A rough guide to the Italian University system

Or, “how to understand what your Italian developer’s degree actually means”

LDV with big data on his mind

An Italian academic with big data on his mind?

There are numerous Italian developers in London today, for many years there was a steady trickle but since the global recession I think its fair to say that that trickle has increased to more of a steady stream. Italian developers tell me they come to London seeking better opportunities, the attraction of working in a global city being one thing, but also being a part of the vibrant tech scene that we have here as well.

Speaking to my clients however, and there is not a great deal of knowledge in London about what the top IT universities in Italy are and how the system of final grades works.

How does it all work?

In a similar way to the system in Spain, in Italy it’s common to go to best University closest to your home but if you get outstanding grades then you might travel to a university further from home. So if you live in Genoa, and you’ve got good grades and a real passion for Software Development, its probable that you’ll want to go to the Milano Politecnico or the Politecnico di Torino.

In terms of the “best” universities in Italy, there are universities that are prestigious to attend and there are universities that teach Computer Science to a high degree of excellence.

Of the top IT universities for IT in Italy, there are 3 Politecnico’s :

  • Milano Politecnico (the largest technical university in Italy)
  • Politecnico di Torino (Italy’s oldest technical university)
  • Politecnico di Bari

And 3 other well established universities that have excellent reputations:

  • Universita’ degli studi di Pisa
  • Universita’ degli studi di Salerno in Fisciano
  • Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II (the world’s oldest state university)

Rome has two top universities for IT, the Tor Vergata (a public research university located in Rome) and La Sapienza that are worth noting as well. La Sapienza is well-established university and has one of the oldest libraries in the world, it is also the oldest established university offering the Ingegneria (Engineering) type of degree.

The Politecnico at Bari is Italy’s has largest campus at 60,000 students, and has an international reputation for research. In my experience there are a number of excellent graduates with PhDs in big data related subjects in the UK who studied at Bari.

As with the British system of higher education there are a number of more recently established universities which are much cheaper to attend and have a lower entry criteria, and which are typically less prestigious as well. Interestingly however the Tor Vergata University of Rome was only established in the early 90s and has managed to establish a very strong reputation for the “harder” sciences of mathematics, engineering and computer science.

 An “Ingegneria” degree

The number one IT/Computer Science degree in Italy is the Ingegneria which is a type of degree offered by only a small number of Italian universities (mainly those in the list above). An Ingegneria degree can be studied for degrees in subjects such as Computer Science, Civil Engineering, Telecoms, Nuclear Power, Chemical Industries etc.

The “computer science ingegnere” are highly sought after and are generally considered to have a better degree than a graduate with a straight “computer science” degree.

Entrance Criteria

The entry criteria for the top universities in Italy involve entrance exams and achieving top grades at secondary school or scuola superior. All of the above universities have an entrance test on Maths ability, logistical properties and so on.

Final Grade

Graduates leave university in Italy with a score between 60 – 110, and may or may not receive a distinction mark on top, called Lode. Lode is the same as the Latin Laude or Cum Laude, translating as “with highest praise”.

Undergraduates complete their initial studies to achieve an initial mark of at least 60 (60%) and then complete a thesis (which can take between 4 months and 1 year) in order to complete their degree. Once your thesis has been handed in there is a final interview with a commission of professors, including the professor who assigned you the thesis. This consists of a presentation of the results of your thesis  (probably made using Powerpoint, for example) which is then follow by a series of questions about it. When you’re finished, you’ll be asked to temporarily leave the room, so that the commission can discuss and decide which grade to assign you). The final grade is the sum of your initial mark plus the result of how well you did at your thesis, meaning that in practice, very few undergraduates receive a final grade of 60.

Years of study

Degrees taken prior to 1999 took between 5 and 6 years. But today, Italian degrees follow a new system.

In the original system you needed a minimum of 28 exams (the majority of which were written rather than multiple choice) and then a face-to-face interview with a professor in order to graduate. It lasted 5 or 6 years and if you stopped after 4 years you left with nothing.

Since the reforms in 1999, and then further reforms in 2008 Students study for 3 years and then graduate with a laurea breve or a short degree, which is quite generic and doesn’t have a specialism. Graduates then study a specific subject (i.e. Computer Science) for 2 more years for a full degree and graduate with a Laurea specialistica or Laurea magistrale (depending upon the university).

Here is a handy flow chart showing how the new system works:

Newly reformed Italian uni flow chart

What has an Italian Computer Scientist studied?

Speaking to Italian developers already in London many tell me that there is still a high level of theoretical subjects covered and not as many practical courses as some would like to see (in the short degree) in the Laurea Breve. For example the University of Naples has a lot of courses such as Algebra, Physics, Maths, Algorithms etc but only has 6 or 7 exams regarding Web, programming languages and Software Engineering. This seems to be largely because many of the professors in the technology faculties actually come from a Maths or Physics background rather than a Computer Science background. In a Computer Science Laurea specialistica or Laurea magistrale the course is entirely focussed Computer Science. Many young Italians would also like to see English courses become part a degree.


