Press Release 2002

Win a Contest, Get a Job

By H. AMIR KHALID
Edited 2014 to update contact information

KUALA LUMPUR: Jonathan Searcy is a man with a problem. But he has found a novel - or at least, not often used - solution to it. He is a senior vice-president of E-Genting Sdn Bhd, the IT business arm of Genting Bhd, and is responsible for hiring programmers. But he has found recent job candidates wanting. "From 1996 to 2001, we had a more or less traditional interview process for people applying to join us as programmers. They'd give presentations on their academic or previous work projects, and the presentations were usually solid. But when we put them to work on actual, live programming jobs, they struggled," he recalled.

So last May, when E-Genting was looking for a new batch of programmers, it gave up on the interview process. Instead, it gave candidates a test, asking for solutions to realistic programming problems. The outcome was disturbing: only a dozen or so job candidates took the test, a surprisingly small number, and not one of them turned in a credible answer. " We must have scared some people off," Searcy speculated.

“Also, we got some blank answer papers from the ones who simply gave up. And then there were candidates who misinterpreted the question to make the problem a trivial one, and came up with answers which were not what we expected.”

This time round, E-Genting is trying a programming competition, offering cash and job offers as prizes. The contest, to be held on Nov 23, is open to Malaysians and permanent residents not older than 25 years with knowledge of C, C++ or Java programming.

Competitors would be provided transport from Wisma Genting in Jalan Sultan Ismail to the contest venue, to spend eight hours on an open-book, handwritten programming task. Lunch would be provided for those not fasting.

The first prize is RM5,000, the second prize RM2,500 and the third prize RM1,500. Prize winners will also be offered a programmer’s job with the R&D (Systems) department at E-Genting Sdn Bhd, subject to their meeting the usual employment requirements. Prize winners who are undergraduates will be offered the job on graduation.

Searcy conceded that the contest was really more like a programming audition or a competitive examination. " What we're looking for is the ability to analyse a large process and break it down into a series of smaller ones," he said.

As the competition is in the form of an open-book examination, competitors can bring along textbooks, notes, language manuals or anything else they want. But, Searcy said, they should not expect to be able to answer any questions simply by referring to these materials.

"We’ve geared the questions such that although the books might help, you’ve still got to solve the problem yourself," he warned. Sample questions and solutions can be found at www.egenting.com.my/md egpc.genting.com.my.

Searcy also warned that E-Genting wanted credible answers - namely, those that could solve the problems given, or at least need only a little more work to do so. Should the entire field of competitors fail to turn in such answers, he said, no prizes would be awarded.

Those interested in taking up the challenge, call Ms Wong at (03) 2030-6747 Ms Tan at +603 2333 3276 or send e-mail to lfwong@genting.com.my

Searcy said some educational institutions tended to over-emphasise the teaching of programming tools and languages - things a programmer of any ability can pick up for himself with reading manuals and practice. And they tended to skimp on teaching the use of these tools to solve realistic problems.

"As a prospective employer of people that these institutions are creating, I see graduates struggling with tasks that they should be handling with ease," Searcy lamented. " What we find lacking in a lot of people applying for programming jobs after graduating from a three- or four-year degree course are systems analysis and design skills. Programmers also need knowledge of enough data structures and algorithms they could apply to solve real-world problems." so they can be productive These skills were only taught " lightly, if at all," he said. Perhaps a tenth or an eighth of the total instruction time in a typical three-year degree course in IT was devoted to the subject. He showed Tech.Plus a course catalogue from a prestigious local institution to illustrate his point.

And not just in Malaysia. Universities in Searcy's native Australia were no better, he said, based on the course his own daughter was taking. The common failings were that lecturers tended to rely on course materials recycled from previous years, and to do what they needed to get their students get good marks at examinations.

Meanwhile, students had a natural tendency to do just enough to get their paper qualification and go on to a good job. "Students should expect more of their instructors," Searcy said. "IT courses should emphasise more on how tools are used to solve real-world problems."



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