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Ask Slashdot: Hands-On Activity For IT Career Fair 121

Posted by samzenpus
from the craft-time dept.
First time accepted submitter MConnolly writes "I participate in an annual career fair for High School Sophomores. I have groups of 10 — 20 students for 40 minutes a piece. In previous years, we've brought a bunch of retired PCs and challenged the groups to disassemble (down to the motherboard) and reassemble them in working order. Many processors and motherboards died, but everyone had fun. Most students today only have laptops and tablets. As a result, this knowledge doesn't translate into the real world anymore (perhaps you disagree). I'm looking for suggestions for an activity that will give the students some hands-on, real world experience that will benefit them immediately."
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Ask Slashdot: Hands-On Activity For IT Career Fair

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  • but the collgle system has pulled down the tech / trades schools a lot.

    • by rwa2 (4391) * on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @06:41PM (#44701825) Homepage Journal

      ... but here's an exercise that will translate into the real world... Separate them into two groups, the "M" group, and the "E" group.

      The Ms ties the Es group's hands up behind their backs. Then the Ms set themselves on fire, and have to coerce the Es to put the fire out with their hands tied up. If the Ms survive, they get more Es and go again. If the don't, they're replaced with a new M, preferably one from outside who has no idea what just happened.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Morlocks would never trust Eloi to save them from immolation.

      • by rwyoder (759998) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @08:37PM (#44702573)

        ... but here's an exercise that will translate into the real world... Separate them into two groups, the "M" group, and the "E" group.

        The Ms ties the Es group's hands up behind their backs. Then the Ms set themselves on fire, and have to coerce the Es to put the fire out with their hands tied up. If the Ms survive, they get more Es and go again. If the don't, they're replaced with a new M, preferably one from outside who has no idea what just happened.

        If I had mod points today, I'd change this from "funny" to "insightful".
        It pretty much describes the miserable conditions of the company I just quit.
        I won't give any names, but the filthy rich CEO has a thing for sailboats.
        That experience left such a bad taste in my mouth wrt IT, that I am looking into going back to college for an entirely different career.

    • CS knowledge does not translate into the real word ...

      How is that? I find the opposite to be true. I think the serious bugs that I've seen over the years tended to be at the data structures and algorithms level, i.e. core CS topics. Keep in mind that those job listings may not explicitly list CS topics but there is an implicit requirement for them if a CS degree or equivalent is listed.

      I understand your sentiment. I recall the disparity between what I was learning in a CS program and the skills listed in job offerings. However 20 years later I appreciate wh

      • How is that? I find the opposite to be true. I think the serious bugs that I've seen over the years tended to be at the data structures and algorithms level, i.e. core CS topics.

        Those are all important CS topics, but they're not IT topics. IT isn't about finding and patching bugs, it's abut setting up and administering LANSand server farms, setting up and updating desktops for users and other practical skills. (Not that finding bugs isn't practical, it is, but it's a job for your developers and progra
        • by perpenso (1613749)

          How is that? I find the opposite to be true. I think the serious bugs that I've seen over the years tended to be at the data structures and algorithms level, i.e. core CS topics. Those are all important CS topics, but they're not IT topics. IT isn't about finding and patching bugs, it's abut setting up and administering LANSand server farms, setting up and updating desktops for users and other practical skills. (Not that finding bugs isn't practical, it is, but it's a job for your developers and program maintenance staff, not for IT.) The skills you learn studying CS rarely if ever translate into what you're going to be doing in IT.

          If you are interested in doing end user support and certain infrastructure work then yes a CS degree is unnecessary. However IT is a little broader than that. For example I know system administrators who do a little server side development as part of their job. Also some IT organizations may have a small development group for in-house apps and such. For larger organizations their business process or product manufacturing process may involve some custom equipment and involve some in-house development/mainten

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I would caution any high school student thinking about studying computer science at university. I would, however, advise them to study some computer science (introductory programming, programming language concepts, algorithms and optionally data base theory, and artificial intelligence) as part of their university degree in another science (anthropology, astronomy, biology, botany, chemistry, forensic science, mathematics, medicine, physics, zoology) or engineering (civil, electrical, mechanical). Realistic

      • Exactly. I studied CS and ended up managing desktop support. A neighbour a couple of years younger than me studied astrophysics and is now coding spacecraft landing routines for the European Space Agency. Pure CS is great -- I love it. But as was predicted decades ago, as computers have grown more common, it's no longer just your knowledge of CS that matters -- you need more and more domain knowledge too.

