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  1. #1
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    Apr. 22, 2011
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    Default Career/school advice for the computer science field

    I don't see much from engineers on these boards, but I figure there's bound to be at least a couple of you out there who might be able to help me with some wisdom from within the field.

    I have a bachelor's in Political Science, but post-college found myself in a tech company and am now in software QA. I've fallen in love with writing code and the engineering world in general and plan to make my career here. I'm ready for more and am starting to look for my next move.

    Thing is, I'm debating how much of a hinderance it'll be to not have the traditional computer science or other tech-related degree. I've taken some evening/weekend classes for programming and am considering going forth with a second bachelor's program, but honestly, it's hugely time-consuming and I'm not sure it would make all that much difference in the end. It would be at least 2-3 years of part-time school and the thought of maintaining my current stress levels for that long makes me want to cry a little. But, if that's really the best way to advance in the field, then I can suck it up.

    I would keep working full-time if I go ahead with this bachelor's program, so there isn't an issue of lost work time, though there is the potential for evening classes to interfere with late work nights. Luckily the cost of school itself isn't an issue either. I don't have the educational foundation to go into a master's program, and I think that would leave me overeducated and underexperienced for my current level anyway.

    So far, opinions seem to be across the board regarding how much this degree would help me. I see so many job postings asking for a computer science degree, but then I hear that with comparable experience, a lot of companies don't care.

    What do you think, my wise horsefellows?
    If the pony spits venom in your face or produces a loud roar, it is probably not a pony. Find another. -The Oatmeal



  2. #2
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    Default

    Go with experience over schooling - DH was an English major, and after being laid off when his last company collapsed, he had a new job withing a week. And that's pretty much how it's been over the course of his career! (Now if he'd just stop working for startups so the companies wouldn't keep going under! AHH!!)

    Pretty much everyone I know who's an engineer would say the same - unless you want to be a prof, a com sci degree isn't worth it if you have the experience. Now, if you NEED experience, I can see getting the degree solely for the internship benefits.

    Hell, one of my best friends was a CTO and he doesn't have ANY college degree!



  3. #3
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    Dec. 12, 2004
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    I'm going to echo what "everyone" you know is saying....


    ....as long as you can list that list of known programs and programming languages on your resume, you're good to go.

    I'm a technical writer with a minor in IT, and at least in my area, companies are desperate for people with any tech skills. A fancy piece of paper is icing on the cake, of course, but if you can walk in somewhere and say "I know Java/Python/C++/C#/PHP/etc", then no one is really going to care if you went to school for it or not.


    If, for some odd reason, you start applying to places and you're not getting callbacks, THEN you can consider more schooling. But why not try to get a job first without dealing with the hassle of school?



  4. #4
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    Oct. 21, 2003
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    Experience and connections is what counts. I have an anthropology degree and am a senior engineer and now working as a delivery manager. My degree is a fun topic in interviews!_



  5. #5
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    CS is a meat grinder and companies want to hire the cream of the crop these days. If you want to get ahead, the best thing to do is to get involved in open source software development (where the development tools are pretty much all free) and cut your teeth on those community projects. If you make a name for yourself, you can earn a fat paycheck with the experience you'll get as nobody is making good offers to CS students with their lack of experience outside the classroom.
    Thus do we growl that our big toes have,
    at this moment, been thrown up from below!



  6. #6
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    Aug. 12, 2010
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    My undergrad degree is in Political Science also and I've been working in IT for 25 years. It was easier to break in when I was young because there just weren't that many computer science programs . It was harder as a female back then, because the field was nearly totally male dominated.

    I also have an MBA, with a concentraion in Management Information Systems. I do some coding, but I don't do it all day.

    I actually think it is better, from a long term employment perspective to have a solid, liberal arts or business degree in addition to the CS experience and/or education. The jobs that get outsourced are the straight programming jobs...systems analysts, business analysts and project/program managers are usually here, as they require an understanding of the business needs and an ability to communicate clearly and efficiently.

    My husband is a straight out engineer, with an EE undergrad degree and a MS degree in computer science. Since all he does is write code, he has a harder time finding jobs than I do, especially as he gets older, I can sell myself as all kinds of things and many companies are looking for technically knowledgeable/experienced generalists to do analysis and management and then they outsource the actual coding to India/Russia/Mexico, etc....



  7. #7
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    I'm a hiring manager at an aerospace company. We might interview you for an IT job, but for anything having to do with an actual product (architecture, design, development, QA, test, etc), we wouldn't interview you without a technical degree.

    That all said, it really depends on what your goals are in the engineering world. If you want to work on satellites or rockets, get the technical degree because you need all the other stuff (math, physics, etc) that will give you context for any software work. Yes, we have some good "engineers" with degrees in other fields but they are the exception. My degrees are in Math, I've been here 30 years and people are still surprised that I'm not "an engineer". I was also just 1 class short of a minor in physics. but that's another story.

    If you want to do software QA from a process perspective; execute test cases developed by someone else on software developed by someone else, then you might have a chance with relevant experience.

    In this economy, personal contacts are worth their weight in gold.



  8. #8
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    Feb. 4, 2009
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    I just ran into an old friend who has a ton of IT and software experience. He's found that he's not even getting call backs on his resume and he's convinced it's the lack of a degree that's the problem.

    When he first started in the industry there were lots of jobs for young people who were computer savvy. Now, 20 years later the employers are looking for experience and the degree.

    Just what I've heard, no personal experience to back it up.



  9. #9
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    I have mixed feelings on computer science degrees.

