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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

BY GERALD M. BRADSHAW
gerald_bradshaw@post.harvard.edu
Bradshaw College Consulting
(219) 663-3041

Dear Mr. Bradshaw: My parents and I read your column, and we have a question. Most students who write you are academically well-rounded. They have good grades, test scores and participate in a several extracurricular activities.

I would describe myself as a nerd. I have the former, but not the latter. I don't participate in any activities outside the classroom.

My friends and I like to write computer programs. We're known as "coders." We get together and go crazy writing computer programs using several different languages.

I'm really into computers, and my goal is to meet other students like me when I get to college. Can you give me an idea of what's out there in terms of jobs and starting pay? -- Nerdy Coder

'Nerds' job market booming



Dear Nerdy Coder -- I really appreciate this kind of question, especially now, since computer technology is the driving force behind the economic recovery. Computer programming and computer engineering are leading the way.

So let me politely say that nerds are, indeed, welcome and that job prospects for you never have been better -- along with starting salaries into six figures.

The economic paradigm is shifting markedly to the Internet. New graduates (and even dropouts) with computer programming and engineering degrees rank Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter and social networking firms such as LinkedIn as the places to make names for themselves. After a few years, some branch out and form their own companies.

The epicenter still is the Silicon Valley in northern California. Stanford University and the University of California-Berkeley are the leading providers of Google hopefuls and Facebook fanatics, but the door is open to anyone smart enough to take advantage of this global village. The most ambitious of the lot are eager to make their marks and their first million as newly minted entrepreneurs.

By the numbers: Recruiters say Facebook and others pay competitively, with average annual salaries for engineers typically starting at $120,000. The Wall Street Journal recently quoted one Silicon Valley recruiter who said a client got in a bidding war among Google, Facebook and others. He was hired with a $125,000 salary and is being offered $175,000 by the companies that lost out initially.

The Journal reported that Facebook is typical of these trends. It has 1,700 employees, up from 1,000 a year ago. Twitter has 300 employees, up from 99 a year ago. LinkedIn started the year with 450 employees and anticipates adding 450 by year's end.

Zynga Game Network in San Francisco reported it started the year with 500 employees and now has 1,250 -- many plucked from Google and Microsoft.

To help slow the brain drain, Google is giving a 10 percent raise to its 23,000 employees. Google also is on a hiring spree and added 3,600 people over the past year.

Not everyone wants to work for Google, even if it is a great company. The lure of creating a company runs deep among computer graduates.

The New York Times published a story Monday profiling a recent startup in Silicon Valley. Typical of the entrepreneurial class is the speed in which the company got off the ground. The owners, ages 23 and 24, developed an application for the iPhone and iPad called Pulse News reader. It allows users to build personal news feeds with the newspapers, magazines and blogs of their choice.

It became a top news app in six weeks. Pulse was developed specifically for mobile devices; it is not even accessible on a computer.

The two entrepreneurs reasoned that most news organizations have made cell phone or tablet versions of their websites. They realized that news should be more user-defined and developed an app to let the user pick from a variety of choices.

I added Plus to my iPad after finding out it is the top-selling news gathering app. And it is free.

With that in mind, I advise you to keep up the coding. Don't worry about not participating in extracurricular activities. Think about which colleges are best for you as a programmer. I look forward to using the app you invent.

Dear Overwhelmed -- There are many misconceptions concerning the application process to a top college or university. If you apply, it is important to simplify the process beforehand and be as down to earth as possible in your analysis. That will help ease your anxiety.

First, dump any preconceptions you have about life at a top college. Start with an open mind. Vague ideas about privilege, dreaming of gothic spires and crewing on the Charles River are inspirational, but peripheral to your overall goal of getting a good education.

What will get you into Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania or Notre Dame are demonstrated intelligence, the ability to perform under pressure, and -- at least as important as either of the above -- careful planning. You will need a precise understanding of what courses you want to study and why.

First, there must be good reasons for applying to a top school. You have researched several and have decided an elite college or university is the place you will do your best.

Clearly, you like the idea of a highly competitive student body. You have discovered that students at top colleges learn quickly, have a very low dropout rate and enjoy conditions conducive to outstanding academic performance.

Next, you are likely to graduate at least in the top 5 percent of your class, although this does not mean a solid set of A's. If you have an uneven record in your freshman year, but are on target in the second and third years, prepare a brief explanation in your personal statement.

SAT and ACT scores are the only criteria that are universally standardized, so they carry a lot of weight. A good score on the SAT is at least 650 (out of a possible 800) in each category of the test. The magic number is over 700, but admissions committees point out that students with perfect scores routinely are turned down, and students with lower test scores routinely are admitted.

If there is any doubt about your scores, take the test again in October. If you already have taken it, use Score Choice to send in the highest scores. So it doesn't matter how many times you take it. (Caveat: Without taking a test prep class, it is unlikely you will improve you scores an appreciable amount.)

You must realize that entry to an elite school is very competitive and that each year, excellent candidates fail to get in. You have to face this fact and know that should you not get admitted, there are other excellent universities where you would be happy. In any case, be sure to have a backup school.

Once you have considered all the above and are still set on applying to the very best, then you can focus on the admissions process.

One reason certain high schools get so many students admitted to elite colleges is, they expect their students to prepare early, starting well before the end of their junior years. Many students take the SAT as sophomores to establish benchmark scores.

Many high schools expect students to have the application process well under way before the end of summer of their junior years. By then, applications should be finished in draft form. This helps assure that early application deadlines will be met.

You do not need a counselor to hold your hand. Do not let others do your thinking. On the other hand, this is an area where parents are justifiably strict in making sure their son or daughter stays on schedule.

Know what you're getting into. If you don't have copies of university prospectuses, go online or order them from the admissions office. Also, ask colleges for a copy of alternative prospectuses or class supplemental material in your major.

University catalogues are filled with classes and course descriptions that may not be offered when you get there. Look at the main catalogue and compare offerings to the supplemental materials.

Finally, it is time to compare schools. Which one is best? Only you can make that call. If you have done your research, trust your judgment.




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