        We really need to start teaching everyone proper computing....

    • CS knowledge absolutely drives the real world. Sure, big data or HTML might not be sexy things for an IT booth, but there's plenty of real-world ideas:

      - Make 2 groups: one to write real-world instructions, the other to enact them. Have them write down how to tie shoelaces, that's always fun and eye-opening.
      - Programmable robots. Lego Mindstorms isn't expensive, and you've probably been waiting for an excuse to buy this yourself for years :)
      - Any math or logic games. You've heard of the water buckets to fill

  • Write some code (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bwhaley (410361) <spam4benNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @06:04PM (#44701531)

    Come up with a few simple programming projects that students can run through. There's something magical about writing code and seeing the computer execute exactly what you told it to do. Write a Ruby Sinatra or Python Flask app and show how to access it from the command line. This will teach them what a web server is and how to write simple code at the same time.

    • by Overzeetop (214511) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @06:14PM (#44701611) Journal

      You've got teams, right? Make it a pictionary type of game with each team broken into halves. One half of the team is given a task to complete (build a tower out of wooden blocks, move a pile of color balls into color-coded piles, sort numbered cards, etc) and must write simple code (perhaps limit their operations to a fixed list) that the other half of the team must execute in programming order to complete. Take turns writing and executing, with points for success.

    • by asmkm22 (1902712)

      The only problem I see with this is that a career fair should have some kind of social component to it, and the act of coding is very much solitary. Yeah, you can have teams and discuss what to do, but it will still come down to having someone sit down and write code. Not very exciting for average people, and definitely not a good way to attract them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @06:05PM (#44701533)

    Get an old wireless router, reset to factory defaults, have them connect to it via laptop and configure it for secure wireless, which they can then connect to with their laptop/tablet.

  • There are a million web people.

    If you can dig in and work your way into a position that supports and codes for these kinds of environments, you're likely to have a job for 40 years.

    Yes, mobile devices are shiny.

    But you need big telecom, big transaction processing and big power to make that happen. And that happens on big systems.

    I know my department has a number of DBAs/developers that will be retiring over the next 5-10 years. There are no competitors for our business systems due to the regulatory framew

    • by IANAAC (692242)

      Maybe a migration from Oracle to SAP and back, depending on the management regime.

      Something to throw out there.

      That seems a bit much for a 40 minute session, no?

      A modern software equivalent to hardware teardown might be to install/configure beyond basics some server software and could probably go a bit further to pique career fair attendees' interest, given the time limit.

      • by i.r.id10t (595143)

        Maybe. But installing Debian on a VirtualBox machine and then setting up a quick-n-basic LAMP server can be done, especially if you give them really good documentation.

  • Career Fair (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    What in the lord's blazing hell does this have to do with careers?

  • Set up a dummy WEP-secured AP and teach them how to get on. Check out http://www.securitytube.net/groups?operation=view&groupId=9 for a good instructional video. You'll have to provide a few Alfa cards though. Have them work in teams of three or four and you won't need many.

    Seriously. They will learn not to run WEP on their own APs nor to trust WEP APs in the wild. And since most people don't run WEP anymore, you aren't really setting them up for a life of criminal hacking. But it is just devious

  • by roc97007 (608802) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @06:18PM (#44701653) Journal

    Walk an offshore admin who speaks maybe 500 words of english and has had only hours of training, through creating a Windows Server 2008 VM and configuring an ASP application under IIS. For extra credit, repeat using SUSE and JSP/Tomcat. Simulate an accurate communications channel by having the person playing the offshore admin stand outside by the freeway using an analog cell phone, doing the work on a 1990's era laptop balanced on an ironing board connected to the net by an old Telebit modem that drops often.

    Arrange so the student can see the actions being taken, but has no control over the process. The student fails the test if he touches the keyboard.

    If the student decides to forego a career in IT and takes up bartending instead, he's passed the test.

