe most of the best ones are, but not everyone can be the best and not everyone can hire the best, sometimes industry-average is fine.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Damn right

        @David Hicks - Yes, I know many people who perform perfectly adequately in their job, people who have no computer at home or just a laptop for internet and email.

        They only perform perfectly adequately, though. They never perform above and beyond, they don't stand out from the crowd.

        1. David Hicks

          Re: Damn right

          It depends what you mean by stand out.

          Competently producing high-quality work to schedule is enough to stand out in a lot of places. Believe me, I've seen a *lot* of software shops that could vastly improve by having a few of these people on board. They may not be producing kernel device drivers or contributing to the Go runtime in their spare time, but they're head and shoulders above a lot of what you'll encounter in our industry.

          Of course you want the device driver and Go folks if you can get them at a reasonable price, but these types are very few and far between.

  4. Flatpackhamster

    Mmm, but - agencies.

    Recruitment agencies look at your CV, because they're filled with people who have no technical expertise. The agency looks at the job requirements, looks at your CV and ticks a set of boxes, and if your CV has enough ticks it gets forwarded.

    So the biggest hurdle (IMO) has always been making it past the agencies and the outsourced HR.

  5. Neil Milner-Harris


    We're a software house and it is much more important to us to find candidates that can demonstrate that they are able to think and actually want to learn and work in the field. If they've got the enthusiasm and the ability to think logically, learning the actual day to day technical skills is easy.

  6. Pete 2

    If all else fails, there's always computing

    Even before the term "IT" was coined there were non CompSci graduates taking "IT" jobs.

    In two places I worked there were programmers who told the same story. They'd graduated with degrees in subjects like History, Classics and Englsh. Unsurprisingly, apart from the traditional route of teaching more students to get degrees in History, Classics and English, there weren't many career openings for these people. As a consequence, when they bemoaned their lot to their ex-tutors, careers advice offices, anyone who'd listen (or couldn't get out of the corner they'd been skilfully boxed into) they were given the same advice: computing or sales.Some went into one, and some into t'other - and some of those later swapped the shiny suit for the scruffy jeans.

    The moral being: the IT world wasn't too picky about your technical skills - just so long as you could demonstrate sufficient intelligence to learn BASIC, or technical writing, or how to follow a test plan. Some of those arts graduates made a success of their computing careers and the rest became IT managers.

    1. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

      Re: If all else fails, there's always computing

      "Some of those arts graduates made a success of their computing careers and the rest became IT managers."

      New keyboard time!

    2. sisk

      Re: If all else fails, there's always computing

      I majored in acting the first time through college (no, I don't know what the 18 year old version of me was thinking, but I wish I could slap some sense into him). I get a lot of funny looks from people trying to figure out how I went from the Stanislavski method to object oriented methodology.

  7. mccp

    Eben Upton is offering sound advice. Hopefully the Raspberry Pi and the many imitators and accessories it inspires will bring a new wave of computing enthusiasts into the job market.

    Next problem - how to solve the difficult issue of communication between employers with jobs and job hunters? It seems to me that we have to rely on recruitment agencies who offer a very variable level of expertise. I'd love to see many more direct applicants for the jobs we currently have available and I'd say to any newbie trying to get a foothold - do _not_ rely on agencies but pull your finger out and do some research yourself. I make a point of always reading a direct applicant's CV, but unsolicited 'CVs' from agencies tend to hit the junk mail filter.

  8. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Silly requirements

    I agree with the general comments about the need for adaptability and the ability to learn quickly being more important than specific language skills - if you're recruiting someone who's developed in a dozen languages they're not going to have much difficulty picking up a thirteenth in fairly short order. I'd value someone like that more than someone who's spent 3 years coding in a single language on a single platform.

    But the HR drones and agencies are the real idiots - they have a tendency to write an advert that asks for 3 years experience of Windows Server 2012 and 5 years experience with Office 2010 - and then wonder why no-one applies.

  9. The Vociferous Time Waster


    Didn't the internet make recruitment agents redundant? Surely these know nothing commission chasing monkeys can be replaced with a good algorithm.

    1. Adam Trickett

      Re: Agencies

      A good agent or middle man (estate, job etc) is actually useful, however you are right in that 99% are useless and could be replaced by a small shell script.

