Students, get out there and get noticed…!

As the school year comes to an end and summer begins, I was thinking a lot about all the students out there trying to discover the first step in their career.  Last year we surveyed 200 Canadian IT professionals, looking at their hiring and technology needs. More than 60 per cent of respondents agreed that students leave school with the skills needed to land a job. But only 40 per cent felt that students arrive at the workplace prepared for “real world requirements.”

In other words, they’re bright and eager. But they lack experience.

Students have always struggled to overcome the “no experience” hurdle. And given the current job market, it’s become even more difficult. The good news is that today’s grads – and especially those interested in a career in IT - have tools at their disposal that can help raise their profile in the community.

It starts with the social media basics: make sure you tell the world what you do through a regularly updated blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, and LinkedIn profile. But to make a personal brand strong, you also have to get out there and get your hands dirty. It’s important, and it’s why we invest so much into giving students with a passion for technology a chance to shine.

The foundation of our support to students thinking about a career in technology is Dreamspark, a program that provides free developer tools and server software to students.  Simply verify that you are a student online and presto! you have access.  The great thing about Dreamspark is that it ensures that students have the professional grade tools at the fingertips to help them not only learn, but innovate as well.

Then there is the Microsoft Throwdown contest, which we announced last month. It’s battle between professional and student developers and a chance to show off interesting PHP applications on the Windows platform. It’s also a great way for a student to showcase their skills and raise the profile. And the $10,000 in total prize money isn’t bad either.

And there’s never a shortage of creativity on display at the Imagine Cup.  More than 300,000 students from 100 countries – including Canada - are registered, with the finals set for Cairo in July. This year’s contest challenges students to use their technology skills and imagination to address the world’s toughest problems — ranging from halving extreme poverty and halting the spread of HIV/AIDS to providing universal primary education.

Finally, we believe that helping students and graduates needs to be an industry-wide effort.  We’ve teamed up with IT industry associations and academia to help give students as many opportunities to shine as possible.  For example, we have partnered with organizations like The Association Of Canadian Community Colleges, launched an initiative with the Ontario College Of Art & Design and teamed up with CIPS.

Clearly, skills and enthusiasm are important. But it’s just as important to get out there and get involved. The result may not quite be the same as on-the-job experience, but building personal connections and putting skills to work can quickly pay off.