    • by greg1104 (461138) <gsmith@gregsmith.com> on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @06:34PM (#44701781) Homepage

      Seeing the actions being taken? That's cheating. Their only feedback should be the person on the phone describing what they see on the screen.

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        Seeing the actions being taken? That's cheating. Their only feedback should be the person on the phone describing what they see on the screen.

        Oooh. Good one. I insist they share their screen so I can watch them work, but that's even better.

        What I was trying to simulate was the condition where you see him start to do something really disastrous (examples: "drop all tables;" "rm * .tmp" instead of "rm *.tmp" and you say "don't execute that command" and get the answer "yes I am being executing that command" and you grab the keyboard to wrest control, which could get you fired in some companies. (Because you're not supposed to do anything as root

        • by Teancum (67324)

          This whole exercise reminds me of an experience of trying to do telephone support for a guy setting up the control system for one of the signs on Times Square in NYC. I spent about 3 hours troubleshooting over the phone, and the system finally came up about 5 seconds before the "big boss" who paid for the sign showed up to take a look at what all his money purchased.

          I've also taken calls from freeways and sports arenas during the middle of a game (when cell phone coverage drops to nothing due to everybody

          • by roc97007 (608802)

            This whole exercise reminds me of an experience of trying to do telephone support for a guy setting up the control system for one of the signs on Times Square in NYC. I spent about 3 hours troubleshooting over the phone, and the system finally came up about 5 seconds before the "big boss" who paid for the sign showed up to take a look at what all his money purchased.

            I've also taken calls from freeways and sports arenas during the middle of a game (when cell phone coverage drops to nothing due to everybody at the event having a cell phone and overloading the local towers).

            Yeah, I can relate as I've done all that and more.

            Kudos to you sir, for going above and beyond. But that's kinda the opposite of what I was suggesting. You were *providing* admin assistance, and in the case I was proposing, you are trying to get the ill-trained offshore admin to provide the admin assistance that you are not contractually allowed to do yourself.

            That being said, successfully providing assistance remotely over a bad cell phone connection having no access yourself and working with someone with access and no training, is the mark of a Real Ad

        • why should you care as likely you are now a temp / contractor and you will just get the OT / added job to fix there mess up.

          • by roc97007 (608802)

            why should you care as likely you are now a temp / contractor and you will just get the OT / added job to fix there mess up.

            Because I like to think I have a life, and I really don't want to put in another 30 hour day.

  • by Nutria (679911) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @06:19PM (#44701661)

    Is this IT as in "desktop support", or "IT" as in managing PB-scale Oracle RAC data warehouses?

  • Easy. (Score:2, Funny)

    by nospam007 (722110) *

    Let them dis-assemble and re-assemble iPads.

    It's much fun and many will die too.

  • Have them root their devices. It's not necessarily an easy thing to do, and in some cases requires CLI. It will show them a high level view of the different thing a person needs to even be able to root a device (vulnerability, code, communicating with the device etc). Talk about the ethics involved in rooting the device (yours vs theirs mentality). Flash a custom "ROM."

    Success can be measured by those who successfully flash a ROM without bricking the device. This will give valuable real world experience tha

    • That sounds like a wonderful idea! If submitter starts now, they can get in a couple revisions of the release of liability forms drafted up, while researching how to root/jailbreak at least half a dozen of the most common devices and gathering the requisite software.

      It's a fun idea, but not something I'd want to put into the hands of a bunch of 15-16 year olds when there's a distinct chance that some of them will brick their devices, and when irate parents may go after him to fix their kids' mistakes.
  • Real world (Score:3, Insightful)

    by djupedal (584558) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @06:24PM (#44701701)
    Teach them how to say "Would you like fries with that, Sir/Madam?" in your choice of any language other than English. They'll learn more...
  • The demise of desktop computers is greatly exaggerated. However, demonstrating virtualization, pushing policy and installations might be a little more modern activity.

  • Have them:
    Dismantle a desktop PC.
    Take apart a video monitor (CRT or LCD).
    Tear down a hard drive.

    Congratulations -- they're qualified to be a computer recycler.

    • by pspahn (1175617)

      Take apart a video monitor (CRT...

      I do not recommend this without a signed agreement.