    I have gotten applications from people with these degrees and they have no practical ability whatsoever. None. Zip. It's terrible.

    I think, also, that a formal education does expose people to "proper" fundamentals and methodoligies that are useful, practical and sometimes mission-critical. There are some people walking around who have terrible holes in their knowledge that can cause even more terrible problems.

    Also, perhaps for non-technical people hiring a technical position a degree offers some feeling of "safety", since they really only have this person's word that they can do the work. If you don't already have technical people around you who can sniff out the truths from the lies, you've got to look for SOMETHING to point you in some direction.

    A lot of it, I think, also depends on what TYPE of coding you want to do, and the industry surrounding it. Game industry code is a very, very different set of skills and expectations and process than financial sector than productivity sector.

    I would say pursue the degree, but also work in open-source or community projects in your preferred field, so you can hold up both and please both sides.
    "The nice thing about memories is the good ones are stronger and linger longer than the bad and we sure have some incredibly good memories." - EverythingButWings



  10. #10
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    Thanks for all the input, which is mostly what I was hoping to hear!

    Long-term, I don't really want to be writing code all day (I love it, but I think I could get my fix without it being my primary job responsibility, and I like a little variety in what I do) but do want to work in related jobs. I'm doing QA for web apps now so I already have some experience there, but the nature of my company limits the variety of projects I get to be a part of and the exposure I can get to new stuff. I also have some management in my background and would eventually like to apply that again.

    My boss has been pushing me to take more classes, but hasn't really given me much by way of scheduling flexibility or a chance to apply anything I've learned... but that's another story. So far, post-bachelor's school has been a lot of work for a little payoff.
    If the pony spits venom in your face or produces a loud roar, it is probably not a pony. Find another. -The Oatmeal



  11. #11
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    I work in systems engineering, integration, performance, architecture. Frankly I can rarely find qualified candidates, and I have never had my degree be an issue. I get multiple recruiters calling me daily. Become an expert in BI, with Java app servers, or even a product like SharePoint, and you will never want for a job IMO.



  12. #12
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    I am a systems engineer (ha ha!) I have a degree in biology. Got a job in technology.

    I think that if you're going to apply for a job at a big huge company, you probably need to have all of your certification and degrees in order. But working for smaller companies, experience and a willingness (and ability!) to learn is sufficient.

    There is not one danged thing in my line of work right now that I would've learned taking a class (other than better SQL practices). It's call center specific software and I've learned by doing.

    I'm sure it's different in any field, but I don't have a degree in anything IT related and I'm doing just fine with a logical brain and a willingness to research and learn.
    A good horseman doesn't have to tell anyone...the horse already knows.

    Might be a reason, never an excuse...



  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by BuddyRoo View Post
    I am a systems engineer (ha ha!) I have a degree in biology. Got a job in technology.

    I think that if you're going to apply for a job at a big huge company, you probably need to have all of your certification and degrees in order. But working for smaller companies, experience and a willingness (and ability!) to learn is sufficient.

    There is not one danged thing in my line of work right now that I would've learned taking a class (other than better SQL practices). It's call center specific software and I've learned by doing.

    I'm sure it's different in any field, but I don't have a degree in anything IT related and I'm doing just fine with a logical brain and a willingness to research and learn.
    LOL, I also have a degree in Biology and a long out of date MCSE.

    My only advice for a person thinking of a job in IT is if you can imagine your job being done from a cube in Bangelore don't get to attached to it.

    Signed: Former QA/Product support engineer for Intuit
    I wasn't always a Smurf
    Penmerryl's Sophie RIDSH
    "I ain't as good as I once was but I'm as good once as I ever was"
    The ignore list is my friend. It takes 2 to argue.



  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by mswillie View Post
    I just ran into an old friend who has a ton of IT and software experience. He's found that he's not even getting call backs on his resume and he's convinced it's the lack of a degree that's the problem.

    When he first started in the industry there were lots of jobs for young people who were computer savvy. Now, 20 years later the employers are looking for experience and the degree.

    Just what I've heard, no personal experience to back it up.
    A lot of companies are not hiring older experienced workers unless they have specialized experience. Most are going for middle-of-the-career types to take senior positions and youngins who will work for cheap. A lot of Enterprise-level businesses have also moved to managed service providers over the past ten years because they are significantly cheaper than having full-time dedicated staff though the trade-off is almost always lower quality workers.
    Thus do we growl that our big toes have,
    at this moment, been thrown up from below!



  15. #15
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    Oh Lex, I'm hurt .Are you saying I'm a lower quality worker?
    A good horseman doesn't have to tell anyone...the horse already knows.

    Might be a reason, never an excuse...



  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by BuddyRoo View Post
    Oh Lex, I'm hurt .Are you saying I'm a lower quality worker?
    I can't say since I haven't had the pleasure of working with you, but a guy can dream, right?
    Thus do we growl that our big toes have,
    at this moment, been thrown up from below!



  17. #17
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    May. 5, 2006
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    I am a software engineer,and my (very large) company will only interview people with a math, physics or engineering degree. I would look around at job postings online and see what the requirements are for the ones you want. Also, try to look up salary information. A "computer programmer" makes a lot less than a "software engineer" for what could be a very similar statement of work. A difference of $20-$30k/year over your career is huge.

    If you have programming experience on your resume, you might be able to get into a master's program instead of going back for a second bachelor's. I've been looking into the online MSE program at CSU fullerton and their requirement is a bachelor's degree plus the equivalent work experience to one 300-level software engineering class.



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