      1. James Hughes 1

        Re: Agencies

        However, replacing them with shell scripts means the company spends less money, and makes more profit, and pays more to shareholders, perhaps outside the UK. So the overall benefit to the UK economy is reduced by the income tax of one less recruiting agent...On the other hand, there might be some corporation tax to pay, or a benefit in the share price to pension funds...

        Complicated stuff economics..

        But, I'd agree there should be less lawyers, and hang the economy.

        1. Pete 2

          Re: Agencies - or grep

          > However, replacing them with shell scripts means the company spends less money, and makes more profit, and pays more to shareholders, perhaps outside the UK. So the overall benefit to the UK economy is reduced by the income tax of one less recruiting agent

          Maybe, but there's a huge benefit to the country as a whole of having the right staff doing the right job AND of getting vacancies filled speedily and reliably, with less time wasted interviewing candidates who's only talent is keyword stuffing. Those pluses more than compensate for having to pay dole to a bunch of otherwise unemployable individuals propping up an industry that really has no reason to exist.

    2. Anonymous C0ward

      Re: Agencies

      Search a job site and you'll find the vast majority of listings are put there by... agencies.

  10. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    It's all very well being able to demonstrate an enthusiasm

    but first you have to get to see someone who understands that enthusiasm.

    It's too easy to get bounced by the agency/HR droid who is just ticking boxes before you even see an engineer type who will actually understand and appreciate that not all usable skills come with bits of paper, and that not all bits of paper come with usable skills.


    1. Gonzo_the_Geek
      Thumb Up

      Re: It's all very well being able to demonstrate an enthusiasm

      The company where I work has a preliminary and full tech interview with candidates first, before the managers/HR types get involved. Different engineers carry out the tech interviews and discuss candidates amongst themselves, and this has generally meant that good candidates who fit into the team well get offers.

      I don't have a degree, but could demonstrate experience in the tech interviews, along with a willingness to learn and I got the job. I'm also doing some of the tech interviews now, and look more for problem solving skills and a desire to learn. Learning a new scripting/programming language or other skill in spare time tends to score highly with me.

  11. mrfill

    Where's my job?

    I bought a Raspberry Pi last week and I haven't had a single job offer yet.

    Obviously the thing is faulty so its going back.

    1. James Hughes 1

      Re: Where's my job?

      Fair enough! You probably got the 256 version. You need the 512 for the real job offers.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      He lies

      I've got two of them, and I soldered my own RTC modules. I'm still waiting.

  12. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    Stop the world; I want to get off

    Taking work home or learning at home is all well and good, most likely will make you better placed for a career over others who have not done that, but am I the only one who feels it is a terrible state of affairs that one has to?

    Am I really alone in objecting to having even more of my personal time taken away in order to have a career? And, ultimately, where does this work, work, work ideology end - when we have no personal time at all?

    The dilemma is of course that if you don't make yourself a wage slave you cannot have a life, and if you do there's little life left to be had. I don't mind contributing, understand I cannot have what I want without doing so, but there's precious little chance these days of anything unless giving all, little choice between nothing and all-in. There has got to be a better balance than that.

    The promise of work hard, retire and enjoy, seems to be forever round the corner but unattainable for most. I want a life I can live, not a few years in ill health after decades of hard labour.

    1. Anonymous C0ward

      And mobile phones and the Internet make this much worse.

      I'm off back to my cave, and on the way I'll crack a dinosaur over the head for tea.

    2. SirDigalot

      Re: Stop the world; I want to get off

      I agree! I work with too many people who are of the mindset live to work and they say as much, they cannot understand why, when I go home, I do not want to deal with the job... They think it is part of the career and a necessary evil, to some aspects I agree but some of them have families too! They are up at all hours usually not more than 3 steps from a computer with active VPN, then when an issue, email, question comes in, they jump on it immediately, then later at review time the old, "well you could be more responsive off hours" comes up, to which the reply is, "yeah, I could be, but since you all live on your computers working all the time why duplicate the effort?" probably why I do not see much in the way of promotion. Oh and I hate my job, career,

      It does not help I live in the land of the free... free to work as many hours there are in a day, free to be at the beck and call of a company or manager, free to quit your job whenever you like and then be shunned by society for being a slacker, only because you do not share the vision that your life should be work, work, work, sleep work, family, work.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "very cheap Unix box"

    Bit of trade-mark trouble there? Linux, surely.

    (Which, come to think of it, probably runs more big machines than Unix does these days!)

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