View Full Version : Computing as a career

March 14th, 2007, 09:02 AM
Computing has for a long time now been a great hobby of mine, and I've been into GNU/Linux for a couple of years. My actual knowledge is somewhat hit and miss (I'll have quite detailed knowledge in one area for example, and then not know something blindingly obvious somewhere else) so I'm in the process of trying to round it out and improve it.

I'm at the stage in my life where I'm deciding whether or not to go to university and what to do with my life. Computing, either as a programmer or system admin (both primarily with GNU/Linux and FLOSS) is the most likely road for me to take, and I was wondering whether anyone had any advice.

What I mainly want to know is how useful a degree actually is (presumably in computer science),or whether the industry is more about experience and I'd be better off going straight into work. I know it will help to be actively contributing to projects, and that's something I'll definitely be doing once my programming skills are up to scratch.

So, if anyone has any advice for a young hopeful, please reply! Advice from those working in these fields is especially valued. In case you need to know, I'm living in the UK.


March 14th, 2007, 11:24 AM
A combination of a degree and experience will let you stand out, Don't expect to just walk into job when you fnish university (indeed, there are hundreds of 'wtf' pages on the internet where employers interview people, and find that the ones with the actual qualifications have little to no experience, and can't answer the most basic of industry questions). However - those WITH a degree kind of 'stand out from the crowd. Now is probably the best time to go for it, in any case - the number of people taking computer-related degrees has fallen quite badly, so you'll still be in a minority, hopefully.

However, it's not enough to just get a degree. I am doing a software development course, so I can vouch that it only really glosses over many subjects. You really will need to use your own time to extend your knowledge and to get involved with projects to build up your experience. The course will make you aware of different subjects, and you have to use your free time to develop on your skills and to further your knowledge. The course may, for example, focus primarily on one programming language. This is just bad practice, once the basics are established. You'll find that as soon as you know the fundamentals of programming, then picking up other languages is fairly easy. You MUST do this, because a programmer with a single language is like a watch-maker with a sledgehammer. One size just doesn't fit all, so you really need to teach yourself quite a lot.

However - whether you can do this without taking a degree depends on your personality. If you really do want to get into this field, then a degree may well be pointless for you. There's nothing a computer-related degree will teach you that you couldn't find out with your own research. The real benefit of a degree is the change it makes to your own mind, rather than the knowledge it teaches you. I said this a few days ago in a similar topic - you go to university to learn how to think, not to get a high paying job. It's true, too - the biggest advantage you will get from university is a good approach to problem solving, thinking, and research. The skills you pick up are more important than the knowledge you retain - because, for the most part, the substance of the course is freely available to anyone to learn. All it takes is a quick google, for most topics, and you can learn pretty much everything the university would teach you.

However - don't let that put you off. University can be expensive, yes - but I reckon it's worth it. It has made me appreciate things more - I think differently, I am quicker to understand topics, and I really enjoy programming. A lot of my course I find very boring, but I do like the problem solving and creativity which is inherent in software development. You need to be able to look at a problem, figure out a solution, and then build it from scratch. The same would be true for many science subjects, such as engineering, chemistry, etc. If you are good, or enjoy, problem solving, then I certainly would give university a go - because you will spend virtually all of your time doing it. If you didn't go to university, you would have other things to worry about, such as rent, paying bills, eating etc. I see you live in the UK - so student loans apply to you (although you will need to pay the top up fees, which may or may not force you into a part-time job to pay your way through). This means you will be mostly subsidised - so you'll be able to spend much more time on doing the things you enjoy, rather than working a crappy job just to survive, while teaching yourself.

It really is up to you. If you have the money to support yourself while self-learning, then you may be more inclined to skip uni. You seem to enjoy the subject, so chances are you're self motivated anyway. If you have less money, you may want to go to university. I know I wouldn't personally have been able to skip uni, I have next to no money, so I would have been working a pretty depressing job. I'm glad I went though. I may find some parts of the course boring, but it is a great experience, and you'll be surprised how much you will learn, and the changes to your mental process you'll go through.

March 14th, 2007, 12:21 PM
If you have enough experience, you can get a job without a degree. If you have good enough grades and a respectable degree, you can get a job without experience. But you will have a much easier time, many more options, and will end up getting paid much more if you have both. If you have the means to go to college, don't pass up that opportunity. And co-op or intern while you're there, too.

Besides, even if it wouldn't help you get a job at all, the personal and cultural development is well worth the time and money.

March 14th, 2007, 12:52 PM
If you have enough experience, you can get a job without a degree.the only thing a degree helps with is getting promoted faster - it doesnt help that much with getting the job in the first place. employers favour experience(home based or otherwise) much more than a piece of paper.

you'll be mostly wasting your time going to uni with the sole aim of getting a job in IT. in addition, its a LOT of money(even much more so if you're a mature student). if you have fervently made up your mind to go there, make sure you get on a course that does a sandwich year where you can get some real world experience.

March 14th, 2007, 12:53 PM
I would have to add my vote for the University option, and I agree with Tomosaur when I say it changes how you think. On top of that university is a fantastic life experience which I think everyone should get a shot at. Few pieces of advice tho.

Look for a degree course that enforces a years work-placement in your 3rd or 4th year (if its a 4 or 5 year course).
Look for a degree course thats future-proof, I mean, one that doesn't focus too intently upon a particulary language or technology but will give you a strong understanding of the science (the logic and the maths), and teach you the skills, needed to apply yourself to any new technology or circumstance.

