IT job-seekers, look to the MOOC

Employers are receptive to hiring IT job candidates with MOOC educations, but education alone won't result in a job offer. Projects that show how candidates have used their tech skills are key.

IT education

Tyler Kresch isn't turning to graduate school to help him change his job from tech sales to running a startup; instead he's taking massive open online courses (MOOCs) to learn the IT skills necessary for that career move.

Kresch's foray into IT may come sooner than the 2012 college graduate anticipated.

Currently working as an account manager at Procore Technologies, Kresch was recently offered a junior developer position at the Santa Barbara, California, startup. The development team was impressed with how he used his computer science skills to improve the company's cloud-based construction management software.

"I created a small app to help with the really tricky part of the account setup," said Kresch, whose long-term career goal involves starting a tech company. "It used to take an hour of our account manager's time to close every new account. We now use my tool and that saves us that hour."

For IT professionals looking to advance their careers or people who want to make a career change to tech, taking a MOOC in a technical topic can help, according to employers. The caveat: People need projects that show hiring managers how they've used the tech skills they learned online.

"We're not theorists here. We're actually buildings things," said Chad Morris, product lead at Mandrill, the transactional email service from MailChimp. "We're really looking at what it is you've actually done."

Morris applies this metric to all job candidates, including those with a computer science degree from a four-year college.

"We rate education relatively light here," Morris said. To him, a traditional college education and online learning hold the same value and convey the same information: that a person has been exposed to code.

The software that people develop with that code demonstrates their technical competency, which along with cultural fit, are the two metrics Morris uses to measure potential hires.

"I'm going to have to see projects that you've actively worked on. I'm going to have to talk to you and get a sense of how much you've actually retained of that information. Any of the best programmers that I've hired didn't go to school for computer science."

'Your résumé is the projects you've done'

Kresch, 22, holds a bachelor's degree in philosophy and technology entrepreneurship from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He obtained a computer science background from the classes he took on edX, a MOOC platform launched by Harvard University and MIT in 2012. The platform has since added courses from the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Texas System and Cornell University, among others.

EdX offers the same courses that are taught to students enrolled in the participating schools. Unlike a regular university, edX offers the courses free to anyone with an Internet connection, and successfully finishing a course earns a student a certificate of completion instead of a diploma. Tests and quizzes are also conducted online and students with questions on the material turn to forums hosted by the professor, teaching assistants and other students for answers.

Other popular MOOC platforms that offer a similar learning setup include Coursera, which was launched by two Stanford University computer science professors, and Udacity.

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