Monthly Archives: May 2013

A rough guide to Spanish Universities

OR “how to tell if your Spanish developer has gone to a good university”

Top Technology Universities in Spain

Recent economic unheaval in Spain has lead to a sizeable number of Spanish developers coming over to London. I find that Spanish developers have excellent web development skills, good experience with software development across the SDLC and good architectural skills.

But they also come with some with some challenges, the main ones being communication skills and a mystifying education system. It is also common for Spanish developers to have a Europass CV – which is a not very helpful in the UK market.

Sadly many Spanish developers come to the UK with excellent computer language skills but poor spoken English. A few employers are happy to take on a good coder (at below market average salary) but in today’s über competitive market the ability to clearly communicate with internal staleholders and the end user has never been more important. My only advice to them is to work as hard as they can upon their speaking and listening skills, ideally before they arrive.

The Spanish University system

The problem for a recruiter in the London market is that Spanish CVs don’t come with a grade for the degree they acheived and I think its fair to say that knowledge of which universities are the best for computer science or software engineering is low in the UK. Its got to be said that from my research the Spanish university system appears completely different from the UK system.

Much of this is because Spanish students tend, on the main, to go the university of their nearest big city, so there is not really a national “league of excellence” for higher education as Spanish universities are not ranked according to national performance in each subject. So instead we can say that the top universities are those situated in the largest city of each region.

The bigger the city, the bigger and better the University is

If pushed a Spaniard will tell you the two top universities for programming-based courses are Deusto in Bilbao and ICAI in Madrid. Both are private universities and – typically Spanish – both are run by Jesuits. These are prestigious institutions to attend and teach at a high technical level.

In fact, although a national ranking of Spanish technical universities does not exist, El Mundo (a well respected Spanish newspaper) has compiled a list here (you will need to use Google translate if you don’t speak Spanish).

A two-tier system

As in much of Europe, Spain has two tiers of university, a public tier which will generally be “the University of” each city and a private tier. Top students tend to go to the biggest public university in their region unless there is a private university nearby that has a renowned specialism.

Private universities come in two forms, the traditional, well established institutes and the newer type from the last 50 years. Many of the newer ones have a second rate reputation, and none have an entry criteria of academic excellence.

There IS a final grade

When asked, most Spaniards will tell you that you do not graduate with a mark and instead as long as you attain higher than 50% then everybody graduates.

However, I have found that there is a grading system. Or rather there are two grading systems, the established one and a new one introduced 2 years ago – both run concurrently.

With the established system there are four grades you can graduate with, Grade 1 (for which you receive a mark of 5-7 and is equivalent to an overall achievement of 50-70%), Grade 2 ( covers 7-9 and the according percentages), Grade 3 (9-9.5) and Grade 4 (9.5-10). So you can achieve the equivalent of a first class mark in the UK, yet receive a grade which is not distinguished from the same mark as a 2:2. You can also be in the top 5% of your year/class and still receive the same grade as everyone else. So it is well worth asking what percentage your candidate received.

The key indicator is TIME

Importantly there is actually no time limit on the length of time you study for and poorly performing undergrads can retake a course as many times as they like. So in Spain the main indicator of a “good degree” is not the grade achieved at a university with a good academic reputation but whether they attended the biggest university in their region and if they graduated within 4 years and no more.

Its difficult to actually differentiate any more than this on the strength of the CV alone and I would say that unless you can see that your Spanish technologist attended Deusto or ICAI I would skip the university part of their CV and go straight to the tech testing!

Where have all the German programmers gone?

Think about it, when was the last time you spoke to a German programmer? OK OK, ignore that cool bunch of guys from AutoScout24 who you met at QCon, when was the last time you met a German programmer who lived and worked in London? Exactly. None!

One of many happy Germans

One of many happy Germans

You don’t even find any working in Deutsche Bank! Or in the queue outside Wurst on Cornhill, you’d expect that would be a good place to find some right? Wrong. Over the years I’ve tried to tempt a number of Germans with specialist skills to leave their homeland and relocate to London but I have had zero success in this area. They tend to just politely decline my headhunt call / email and stubbornly remain where they are. I did once get a German from Nuremburg all the way through to final interview with Barclays Capital – trying to do my bit for Germano-English relations – but unfortunately it fell through at the final stages.

I was on the Oxford Tube at the weekend and sat next to two Germans, one BA and one Java developer, and I asked them what the deal was. They confirmed what I had suspected, that in the main they are all very happy in Deutschland.

We agreed that a lot of it came down to economics, Germany is rich country and for a like for like position they could probably expect either similar or maybe even less pay in London. Consequently there is a vibrant market for programmers and lots of interesting work available. There is also a high standard of living across the black, red and gold country.

Not going anywhere

Not going anywhere

We discussed whether or not it was the old North / South and East split in the EU, as the Southern and Eastern European countries are well represented in London. But France, Netherlands, Belgium and to a lesser extent Scandinavia are well represented here.

They also don’t seem to be drawn to the big cities and just as often live and work in small towns. There doesn’t seem to be a culture of wanting to live and work in an international environment, whereas I find the French, Dutch, Belgians and Scandies have a strong culture of seeking an international life experience.

So come on my lederhosen-clad, sausage-chomping friends come over to London and share in the wonderful experience of living in the truly international city that is London.