  • Show them the Cisco Packet Tracer and explain how the internet really works fundamentally. If you need more show them Wireshark. That should fill up 40 minutes nicely and could be made hands-on easily in a moderately equipped computer lab.

    • by pnutjam (523990)
      Walk them through an arp poisoning or arp flood attack with etherape visualizing the traffic. Showing people real life exploits can be eye opening and educational.
  • Hobby kits (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jonyen (2633919) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @06:45PM (#44701855)
    If you can get your employer to help pay for it, you could have the students work with Raspberry Pis or Arduino boards, and then they can take it home afterwards. Students love free stuff and being able to continue to tinker around with it after the workshop would enable this to be an invaluable learning experience.
  • Get some computers with Notepad++ installed on them and a file that has some various lines of text. Teach them about pattern matching and regular expressions. It doesn't really require any previous knowledge, and it makes you kind of think like a programmer. It's very useful even if you only have a basic knowledge of it, especially when tearing through log files with grep. Some of the students might not find it interesting at all, but I think you'll find that regardless of what you do.
    • You've not actually dealt with children in a while, then?

      They'll stop paying attention after about a minute, and spend the rest of the session pulling the keys off the keyboards.

  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @06:54PM (#44701935)

    Have them a few 60 hour weeks; tell them they're the company's most valuable asset; reduce their raises/benefits, because the company is being "competitive" (while the company is posting good/record profits and paying shareholder dividends); lay them off because the company is "right-sizing" and/or "moving in a new direction" (while the company is hiring junior people); hand them some unemployment forms; escort them from the building.

    Did I miss anything?

  • Go down to basic HTML. Build a functioning website.

    Figure out what gives you the biggest visual impact in the smallest time. Short sweet simple HTML code.

    A page, make copies of it and modify to be separate pages, with basic menu.

    Then put it on a web server and surf that new corner of the web.

    Can be as short/long as needed.

    Oh...and color, lots of color on the page.

  • by MarcoAtWork (28889) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @07:12PM (#44702049)

    ... as you said students today have laptops and tablets which are completely self enclosed and not-user-serviceable at all, fostering the idea that a computer is kind of a 'magic box'.

    Having a complete teardown/reassembly with some explanation will show the kids that computers are not these black boxes, you can point out what/where the RAM is, the CPU, storage, NICs, port controllers, network cards (if the PCs are older especially) etc. etc. etc.

    Everybody can do virtualization stuff at home already, try to let them do something that they would not be able to do on their own. Configuring an AP sounds 'cool' but really it's just a matter of again staring at a screen and changing some checkboxes, doing something hands on with hardware is a lot more fun IMHO.

  • Have them debug a z/OS StandAlone dump with IPCS. That'll get their juices flowing.

  • Tangle a bunch of old parallel port and VGA cables with CAT5, CAT5e, and CAT6 cables, plus SATA and some DVI. Time them to get you the SATA cables and 3 CAT6 cables.
  • If the crowd is STEM-ey, let them compete to see who can finish the most Project Euler [projecteuler.net] problems in a set time limit using their own language of choice.
  • As a result, this knowledge doesn't translate into the real world anymore

    I thought teamwork still applied in the real world?

  • Have them open a browser and navigate to Slashdot with just a keyboard. That will vex the average user but is simple enough in reality and they'll leave having learned something useful.

  • by RedHackTea (2779623) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @07:56PM (#44702345)
    Ctrl+Shift+T. It's kind of like the Ctrl+Z of the Internet. This will increase their knowledge base, and then train them in its use. After that, maybe have them lookup new keyboard shortcuts or even *gasp* create new ones!
    • Control-Z as in "suspend job" (UNIX) or as in "end-of-file" (CP/M)? You want to suspend the internet or end it? [[ confused ]]
      • You want to suspend the internet or end it? [[ confused ]]

        Both show an immediate improvement, although the former has an implicit hope that someday running fg will be a viable option.

  • You could set up hands on troubleshooting exercises that focus on issues that the students are likely to encounter in real life. This could include troubleshooting a network connection when "the internet is broken." This could also include troubleshooting a printer that won't print. You could start with the basic questions such as: "Is the cable plugged in at both ends." You could form teams where the problem is the same but the root cause of the problem is different. This type of troubleshooting will teach the students how to fix the problems that they might encounter while using computers.
  • 1 ) It does not require any hardware
    2) make it so that it feels like a Game/Competition.
    3) Instant gratigfication !!!

