Computing professionals need to be good communicators, working effectively with their clients and teams to create business solutions. Are today's students graduating with these highly-valued business skills and hands-on experience?
Recent research undertaken by the University of Sydney* among engineering and computing industry contacts has revealed that, together with passion and leadership, soft skills are what take a graduate to the top of their list. And soft skills develop with hands-on industry engagement as a part of their degree experience.
Kosta Dunn, a third-year computing student at the University of Sydney, is looking forward to the challenge of working on a real-world industry project as a part of his computing degree.
"We get to complete a project for a business outside of the university solving their unique problems. This kind of hands-on experience is what really prepares you for a career in the computing industry," says Kosta.
The university's strong industry connections include both larger organisations such as Atlassian and Data61/CSIRO as well as smaller startups like Digi.cash and Uprise, all of whom present challenges for the student teams to solve as part of the School of Information Technologies capstone program.
Uprise CEO, Dr Jay Spence, needed an innovative way to make seeking help for work-related stress or depression more affordable and accessible. According to the Black Dog Institute and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in five Australians between the ages of 16 and 85 experience some form of mental illness, and 65% of people with a mental illness do not access any treatment.
In response to Dr Spence's brief, the undergraduate team in the School of Information Technologies developed a chat interface to integrate with Uprise's existing stepped care intervention method. The chat interface allows psychologists to securely communicate with their patients using their own or AI-generated responses, replacing the need for a physical appointment.
The work done by the student team helped Uprise obtain a grant from NSW Innovate / Jobs for NSW that will be used to fund further development of the Uprise platform.
"We were very impressed by the passion and output from the capstone team on this project. They did a fantastic job of understanding the needs we had and then running the project from start to finish," says Dr Spence.
"This was a team with an already high-calibre of developers whose collaboration was productive and practical. What we were left with was the prototype for artificial intelligence which became foundational in further work."
Dr Xiuying Wang, Senior Lecturer and student supervisor in the School of Information Technologies sees the importance of capstone projects in developing both technical and soft skills required for a career in computing.
"Through their capstone project, students' professional capabilities as well as leadership, communication and interpersonal skills have been significantly improved. Some students have been offered job positions even before the completion of their project," says Dr Wang.
All students enrolled in the Bachelor of Advanced Computing complete a capstone project in their final year, with the opportunity for research-oriented students to turn their innovative ideas into credit for a major thesis.
*Pollinate qualitative research study, conducted January and February 2017, as commissioned by the University of Sydney, Faculty of Engineering and IT.