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.

What is CQ5 and will Adobe kill its Golden Goose?

CQ5 logo (one of the many)

What is CQ5?
CQ5 is Adobe’s flagship Content Management System and the leading CMS in the market. Like any CMS you can use it to build and maintain your web presence, but more importantly you can use it to capture your online visitor behaviour and convert customer interest into sales. It works on multiple platforms (so its totally compatible with browsers, ipads, smart phones etc) and it uses the latest HTML5 technology, so it looks great.

What’s so good about it?
It seems that Day Software, from whom Adobe bought the platform, just got it right. Developers report that its easy to use, it’s powerful, it’s scaleable, it integrates with 3rd party systems well, it deploys nicely, the list seems to go on and on. But I think from a market perspective it’s so popular because 1) it uses HTML5 (so visually it looks great) and 2) it does all the things that top ecommerce companies like Facebook do (under the guise of “community engagement” and “customer experience” etc); so most importantly its an easy sell to business heads and CEOs.

The technology:
CQ5 is a Java-based CMS, and by making it multi-platform it’s taken Java’s “Write Once Run Anywhere” philosophy and applied it in a modern setting. The stack is essentially JSPs and HTML5 but it also uses Sling and JackRabbit, and it sits on an OSGi service platform.

The Past:
CQ5 was written by Day Software in Basel, Switzerland, and was the application side of their Enterprise Content Management offering (the infrastructure side being called Day CRX). CQ die-hards will tell you that in the early days (until about 2005) the platform was written in server-side JavaScript, but the most interesting thing about the history of CQ is its identity complex:

The Many Names of CQ (in chronological order):
– Day Communiqué WCM
– Communiqué
– Day Software’s CQ
– Adobe CQ
– Adobe WEM
– Adobe WCM
– Adobe Experience Manager or AEM (now its current manifestation)

The Present:
CQ was bought by Adobe mid 2010 but the market for CQ (and so for CQ developers) really kicked off in 2011. It came into my sights last year when I noticed that big companies like IG Index and Nike were using it, since then it’s increasingly been picked up by global banks and wealth managers – obviously Adobe came along and its fortunes quadrupled.

The cost is one thing to note however, as the license is notoriously expensive and because many companies’ CQ experience starts out with specialist consultancies, that cost is multiplied even further. Interestingly there is an Open Source (read “free”) CMS by a renegade Day team called “Magnolia” but despite also being Java-based it remains a commercial nonentity.

The Future of CQ5 and “Will Adobe Kills its Golden Goose?”
Adobe is busy adding new functionality to their “AEM” – by integrating it with their already extensive software suite – in an attempt to maximise the commercial return on its current popularity. Which makes you wonder how long it will be before they start to close down its open source compatibility and lock subscriptors in to only using their branded products. It also makes you wonder how long it will be before so many Adobe products have been integrated into the platform that they start to kill it through “bloatware”.

Many developers tell me that they suspect Adobe’s constant name changing is a result of their failure to actually understand what CQ’s market is, and why it is a commercial success. The latest name is “AEM”, and if they aggressively push this and seek to push out the “CQ” brand they are going to damage their brand recognition and lose customer loyalty – which is going to make it much easier for the next competitor to push them out of the market.

Speak like a recruiter 104: “People Buy People”

people buy people (spoken)
the concept that when someone is in charge of hiring, whatever the qualifications of the candidates, one of the main factors in making a decision is going to be personality. People hire people they know they can work with.
Gavin: My client has asked if she should start the interview process with a telephone round or onsite interview – what do you think? Sandy: Onsite, afterall “People Buy People”
Etymology: hiring = buying
See also: a good lad, personality counts

Hedge Fund Exodus?

Movement of rich people

Exodus - movement of the people

News this week is that everybody’s favourite economy stimulator, the EU, is now looking at legislation that will curb bonuses in the hedge fund and private equity business.

Here’s the link, but basically the Stasi ESMA (European Securities and Markets Authority) have realised that banker bashing only targets one section of the financial markets and that there are other “senior executives” in London whose pay they want to “bring in-line” with the remuneration policies of the investment banks.

This is another totally unhelpful attack on the UK economy from EU, and if they go ahead I can see many funds simply upping sticks and relocating to the Caribbean or the Far East. Many funds are already domiciled, or at least partly based in offshore locations, and a vicious grab on their pay is simply likely to push them further abroad faster. The Government apparatchiks just don’t seem to understand that today each country is like a camping-site: they provide a patch of suitable ground and some basic amenities but ultimately you can pitch your tent anywhere. In the UK we are lucky to have one of three of the world’s leading global cities and we need to realise that this is precious thing and not some entitlement that can be abused according to the latest Brussel’s fad.

Now the FSA is trying to work out how these rules could be applied to the UK, so watch this space.

Whatever you do in 2013, don’t…

Don’t quit your job before getting a new one.


