How students learn to code, evaluate job opportunities

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New data from HackerRank reveals the technical skills, learning preferences and career motivators of collegiate software engineers. The findings provide a playbook for corporate recruiters and hiring managers looking to improve how they identify, attract and retain the upcoming generation of skilled developers.

how students learn to code

In the U.S. alone, there are nearly 580,000 open computing jobs with less than 50,000 computer science graduates entering the workforce — that’s over 11 job postings for every Computer Science (CS) major. As businesses across all industries transform into tech companies, competition for software engineers is increasingly competitive. If companies want to beat the odds in a candidate’s market, it is critical for recruiters to understand the specific skills of the students they’re trying to hire, as well as the factors they evaluate when choosing a job.

HackerRank surveyed over 10,000 student developers from its community of five million developers to uncover the languages and frameworks these programmers are learning, how they’re acquiring their coding skills and what they look for in a job. The findings reveal that in many cases, a CS degree is not always a strong indicator of skill. In fact, nearly two-thirds of student developers are partially self-taught, and are looking to new platforms like YouTube to supplement their classroom curricula.

“The standard CS curriculum cannot keep up with the pace of advancements in the tech industry. And with the democratization of education across platforms like YouTube, ambitious student developers today are learning the most in-demand skills outside of the classroom,” says Vivek Ravisankar, CEO of HackerRank. “Hiring teams should look beyond CS degrees as the primary proxy to match the right developers to the right jobs.”

College degrees are not sufficient for coding proficiency

Today’s students are not relying solely on university CS curricula to give them the necessary skills they need for software development. Over half of student developers (65 percent) report they are partially reliant on self-teaching to learn to code, with nearly a third (27 percent) claiming they are completely self-taught. This notable rise in self-directed learning shows that students are taking initiative to supplement their coursework.

Students rely on YouTube more than professionals

Student developers are turning to YouTube (73 percent) to learn more than professional developers (64 percent). Meanwhile, students rely less on Stack Overflow compared to their professional peers (77 percent vs. 88 percent, respectively). This new class of developers is drawn to platforms that allow for self-paced learning and flexibility.

Globally, student JavaScript expertise can’t keep up with demand

With 95 percent of web applications built on JavaScript, it’s no surprise that the programming language has become one of the most in-demand skills for companies. HackerRank found that while 48 percent of employers are looking for JavaScript proficiency, only 42 percent of students worldwide say they know the language. Examining the data regionally, HackerRank found the largest gaps in India and Canada.

Growth opportunities appeal 5x more than perks

The three most important criteria students look for in job opportunities are: professional growth and learning (58 percent), work/life balance (52 percent) and having interesting problems to solve (46 percent).

Student developers have a stronger appetite for growth opportunities than compensation (18 percent) and perks (11 percent), which they view as niceties as opposed to deal-breakers. Companies looking to attract new graduates must ensure they are considering these career preferences as they design and market software developer jobs.