  • Have a bank of phones that people can sit at and try and deal with a nightmare user at the other end.

  • Set up a lan. Takes some thought, but hardly impossible, even for neophytes. For extra credit have them set it up with dhcp, smtp, and named servers.
  • ...and his job will be to convince the others in 40 minutes that the "Strategic Partnership Initiative" is not outsourcing, and they shouldn't be alarmed.

  • I just recently was responsible for a piece of a math and science night at my son's school and by far the biggest hit was the model of Hawai`i Island in Minecraft that I built from a digital elevation model from ISS data. The kids loved it, the parents didn't hate it, and I had a helluva good time with my son building it. With the age group you're working with, you can walk them through identifying data needs and data sources, moving data amongst different tools and formats, and then doing something fun and
  • "In previous years, we've brought a bunch of retired PCs and challenged the groups to disassemble (down to the motherboard) and reassemble them in working order .. Most students today only have laptops and tablets. As a result, this knowledge doesn't translate into the real world anymore"

    That's because the manufacturers design them that way, making them ununrecoverable in the process, all the while preaching their 'green` credentials, fifty dollars to change a battery, come off it. I see students who exp
  • "I'm looking for suggestions for an activity that will give the students some hands-on, real world experience that will benefit them immediately".

    Open Source Linux Boards Under $200 [linux.com]

    "The following Top 10 community backed Linux boards are listed in alphabetical order, with links, price, project, and processor. They are described in more detail in the slide show below (click on View Gallery)."
  • I originally wasn't going to post this because I thought it would sound too preachy, but, based on some other responses here, I think it could be appropriate.

    There is a digital civil war coming [falkvinge.net] as we transition out of the industrial age and into the digital revolution. Giving the next generation a solid fundamental understanding of digital technology is critical to ensuring the future belongs to them. They should learn that computers exist to serve the user and that any attempt to subvert this is oppressi

  • + Give them a hands-on demonstration of setting up a webserver in Linux.

  • Get them to turn it off and on again.

  • and have them teach her how to use her Windows 8 convertible. Please.
  • You could simulate an office move with a couple of banks of desks. Kids race in teams to move their alloted PC to the next desk, cable it up, boot it, and print out a test print (I recommend a "chequered flag" as the print job. Although the risk assessment may go against you. Also, you might not have any working PCs by the end of the day....
  • Give them Surfaces and make them dance like the commercial. If they can pull it off in 40 minutes, they can keep the tablets.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    At a conference I was at last year, they had set up a lego mindstorm to roll over a printed color grid (this can be easily done in excel by setting the cells to be a squre inch or so, and then filling in the cells with the color you want), and it would do different actions based on what color it stopped on.

    For example, if there are 4 colors, red, blue, green, yellow,

    If it goes over red, it moves forward 2 squares,
    if it goes over green it turns 90 degrees to the right, and moves 1 square,
    if it goes over yell

    • by Brownstar (139242)

      No mod points, but the above idea would be fun.

      Just make sure it's simple enough to be done in the 40 minutes, and maybe break them up into groups to work together. (Although that will add additional potential challenges).

  • Give them some real world activities ... filling out TPS reports, doing your timesheets, entering change requests, patching Windows, listening to quarterly calls when the company releases the numbers, trying to scrounge together machines for QA, listening to a client tell you how it's your fault that there's no power on the 3rd floor ...

    That'll learn 'em.

    Oh, did you want to encourage them to get into the field?

  • Have them build patch cables.
  • Let them crimp some RJ45's onto cat5.

  • Thanks to everyone who responded! The current exercise (tearing down desktops, reassembling them, and testing) has been very well received by the students. It keeps them busy and challenged the entire time we have them. Every session has a few students who are convinced that these computers will never work again, and they are all smiles when it is successful. We usually time each team, and the fastest ones get some sort of prize (like an iPod shuffle). We encourage them to try and figure out mistakes on th

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "That's funny ..." -- Isaac Asimov

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