Fast track: Help Desk

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I am a 34-year-old house husband with a part-time job in finance and a degree in German. I would like to embark upon a career in computer programming, some- thing the Government has been encouraging with the recent announcement about training people to tackle the millennium bug. I enjoy using computers but have no formal computing qualifications. I have thought about an Open University qualification. Would this be beneficial? I live in a far-flung part of England, so commuting is not possible. Is it possible to work remotely?

David Lee, Cumbria

There is much more to computing than programming, with two significant developments to be aware of. The first is the increasing ubiquity of computers. A lot of the interesting work in the next decades will come not from programming but from devising original ways of developing ubiquitous computing. The second development is the rise of networking, both inside organisations and globally, via the Internet. Computers are communications devices first, and calculators second. In terms of Open University offerings, this would mean starting with an introductory course like "You, your computer and the Net" (T171) before moving on to the more technical courses like "Computing: an object-oriented approach" (M206). Both courses are offered online. The OU enquiries line is 01908 653231.

John Naughton, head of OU's `Going Digital' project

Your first option is online training and more information is on the Microsoft training web site cert. The second is self-paced training - Microsoft Press provides learning material which is tailored to meet an individual's level of competency. There are a number of programming Microsoft Press products, including interactive CD-ROMs, which are available from bookshops, but first go to our web site at http://mspress/

David Bradley, Microsoft Press Business Development Manager

Begin by highlighting any IT related work, training or interests on your CV. Register it with local and national IT recruiting and sub-contracting agencies (check the trade papers).

Check your local technical college for any part-time or evening courses. Local Training and Enterprise Councils may also be of some help. And learn as much as possible about the Year 2000 problem - ring the Action 2000 helpline to order an information pack or visit the Action 2000 web site for up-to-date information on the problem:

Tony Stock, Operations Director at Action 2000

Qualifications are less important than experience, and programming is an easy discipline to learn. There are probably three choices that are currently sensible: Java (Web site design), Visual Basic (small applications) and C (everything else). Learning C is a good discipline and it will prepare you for everything else; you'll find it relatively easy. Buy a good C compiler for your PC - "Turbo C", for instance. Then get a good book on programming in C - there are several thousand - and work through the exercises.

Once you've learnt C and had some practice, try using the Internet newsgroups to contact people looking for programmers - particularly charity or community sites looking for free assistance. It will build up your portfolio of experience.

Neil Barrett, author of `The State of the Cybernation' (pounds 9.99, Kogan Page)

Compiled by Carmen Fielding

If you have a work problem and want expert advice, write to Carmen Fielding, Fast Track, Features, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2182; e-mail