There exists a substantial skill gap between the skills out of college engineers have and the skills needed in an organisation. Blame the education system, the private colleges, parents pushing their children to become engineers and everything else. Startups spend nearly 30-40% of their time and resources looking for the right people. I do too.
While everyone wants to take the flight to their destination, no one wants to build the aircraft. Startups do not wants to invest time in training / creating the engineers they want, they just want them. Most feel it is not worth their time and effort because engineers once gain some work experience and knowledge, eventually leave. That might be an outcome, but is that the only outcome?
If you ever talk to a final year student or an out of college engineer, they will tell you how different their college curriculum was from what they are expected to know to be part of technology industry. More so, most freshers are confused if they should train themselves or if they should first focus on clearing their university exams and getting the degree first.
The few, who try to train themselves, do not know where to find the right training resources in this gargantuan galaxy of software development. India produces 1.5 million engineers every year and since only 30% have the right skills to land a job, a new market has emerged. Engineers, who do not get placed, end up with coaching institutes or training organisations that guarantee jobs after additional 6 months of coaching.
Attempting to solve this multi layered problem, every year I conducted one-day workshops in colleges about GitHub, Introduction to a particular framework and even interview preparation. This year I made up my mind to take the next step and cover a larger scope of topics. I had the classic how, when, where, what? discussion and one day after successfully failing to fill another open position at Zaya, PROJECT YINSEN was created.
What Ho Yinsen was to Iron Man, I wish PROJECT YINSEN could be to budding engineers in India.
To start off, I felt I should start with backend engineering. Primarily because it is so vastly misunderstood as being difficult to learn. Thinking about the skills engineers lack as they step into the industry, I decided to cover the following topics
Data modeling concepts
Power of ORM
How to write REST
Understanding Web Server, Git, Postman
Using Python to cover these topics, I decided to spread these topics over 4 Saturdays. Furthermore, since professionalism and dedicated time allocation is another vital skill every engineer should possess, I decided to take 6 hours sessions in office. The sessions would be a mix of hands-on coding and vital theory sessions. Done with the easy part, now I wanted to get students to come and learn. Zaya Learning Labs, being a learning organisation, was happy to provide its office over the weekend to help with the infrastructure and resources. I wanted them to learn in a professional learning environment, which meant I could not have 30-40 students at a time but a focused 7-10 students at one go.
My colleagues at Zaya, helped me connect with the closest engineering college, DBIT Kurla, Mumbai (https://www.dbit.in/) and assisted me in creating and implementing an aptitude test and personal interview process. We received a decent response from the students, 4th year CS and IT students who were not able to get placed were the first ones to apply. After a basic aptitude test, we shortlisted 15 students. While interviewing these students, I wanted to help the ones who needed a job and were dedicated to being in the technology sector. After talking to everyone, I found 7 students who fit the bill.
While training them, I could empathise with what they would go through when they worked in a technology team in the future. Imagine each of them stuck in a den (their workspace) with their captor (manager) holding them at gunpoint (deadline) to get something they wanted (code) but Tony ( our poor engineer) not knowing how to go about it. I wish we could have a Mr Ho Yinsen for all engineers in India.
Individual focus and mentoring was the key here. I hope engineering colleges are ready to produce a few but quality students rather than mass producing engineers like its a supply chain factory. Like most freshers, the students were afraid to run their code. This is where the big mountain stands in their way. They are afraid of failure and do not believe they will be able to debug their code if it does not work. I sat down with them all personally, debugging their code, explaining how actually to debug their code on their own.
Another challenge was students not practicing over the weekdays. The course was structured in a way where I would teach them a topic on Saturday and give them assignments to cover over the weekdays. The assignments were possible if the students could manage 1 hour each day. I am still trying to solve this problem. The students said that they were unable to set up their computers at home and unable to debug their code when stuck. Next time around I am going include setting up their machine and operating systems in the training to assure that everyone is able to move ahead without any issues.
I also tweaked my course as certain topics needed more time than others. I wanted to cover Django Rest Framework but had to skip it, because students had difficulty with Django ORM. We ended up spending time on understanding ORM rather than creating APIs out of them.
Overall I learned a lot and also understood how big the skill gap really is. Phew.. believe me, there is a lot to do.
Batch 01 was specifically about being a backend engineer in a tech company. Future batches will cover other relevant topics. There is so much to learn and understand, it will take some amount of time to break the barrier. However,
Project Yinsen’s mission is to build a community of engineers and help them learn/train and acquire industry relevant skills from developers, technology leaders in the industry.
Thanks to Slack, Trello and the awesome colleagues at Zaya for making this possible.
- By Deepak Singh,
Engineering Lead, Zaya
email : firstname.lastname@example.org