This is a subject I speak to so many developers about. We start to discuss their next career move and they reveal that they are planning on quitting their job soon so that they will become immediately available for a contract. The logic being that only technologists who are immediately available are eligible for contract positions…

Notice periods

There are two problems with this course of action. In my experience it is a complete fallacy that you can only get a contract position if you don’t have a notice period. If you are the right candidate for the position nine times out of ten the client will wait 4 weeks for you to start. Now at this point I would point out that my experience of recruitment is purely limited to the financial markets, so I am not speaking for any other market; but despite clients almost always stating that they would prefer to hire a candidate who can start straight away, in practice they are always happy to wait for the right candidate.

A deep recession

Despite the appearance of “green shoots” in the banking sector, we are still very much in a deep recession at the moment. Everyone who reads the papers or has any contact with life outside of the Square Mile can see that. They’re even talking about the country going into a triple dip recession (not a new icecream flavour) – so the idea of quitting your job without already having lined up something to go to is madness. The contract market is still depressed, and there are still lots of contractors out there looking for their next contract, so competition for each position is fierce.

“Ready to go contracting”

After about 5 years development experience many developers start to consider the prospect of going contracting. In general contracting is a good career option for someone who is a strong technologist but not interested in team leadership or corporate titles. The problem is that the contract market is not buoyant at the moment, with many of the investment banks trying to replace contractor numbers with permies. So there are lots of developers out there who feel that they are “ready to go contracting” but have not been able to.

My advice to these people is to be patient. Quitting your stable, permie job in the hope that it will make it easier for you to find a contract will not make it happen faster. Doing so runs the risk that you will end up waiting for months without finding that dream contract job, or even end up taking another permie job! You might be ready, but if the market is not, nothing you do will change that. If you are determined to go contracting, I think you are better off either staying where you are and applying for contract positions as and when you come up (despite your notice period) or taking a new permie position that will improve your prospects to enter the contract market when it does pick up. But one thing is for sure, being unemployed in a recession is no fun.

Whatever happened to Leila Devito?

For all those who’ve asked themselves over the last year, “where is Leila Devito these days?”, here is the answer:

(watch out for her name check at 4.07)

Why are bonuses so much higher in Asset Managers than Investment Banks?

I work with a number of Asset Managers, and often talk to developers who currently work for Investment Banks about making a transition into the buyside. A concern that comes up again and again is the bonus – developers who work for the banks often struggle to believe that the bonus at an Asset Manager really is larger than at a bank. And its easy to see why, after the last 3 years of low to non-existant bonuses, many developers now only value the money in their hand – the fixed income before bonus – rather than promises of a bonus that in their experience may not materialise.

But the fact is that ever since the financial crash in 2008 bonuses across the buyside have remained steady. So why is that?

The primary reason that the buyside tends to pays higher bonuses than the investment banks is because the blame for the 2008 crash was landed squarely on the investment banks (although to be honest I don’t remember Northern Rock ever being part of the “bulge bracket”), and since then the banks have been placed under an increasingly heavy weight of regulations – Solvency II, MIFID II, Basel III, and Dodd-Frank are probably the most well known.

This has had a two-sided affect upon bonuses, one is that there is simply less money to go around due to lower profits, and two is that bonus payments are actually being restricted by regulations and the general scrutiny that banks are placed under by the press. Most of this is aimed at the traders and senior management, but the affects have obviously trickled down to all employees.

More money to go around
The fact is that there is simply more money on the buyside than at the investment banks. Not only have hedge funds and asset managers continued to be profitable in the last 5 years (with the notable exception of Man Group), but due to lower numbers of employees working in the buyside the ratio of money to employees is far more favourable. Playing around with some figures (market cap to employees) I worked out that actually BlackRock has a value of around $4 million per employee vs JP Morgan’s $700 thousand.

(I compared the market cap figure because a) it was easy to get hold of and b) it is a good indicator of what the company is valued at. Yearly profit would obviously be a better figure, but profits are released quarterly and I felt I was biting off way more than I could chew by adding them all up – any help would be appreciated!! My full figures below:

Market Cap: $39.91bn and AUM: $3.67 trn
Over 9,800 global employees
Market cap to employees: $4,072,448

Market Cap: $ 176.54bn and AUM: $1.4trn
Over 250,000 global employees (Figures from the “Report of the Review Committee of the Board of Directors”)
Market cap to employees: $706,160

A Brave New Banking World

A Brave New World

A technologist I am currently working with tried to post this as a comment on my previous post – I couldn’t work out how to get it on the comments either, but I thought it was posting here:

Indeed, the entire banking sector is recovering. However, several aspects need to be taken into account before being truly optimistic:

 – the regulatory landscape is very different from what it was 5 years ago, and is now imposing new capital requirements which will prevent banks from massively investing in growth

 – clients have been showered with risk suddenly becoming reality. The volumes in equity are still well below what they were before the crisis. They may never come back.

 – more regulation, more risk management, more automation (to cut operational cost) means more IT, meaning that many open IT roles may  simply reveal a change in staff balance, rather than a global recovery. 

On the regulation front I would add that the burden of regulation comes in two forms: less profit and the obstacles it creates for the business