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Programmers: 10 cents a dozen?

Readers sound off on whether Computer Science majors are a dime a dozen, how difficult it is to find an appropriate database system for a small business, and why the tech scene is imploding.

Regarding the recent debate in your letters section, some people seem to think that Computer Science (and Engineering for that matter) majors are a dime a dozen. Employers seem to be looking for the well-rounded computer people, ones that are not only programmers, but also hardware gurus and software troubleshooters.

These days, the chances of finding a job in one’s own field, doing exactly what we trained for, are gone. Gone are those days when we will work for one employer for 25 years. We as IT specialists have to do everything in our power to make ourselves more versatile so that we can offer an employer not only one part of their IT department, but become an integral part of the whole department. We have to better be able to market our skills.

True, for many it is too late to be undertaking a second degree in a new field of study, not to mention the drastic costs of post secondary education. However, pursuing certifications such as the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, Network+, A+, or Cisco certifications could be the break you need to convince your employer that you have more to offer than Algorithm Analysis and Operating System Concepts.

Being well-rounded means that you can offer more than just a course of the meal to your employer, it means that you can offer them the entire menu. When you can do that, you’ll find that the doors to those hard-to-get jobs will suddenly open, and you’ll be able to pick and choose your career like a kid in a candy shop. You will be versatile, and have many talents. You will be an IT guru. — Nathan James, [email protected]

Why use a drill press when all you need is a hole puncher? Your recent article about databases for small businesses was a splendid review of standard big-iron databases for medium-size and larger companies. However, the title (“One Size Doesn’t Fit All”) couldn’t be more appropriate. For most small businesses, purchasing the hardware, software licenses, and IT staff FTEs required for the solutions mentioned is simply not realistic.

For a small business, the database requirements are different. A database system needs to be deployed over the network without an IT staff; the system needs a reasonable cost per user. Most important for a small business is that the database structure must be easily modified.

In my opinion, the database tool that best fits these requirements is FileMaker Pro. The database structure can be modified by anyone with a modicum of understanding of the system. Unlike other RDBMSs, a FileMaker database can be designed and administrated by a non-IT professional. FileMaker ease of use is legendary; of course that time may still come when the database needs professional care.

As a business grows, FileMaker can grow too. Support for communication with other databases via OBDC and XML are built in to FileMaker. Tools for web deployment are also within the FileMaker toolset. SQL and Oracle migration are easily performed using third-party programs. — Jerry Salem, [email protected]

This tech scene is imploding. Fewer and fewer people are qualified and able to qualify for more and more jobs, working on “latest and greatest” projects that are useless in the final analysis. The good news is that the H1-B workers who are getting $10 per hour are going to burn out, also. The bad news is that it may take a decade, during which all the U.S. people will have starved or gone to work as security guards protecting our dwindling and deteriorating infrastructure.

Lifelong learning is a good thing if it advances you in a field. It is not good, as is the case now, if it means restart every four or five years, and nothing you learned five or 10 years ago is worth crap today. — David Bean

I enjoy Paul Hyman’s column in ComputerGamer, but I have a question. I only play Microsoft’s “Flight Simulator.” My computer is three years old and I should get a more powerful one to really enjoy this simulation. Should I get a new computer or wait for Microsoft to come out with “Flight Simulator” in an Xbox version? Upgrading is out of the question. — Joe Knell

Paul Hyman replies: You would be willing to buy a new, high-end PC just to be able to play Microsoft “Flight Simulator”? Whew! You must really enjoy that game. I mean, yes, you can buy a PC these days for less than $1,000, but not a high-end one–with a really great video card, lots of RAM, super-fast CPU, etc., etc. On the other hand, a three-year-old computer these days is almost an antique.

I’d say if you need a more current PC for several needs, including “Flight Simulator,” go for it. However, if you’re just buying it to play “Flight Simulator,” buying a console version of the game makes a lot of sense. But I don’t think Microsoft is planning on releasing an Xbox version of the game. At least it’s not included in the company’s list of forthcoming Xbox titles.

I read your article “PC games rule” in ComputerGamer and thought you might be interested in the story of a couple of friends who met at college, fell in love with game programming and MMORPGs and got jobs at a hot new company, Shadowpool “Trials of Ascension” Studios. It’s the classic dot-com story all over again but with game development as the driver.

Mohamed Nuur and Anzor Balkar have gained a certain notoriety on campus as the creators of the popular computer puzzle game “Bust-A-Move,” which began as a class project. They both started at Edmonds Community College. They met at the college and it’s easy to see why they became friends. They agree on many things: the best game now available (“Unreal Tournament 2003”); the best kind of game (MMORPGs); and most of all their own game development skills. The friends make no apologies for bluntness that could come across as bluster. They’ve got credentials. They’ve both landed entry-level jobs at a start-up game development company, Shadowpool Studios in Mount Vernon. They’re working on the launch of a game there while they finish their Associate of Science degrees (with certificates in Game Development, of course) here. Afterwards, they plan to transfer to University of Washington for Bachelor’s degrees in computer science and to continue on in illustrious careers as game programmers. — Michele Graves, Edmonds Community College, Lynwood, Wash., [email protected]

Great article (“PC games rule”)… right up until the end with the mention of the MMOGs. Although PCs do still have a much stronger library of them, I wouldn’t say they “remain firmly in the PC camp.” They are available on consoles, and have been for a while.

The most obvious is Sega’s “Phantasy Star Online” series, originally put out for Dreamcast a few years ago, but now also available for GameCube and Xbox as well. It’s also available on PC, of course. There are plenty of other online games, but they can’t really be classified as “massively multiplayer.” There are a few more on their way for 2003-04, and with the new consoles probably appearing 2005, with probably greatly enhanced online capabilities, who knows what’s next?

One other reason the consoles are taking over is because of piracy. It is infinitely easier to copy a PC game than it is the console games. The more copying, the less money for developers. I am both a PC and console gamer, with PC of course coming first. But, if the consoles can produce the same experience without all the extra hassles, I’m all for it. — Josh Baran

to start a discussion or ask a question, e-mail [email protected] letters may be edited for style, length, or content. no anonymous letters will be published.

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