For example my degree course, First year was basic programming, and technologies. Simple and nothing new to me, but it also had a few modules on statistics and heavily involved discrete mathematics for computer scientists.

Second year had a few modules to choose from, I choose some more advanced programming, advanced networks and communications, computer architecture and computation theory. What i thought was a nice blend of current knowledge and technologies (programming and networks) and a strong low level understanding (computer architecture and computation theory).

My third year was then a compulsory work placement, I am now working for the University, providing web technology consultation and support. Fantastic experience, as well as becoming very familiar with the IT and IS departments at the University, which is of untold value when I'm doing my final year.

My next and final year will be fantastic I've chosen a range of modules which include: Concurrent Programming, Artificial Intelligence, High Performance Computing and Mobile Computing /w Information Security

Can't wait.


Edit: FAAAR too much formatting, I'm a git at times.

March 14th, 2007, 01:35 PM
Thankyou very much for the replies, I'm at school at the moment and it's not all sinking in but I'll have a good read later. I really appreciate it, keep it coming!

My problem at the moment is, I've already applied for uni, and not for computing courses, because that's not what I intended to go for. My only hope seems to be either convincing Cardiff they should let me switch from Philosophy to Computer Science (I'll phone them tonight and see what the likelihood of that is) or to get in through clearing. The course at Cardiff, from what I can see, isn't a sandwich course.

The other option if I go down the uni route is to cancel this year and reapply next year -- I guess that will be what happens if clearing doesn't give any viable options.

Thanks for all the help, keep it coming if you have any advice, I'll keep you posted on developments :-)

March 14th, 2007, 01:45 PM
ultimately, it doesn't matter one jot what you get your degree in. i know that such courses as computer science, law, engineering, and maths tend to be weighted more than useless courses such as media studies or elvis presley studies etc, but at the end of the day, a degree is a degree is a degree. it just shows that the student can buckle down to work and achieve a result. it won't help you to get the first job that much, but it can help you rise through the ranks slightly more quickly. employers don't really care that much what the degree is in, so having a degree in philosophy, law, photography, or whatever won't factor that much in an employers decision to employ you as a programmer(or another in IT). home based computer experience is worth more. an actual job in IT for a certain period of time is worth more still.
i would suggest that you choose a degree that you know that you're going to enjoy for the 3 or 4 years duration of the course.

March 14th, 2007, 02:05 PM
I retired last year with twenty years of experience as an employment and career counselor and several years experience as a high tech headhunter. I am going to watch this thread for awhile and then offer some insight. Some very good points have already been made, and I will offer an opinion on those and write up some general observations on the art and science of job hunting. I have to give it some thought first, this is not something I want to just post a quick note on, but take the time to offer a more in depth study. I shall return.

March 14th, 2007, 02:11 PM
One of my friend works as an analyst programmer and he first studied in a professional school like most people did around ~2000 but there were so many computer savvy guys on the market that he couldn't find a -good- job. If you want to be taken seriously and if you want to be well paid then go to university. Nowadays you have no choice (well in Canada you have no choice).

Also I wanted to work with computers too but make sure you try to program first. Having fun with computers and working as a programmer are two COMPLETELY different things. When I tried to program I had some fun but I realized I wouldn't be able to do that all day long, day after day, months after months, etc.

Also make sure you understand that "liking computer games" DOESN'T equal "liking to work with computers".

good luck :)

March 14th, 2007, 02:20 PM
Don't underestimate the importance of having a degree in a related field to the job you want. If you go to school to get a history degree and then apply for an IT job, the people doing the hiring are going to wonder if you're really serious about their company or if you just couldn't find another job. You'll also have a harder time getting a co-op or internship related to your career path if you are not in the right major. Many campus offices that can help you with that will only work with people pursuing the correct degrees, and companies who hire students generally don't take the time to talk to people in majors outside their fields.

Example: I started out as an aerospace engineering student, but there are few aerospace companies that recruit at my school. Since aerospace and mechanical engineering are exactly the same for the first 2.5 years, I thought I would just do a co-op with a mechanical engineering company to get some extra experience. I was wrong. I went to the co-op fair and handed out resumes, and one company was willing to interview me. Was it because of my personality, grades, resume, etc? No. I changed my major to mechanical engineering and got a co-op the very next semester with one of the companies that wouldn't talk to me previously.

March 14th, 2007, 02:31 PM
the people doing the hiring are going to wonder if you're really serious about their company or if you just couldn't find another job.they don't think that at all. if someone does a history degree, they are well aware that they don't believe that the potential employee considers history the be-and-end-all of life. people do a course in a certain subject for a number of reasons, and employers are well aware of that. just because they did a history degree doesn't mean that they don't have enthusiasm for computing. if someone is applying for a job in computing and has home based computing experience, then they know for a fact that that person has enthusiasm for the job.
it may be different in your country, but thats the way it is in the UK.

March 14th, 2007, 06:49 PM
I have to give it some thought first, this is not something I want to just post a quick note on, but take the time to offer a more in depth study. I shall return.

Thankyou, your time is appreciated.

Aetherius, just out of sheer curiosity, which uni are you attending?

I'm going to have to do some hard thinking over the next couple of days. I'll phone Cardiff uni tomorrow and when their switchboards aren't off, and if they don't look kindly on me switching then... well, we'll see what happens. I think I'm coming to the conclusion that I do want to go to uni and I do want to study a computing course.

The only problem with the Cardiff course is the lack, as far as I can tell, of a work-placement.

I'll take it one step at a time and see if I can get myself facing back in the right direction.

Thanks again, I really appreciate everyone's input :)